Community: Meet Mary Kate, Education Manager at the Bellevue Arts Museum

Interviewer: Emily Feng; April 28, 2020

Interviewee: Mary Kate Anselmini, Education Manager @ the Bellevue Arts Museum

Mary Kate teaching how to make a "Very Great Barrier Reef" using craft supplies (Bellevue Arts Museum).

Could you tell us about yourself and your occupation? How does your occupation impact the local community?

I’m the Education Manager at the Bellevue Art Museum, and if I had to describe my job, I would say I’m sort of like a jack of all trades! Before COVID-19 changed my role at the museum, I mostly managed youth and family programs. Anything related to students was definitely in my wheelhouse. In fact, I help run both the Teen Arts Council and Teen Docent program here at the museum. Right before BAM had to close, we were getting ready for summer programs by building up activity lists and reaching out to potential volunteers.

Currently, I’m the only full-time staff in my department, and I’ve been mostly juggling the online content that we’re producing. Another important component of my job is managing the relationship we have with the Bellevue School District.

How has COVID-19 affected the functioning of BAM?

COVID-19 really forced me to look deeper and examine the role that museums play in our community. I think all the staff at the museum realized that art is so integral to our society, and accordingly, that we wanted to continue serving Bellevue and beyond even during these horrific times. Ben, our museum director, laid out 2 entryways to accomplish this. First, he does a lot of virtual curator talks about the art in our museum. For obvious reasons, people cannot go in and see the art for themselves right now.

Secondly, we wanted to ensure opportunities for familial artistic engagement weren’t lost. We originally had some plans for Free Family Days, but those can no longer be held. We thought to ourselves, “What can we do with crafts that are on hand and make the most impact and give back to the community?” Our first idea was to partner with the Bellevue School District. We have, so far, dropped off over 200 art kits to be distributed to families that are picking up free meals.

I’ve realized that maybe not all families have a fully stocked craft room, and providing whatever materials and instructions we can may be very helpful to kids. Art can really help caregivers engage with students, and offer a bit of structure in an otherwise confusing time.

"We have, so far, dropped off over 200 art kits to be distributed to families that are picking up free meals."

I’ve seen pictures of these art kits on Instagram! That’s truly an important contribution to our community. What process goes into making these kits, especially now that the museum is closed to the public?

I’ve been going into the museum once or twice a week, and as you mentioned, walking into empty offices. The security staff are still there, but it feels eerily like a ghost town. Once I’m in the museum, I collect materials, print things out, and then take those packages back to my own house. I do preliminary material prep from my house and share some tasks with our part-time educator, Erin. She comes by to get materials at a socially acceptable distance, and works from the safety of her house, as well. Once everything is cut, assembled, and packaged, I drop it off at BSD meal pick-up sites. I’ve really enjoyed it, because it feels like we’re doing a tangible thing to help out kids.

You mentioned that Ben is doing curator talks—what’s happened to the art that’s still there in the museum? Have any exhibits been extended/delayed?

One of the most important youth showcases we do annually is the 20 under 20 exhibit. The student works are still hanging in the 1st floor, and if you walk by the museums, you can see them through the windows! And yes, we’ve definitely had to cancel certain programs. There were pre-planned lectures that have now been virtualized. In terms of exhibitions, we’ve extended the run of the shows on the 2nd floor so hopefully people can still come in and see them once this is over. The Stephen Holl architecture exhibit on the 3rd floor is just waiting to be opened up to the public.

The Bellevue Arts Museum & its beautiful architecture (Flickr).

I was reading an article lately about the deterioration of intellectual pursuits during times like these. Obviously—and for good reason—there has been a reorientation towards more fundamental concerns. How do you think people can stay engaged in the world around them and/or keep stimulating their thinking?

That’s a good question! I would suggest that people find a hobby that they feels right to them, whether that’s baking, photography, or painting. However, I also recognize that this might not be feasible for some people. Parents might have to juggle jobs with looking after kids. Something I think that’s more sustainable is practicing the art of observation!

Personally, I’ve been taking my dog on what feels like hundreds of walks a day. When I’m outside, I like to look around and see what’s going on. Now that the pace of life has slowed down for me, I like to think I’m noticing things that I might not have noticed before. Appreciating the beauty and interesting elements of “ordinary” things is something anyone can do when taking out the trash!

" Something I think that’s more sustainable is practicing the art of observation."

If you are willing to share, how has COVID-19 affected you individually and your family?

All my family lives on the East Coast, so it’s been tough wondering when I’ll see them next. Also, my partner works for Boeing, so it’s been tough gauging how COVID-19 may impact both of our jobs. Given that context, there is just a general stress that I’m sure many people are experiencing. I do, of course, consider myself incredibly lucky to still be employed and to be healthy. I’m fortunate enough to say that nobody really immediate to me has suffered from this pandemic physically. Just like with everyone else, the process of adjusting to the fast rate of change has been a strain.

What is the greatest lesson we can learn from this outbreak?

One thing that I’m always trying to remind myself is to be gentle with yourself. Things are so hard right now, and this really isn’t the time to be hypercritical of what you’re doing. Even if you only get one thing done, you shouldn’t feel the need to meet expectations of “productivity.” This is something I’ve always tried to bring to the Teen Arts Council even before COVID-19. The world is so cruel, and it’s important that we uplift each other and ourselves.

That brings me to another important point, which is that many of these lessons are transferable to post-pandemic. There is something to be said about the mass mobilization of communities that COVID-19 has helped spark. People are now rallying around workers who had never previously been deemed essential, like grocery store employees. Evidently, they are essential, but we are really just now appreciating how crucial mutual aid is to our communities. I hope this passion continues in our fight against climate change, homelessness, etc! If there’s a silver lining to these trying times, it’s that I’ve regained faith in our ability to come together.