What Makes Museums Tick?


MFAH_Beck Building exterior; Photo by Robb Williamson

Photo by Robb Williamson.

The help of many individuals is required to maintain and operate each of the 19 museums in the Houston Museum District. With more than 2,300 employees in the District, the museums are thriving institutions that function with the help of a vast team made up of staff, volunteers, educators and docents. In celebration of the recent Labor Day holiday and the season of giving thanks quickly approaching, we wanted to take time to pause and reflect to show our appreciation to all of the 19 museums’ staff that play pivotal roles in making these institutions run smoothly. It cannot be overstated how immensely their efforts contribute to the art world of Houston.

Here is a peek into a day in the life of just a few of the thousands of museum workers and the inspiration they find in and from their work.

Lawndale Art Center

Made up of a team of four full-time and two part-time staff members, Lawndale Art Center is dedicated to providing regional contemporary artists with an opportunity to showcase their work.

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From left to right: Nicole Romano; Cinthia Gomez; Paula Murphy. Photos courtesy of Lawndale Art Center.

1. Cinthia Gomez– Exhibition Assistant

“The programming is always well done and the shows are always interesting. I like being able to interact with the artists.”

An essential part of the Lawndale team, Cinthia began as an intern after receiving her BFA from the University of Houston. She is now a working artist and active member of BOX 13 ArtSpace.

Not to Miss: Cinthia’s upcoming work will be featured at Lawndale in January 2016.

2. Nicole Romano– Board of Directors, Chair

Nicole began volunteering at Lawndale over eight years ago, beginning as a Programming Committee member and is now the Chair of the Board of Directors.  A former studio artist turned arts administrator, Nicole values and strongly believes in the opportunities and programs that Lawndale provides and feels that this organization helps cultivate Houston’s vibrant and unique arts environment.

Insider Detail: One of Nicole’s most memorable moments at Lawndale was Hair Ball, a night full of fun friends, Lawndale supporters and unbelievable hair. Look out for its return in the near future!

3. Paula Murphy– Board of Directors, Vice Chair

“We have so much talent in Greater Houston, and Lawndale celebrates that – it is often the museum where local artists have their first ‘real’ show and is a springboard for their art career.”

Paula has supported Lawndale for over 20 years and is known for her energy and enthusiasm. Her expertise in PR and Marketing has been invaluable to the organization. Her many contributions include the time she worked with The Oprah Winfrey Show at the Hair Ball in 1997.

Interesting Fact: Lawndale’s board is the only Houston museum where one third of the members are working artists – they serve on the Programming Committee, which selects Lawndale’s exhibits.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is a world-class institution that employs a total of 648 Houstonians, of which 576 are full-time employees. On top of that, the MFAH counts on 1,040 volunteers a year, including docents, regular volunteers and the Guild (the patron group of the museum’s volunteers).

MFAH_ Senior Docent Eric Timmreck; Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Erick Timmreck. Photo courtesy of MFAH.

 1. Sandie Zilker– Glassell School of Art Department Head – Jewelry/Enamel and Three Dimensional Design & Coordinator, Student Events and Exhibitions

Dividing her time between instruction and administrative work, Sandie plays a vital role at the Glassell School of Art. An instructor for 41 years, she has seen Glassell grow and develop from its early home in a former insurance building on Garrott Street, to the current glass block building, and now, to what will become a brand new building structure whose construction is newly underway.

Noteworthy Accomplishments: Sandie was awarded 2014 Texas Master by Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and has served as Society of North American Goldsmiths Board of Directors – 1976-1980; 2004-2010.

2. Patrick Palmer– Dean of the Glassell School

Patrick is in charge of the curriculum at Glassell and focuses on ensuring that each student’s educational experience is as rewarding as possible. Patrick is determined to make sure that the transition to a temporary educational space during the interim between now and completion of construction is as smooth and effortless as possible for all students.

Favorite MFAH Art Piece: Rembrandt’s 1633 masterpiece, “Portrait of a Young Woman.” Patrick shares that, “it is truly one of the most beautiful paintings in the world, and such a joy to observe.”

3. Eric Timmreck– Senior Docent

“Docents aim to serve as a catalyst, converting a visitor’s first observation of a work to a deeper interaction that enables experience of the full meaning conveyed by a work, including its cultural and historical context.”

Eric’s role as a docent includes enhancing visitors’ involvement as they experience and observe works of art on display at the museum. For visitors, he strives to foster deeper connections, create better understanding and provide a fresh perspective to art discussion.

