As explained by Robin Roth, the CMA’s head of production, “George Lucas has ILM (Industrial Light & Magic), Disney has Pixar, and the Cleveland Museum of Art has the Department of Design and Architecture’s production team.” If a designer can imagine and draw something, as long as it doesn’t defy the laws of nature, the production team can make it. With nine dedicated and talented people, the production team creates your visual experience of the museum and its exhibitions, bringing design concepts to life. If you’ve enjoyed the spaces presenting special exhibitions or the permanent collection galleries, you have witnessed the talent and dedication of this department. Roth shared some details with Cleveland Art about the team’s insights and priorities.
Who is on the team and what do they do?
Carpenters produce support materials for installations such as exhibition cases, pedestals, frames, and moldings following architectural drawings and design specifications. Painters prepare, paint, and finish surfaces in galleries and on display furniture. Mount makers fabricate mounts, armatures, and support structures for artwork to create mounts that protect and aesthetically enhance objects’ presentation. Our lighting technician ensures that all spaces in the museum that display works of art use a safe level of illumination to make the viewing experience come alive. Upholsterers cover decks, panels, and blocks using materials such as cotton and linen that have been tested to confirm their safety near the artwork, and graphic installers produce and install gallery labels, signs, and banners. The team is in constant collaboration with members of conservation, curatorial, and design to produce all the aspects that support artworks in exhibitions. They also work interdependently, such as when mount makers help install graphics and carpenters assist painters with spackling or sanding.
What might be most interesting in a behind-the-scenes look at production?
I imagine that visitors would love to see the process involved in producing an exhibition or installation—from color choices to how something is displayed. The work involved in bringing designers’ and curators’ ideas to actuality is fascinating, as is the process of decision-making in production choices and the collaboration between many departments.
What is a skill your team has that museumgoers might not think about?
Members of the team are also artists who have had their work in shows and even purchased by the museum. Also, it is noteworthy how many on the team have learned their roles not through formalized training (I don’t know of any “mountmakers schools”) but through creative thinking and on-the-job mentoring.
What is the best part of being on the production team?
It’s great to see the evolution of an installation or exhibition from concepts on a computer screen to a concrete experience with lighting. Our team is dedicated to producing the highest quality of work, which is the standard for our museum. Each member brings a variety of skills to the table, but they also consistently help each other out with various tasks. This teamwork lends itself to the pride we all have in playing a part in what brings visitors to the museum again and again.