Meet the Staff: Allison Portnow Lathrop

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headshot1ALLISON PORTNOW LATHROP is the Ackland’s Public Programs Manager.

How long have you been at the Ackland?

I started at the Ackland as a graduate student intern in August 2009, then continued working here while I was finishing my musicology PhD in the Music Department at UNC. A short while later, I was hired full time as the Ackland’s Public Programs Manager.

What brought you to the Ackland?

I was interested in applying for the internship because I thought I’d learn some strategies for teaching music in a more interdisciplinary way. I ended up in a more administrative internship–but immediately fell in love it with it. While most musicology PhDs pursue college-level teaching careers, I knew after just a few weeks at the Ackland that a career in arts administration, specifically, museum administration was a better match for me.

What do you do at the Ackland?

As the Public Programs Manager, I’m responsible for designing and implementing the Ackland’s wide variety of public programs for all ages, which includes (here we go!) our Music in the Galleries concert series, the Ackland Film Forum, Art for Lunch talks, Yoga and Tai Chi in the Galleries, Drawing in the Galleries, Art Adventures, Drawing for Tweens, Art à la Carte (for UNC students), Family and Friends Sunday, as well as numerous other public tours, scholarly lectures and “Meet the Artist” opportunities, and the occasional special program tied to a particular exhibition. I also get to work on exhibition interpretation projects, for example, the curated soundtrack of French Baroque music that accompanied our Genius and Grace exhibition of French drawings. Right now I’m working on a big project for next fall called Art&, which takes all of the work I do on public programming and exhibition interpretation and combines them (more on that soon–stayed tuned to the e-news!).

What is a memorable Ackland experience?

Some of my most memorable and rewarding experiences have been working on projects with lots of moving pieces. Last fall, that meant 16 moving horse hooves. The Ackland hosted the Rural Academy Theater, a troupe from rural North Carolina that travels the state via horse-drawn wagon/stage. Apart from being my first art museum assignment that involved purchasing hay and oats, it was also a project that required working with many great colleagues across campus and partners in downtown Chapel Hill. I loved seeing how the campus and surrounding community can come together to make something so special happen–plus I got to ride on a horse-drawn wagon down Franklin Street!

What is your favorite thing about working at the Ackland?

With every subsequent exhibition, there’s something new to learn and that keeps things really interesting. I’ve never taken an art history class (gasp!), so each exhibition allows me to learn more about art. I also get to explore how the art relates to music from the same time period, so I can plan for our Music in the Galleries program. In researching and presenting these musical connections, I get to do a bit of “public musicology” (sharing aspects of music history and culture with folks outside the traditional classroom setting). Making rich connections between music and the art on view has been a great way to connect what I did in grad school with my career at the Museum.

SEE. MORE. ART.: What is your favorite arts experience in the Triangle?

I love going to see live music and we have so much right here on campus, whether it’s catching a CPA performance at Memorial Hall or-most recently for me-seeing a live performance of a John Luther Adams piece on the Quad performed by about one hundred UNC Music Department students and faculty. But, as a music person, I have to say my favorite thing is still playing music, so I love that I get the opportunity to play viola da gamba with the UNC Viol Consort, double bass with the Chapel Hill Philharmonia, and electric bass with my rock band Supercollider (shameless plug!).

BONUS QUESTION: Wait, did you say Allison Portnow Lathrop?

Yes, I got married last month, so I’m adding a new last name and bringing an art-loving software developer into the extended Ackland family.