Houston Zoo

Home to over 6,000 “residents” (animals), the Houston Zoo employs a dedicated staff who works hard to provide an enjoyable and memorable experience for the 2 million guests that visit this institution each and every year.

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From left to right: Dr. Joe; Kevin Hodge. Photos courtesty of Houston Zoo.

1. Kevin Hodge– Curator of Children’s Zoo and Carnivores

“If I am having a busy, hectic day, all it takes is hearing a cheetah purr or having the chance to pet an aardvark that makes me realize what an awesome job I have!”

As a curator, Kevin oversees the growth and overall direction for the Children’s Zoo and the Carnivore areas. His routine includes working with fierce predators such as lions and cheetahs to working with small insects like the hard working leaf cutter ants. He also works closely with Species Survival Plan leaders to follow breeding recommendations for several endangered species and communicates with other zoos in acquiring animals for the Zoo’s habitats.

Interesting Fact: Hodge was present for the opening of the new Bug House, one of his biggest accomplishments since he started at the Zoo in 2000.

2. Joseph Patrick Flanagan– DVM (Dr. Joe), Chief Veterinarian

Dr. Joe provides health care for the Zoo’s animals. He also works with partners to provide veterinary input on several conservation projects. He keeps motivated by embracing every day as a new one and implements a philosophy of life-long learning.

Insider Detail: In 2011, Dr. Joe had the opportunity to witness a sea turtle recover from life threatening injuries received in the wild. This same sea turtle was one that Dr. Joe helped release into the wild in 1993. 

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft counts on approximately 90 volunteers to assist in multiple exhibits and programming throughout the year. Free docent-led tours, workshops and events such as Hands-on-Houston are just a few of the many ways this institution works together to give back to the community.

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From left to right: Marjorie Lofthouse; Leah Hamilton French. Photo courtesy of HCCC.

1. Leah Hamilton French– Volunteer Manager and Education Coordinator

Leah stays busy by handling the recruitment, scheduling and managing of volunteers and interns, assisting the education director and by planning activities for multiple events. Leah has now begun writing lesson plans that integrate craft into core subjects, which are free for use on the museum’s website.

Favorite Part About HCCC: “I love that we are free! I believe that art and knowledge should be available to everyone, and Houston has so many museums that are free to the public one or more days a week.”

2. Marjorie Lofthouse– Volunteer Docent and Assistant

“Being a docent at The Craft Center is important because I believe in giving back to one’s community. I enjoy learning more about the various crafts/artists through training and interacting with the resident artist.”

As a docent, Marjorie leads group tours of exhibitions and is a regular volunteer at Hands-On Houston, the museum’s monthly free craft activity event. In both of these roles, Marjorie educates and engages visitors of all ages with the process, product and history of craft.


The DiverseWorks team currently consists of four dedicated full-time employees and at least three part-time student interns each semester. This museum counts on about 150 volunteers per year to assist in the production of fundraisers, exhibitions and performances. Taking into account the hours of staff, interns and install crew, it takes about two weeks of full-time work to put up a new exhibition.


Photo courtesy of DiverseWorks.

Photo courtesy of DiverseWorks.

1. Taylor Hoblitzell– Gallery Manager and Event Coordinator

Taylor’s hard work and energy can be seen in action during DiverseWorks’ many events throughout the year. She finds featured artwork and performances exciting to organize and critically challenging, and enjoys being able to interact and discuss ideas with the artists.

Most Memorable Moment: Helping Lillian Warren with her photo-performance during “Parliament of Owls.” Taylor shares, “Not only was the planning for this project exciting, but also seeing Lillian’s artistic process brought to life on a larger scale (in addition to seeing her excitement from the result) was invigorating.”

2. Jimmy Chavez– Volunteer

“If you can find the time, even a Saturday once a month, the arts can really impact a person. Being around all the creativity and positive energy is awe inspiring.”

Volunteering for DiverseWorks has helped Jimmy get back into the art scene, which he is quite passionate about. Finding it a release from his busy work schedule, Jimmy enjoys assisting at the museum while having the opportunity to work closely with artists, such as Oliver Herring during the closing party to the exhibition Areas for Action.

3. Rose Nolen– Volunteer

“…volunteering with this organization provides an escape, fills a void and helps with the revitalization for my own creativity.”

Being an integral part of the volunteer team at DiverseWorks has allowed Rose the opportunity to help bring awareness to the arts in Houston, as well as emerge herself in a world of renowned artists and art enthusiasts.

Getting and Staying Involved: Rose had the opportunity to participate in the Glitter Day Live Performance with artist, Oliver Herring in February 2015. 

Written by Elizabeth Benavides