Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
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The new Museum Management Committee is overseeing and driving the museum’s role as an educational and marketing vehicle.

D7’s Exhibitionist Tendencies: New Committee Takes On Museum Programming
by  Kelly Markham
Issue Date: 12/2010

The Museum Management Committee is exploring ways to highlight Caltrans’ history, diversity and culture.

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Russian conceptual artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov once created a cutting-edge art installation for the SculptureCenter in New York called “The Empty Museum.” And that’s what it was – a replication of a museum gallery with nothing in it. District 7 has its own version of the Kabakov show, though in our case, it’s not trendy installation art – it’s an actual empty museum.

Sometimes empty, anyway. We’ve had some wonderful exhibits staged in the District 7 museum space – examples include the shows on environmental stewardship, Park 101 and Diversity and Disability Awareness. We’ve also had many filming requests from directors who find the location offers a certain edgy starkness that looks great on film. But this beautiful, light-filled museum has been long underutilized, its potential never fully realized.

That’s about to change, a change initiated in large part by Chief Deputy Director Lindy Lee. When Lee first came on board, she asked many questions to get a better sense of the district, questions like: Who are we? What do we do? How can we show our passions? Lee got a partial answer at an offsite meeting during which executive staff came up with a punchy one-liner to describe what we do: “District 7 Delivers Sound Transportation Solutions.” A more complete answer was waiting for her on the first floor of the headquarters building.

“The day after the offsite, I was on a tour of the office and asked about the space behind the security desk. I was told it was the museum, but of late little used,” she said. “I decided that we can show our passions in that space – what we do, who we are. We can show not only our work, but the real people behind the department.”

And so in September, the District 7 Museum Management Committee (MMC) was born. The MMC, made up of representatives from all divisions, is overseeing and driving the museum’s role as an educational and marketing vehicle. The committee is charged with exploring ways to leverage the museum to share the history, diversity and culture of Caltrans. The space will also highlight the people behind the agency, showcasing not only the work they perform, but their interests and sources of inspiration.

The committee has been meeting monthly to discuss how to best use the museum and to develop a tentative schedule of exhibits. The first MMC-initiated show is slated for January and will focus on the Arroyo Seco Parkway’s 70th anniversary. Other exhibits planned for 2011 include Bike to Work Week in May and Diversity and Disability Awareness in October. The committee is also considering shows that highlight high-speed rail, Route 66, bridges, major incidents, lost history, and traffic speeds, to name a few. All divisions will be represented.

The all-volunteer committee hopes to eventually mount three to six exhibits a year, and they’ll have some help doing it. Southern California AAA has offered to provide historical materials, such as archival photos and objects, as well as graphic display elements for exhibits. Additionally, the committee will be calling on internal functional units for assistance when a planned exhibit relates to the unit’s area of expertise.

Currently, the district has no funding to support museum exhibits, so committee members will have to be creative about assembling the necessary resources. Although money may be in short supply, enthusiasm is abundant. Everyone involved is looking forward to transforming this once vacant space into a dynamic part of District 7’s organizational culture.

“We can use the space better than we have in the past to tell the story of Caltrans, maybe even attract some of the tourists who come by to see the building,” said Chief of Programming and Contract Management Alberto Angelini, who also serves as the Museum Management Committee co-chair. “It’s one more way that we can connect with the public and educate them about our work.”

Environmental Planning mounted a highly informative and well-received exhibit on environmental stewardship in 2008. Park 101 was the focus of an exhibit in 2009. In March of this year, a permanent plaque honoring Marilyn Jorgenson Reese was unveiled in the museum.