Jessica Hougen, Museum Director/Curator and SCORE Team Lead
February 22, 2021
Please describe your role with your County:
At the Sutter County Museum we have two full-time staff members and one part-time. My title is Director/Curator, but our staff is so small I do many things- everything from organizing exhibits, planning educational programs, and promoting the museum to buying for our gift shop, managing our farmers market, and cleaning our fountain. If it needs doing, I’m likely the person doing it.
Due to the pandemic we have been closed since mid-March 2020 except for two 3-week periods in July and October. It is a bizarre experience to run an institution that is designed to serve our community through exhibits and programs but not be able to do those things.
As Sutter COVID Outreach Resiliency Effort (SCORE) Team Lead, I work to educate local businesses on state COVID-19 regulations and how they can operate safely within them. I also respond to public complaints regarding how businesses are operating related to the pandemic restrictions.
What’s the most interesting or fulfilling part of your job?
My job is interesting because it is different every day. I might be doing research for an exhibit, planning programs, working on my budget, or writing policies and procedures.
The museum is only partially financially supported by Sutter County. We are also supported by the Community Memorial Museum Association, a 501(c)(3). It has been exceptionally fulfilling to work with the association. They are excited to see the museum grow to better serve our community, and they have put in the hard work and time with museum staff to do so.
What’s your proudest professional or personal accomplishment?
I am exceptionally proud of the work we have done at the Sutter County Museum over the last 5.5 years. It would not have happened without the support of my staff and our non-profit. The list includes revising and updating all policies and procedures; going through two institutional assessments and writing a five year strategic plan; began a physical inventory of all our artifacts (ongoing); added a community garden to our property; undertook a six-month renovation that included flooring, paint, reorganizing office and storage spaces; took on management of a rental facility; and started a farmers’ market.
What are you currently reading?
I’m taking an online class through the History Leadership Institute called Strengthening Your Organization’s Impact, and there are three books assigned for the class. The first is Intentional Practice for Museums by Randi Korn. I am just finishing that one. The other two, which I will read over the next few weeks, are Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman and Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh. After those, I plan to read See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur (available in our museum store).
Do you have any words of advice for someone interested in becoming a museum director or curator?
The museum industry is highly competitive, and there are more graduates every year than there are jobs. Be prepared to move (I’ve lived and worked in upstate New York, Las Vegas, Arkansas, and California). Be prepared to apply for a lot of jobs. But most importantly, be prepared to love it. Everyone I know who works in this field is passionate about their work, and for good reason. It’s incredible work we get to do.