Here at the Honolulu Museum of Art, highly accomplished individuals work together to deliver high-quality, inspirational experiences for the community. You might be familiar with our visible “celebrities” such as the curators, who give gallery talks and lectures, outgoing docents and at-the-ready security officers. Many more staff members work behind the scenes, doing everything from framing artwork to preparing payroll. And some straddle both worlds—like Visitor Information Center receptionist Kim Hutchison.
During regular hours, visitors can find Kim smiling behind the front desk, or “the best seat in the house,” as she calls it, where she helps them with admission and membership, and answers every question imaginable to help each guest make the most of their museum visit.
According to Kim’s supervisor, Vicki Reisner, director of volunteer and visitor services, Kim “rocks it” at the front desk. “You have to think on your feet, know the answer to everything and then some, be able to listen, to juggle school children, visitors, docents, staff and Shangri La tours all at once. And you need a sense of humor, a positive attitude and flexibility,” says Vicki. All those skills came in handy the day Kim “had a poodle in a sparkly pink tutu come to visit Shangri La.” Details from other days would “not be appropriate for a newsletter,” Kim adds, referencing various infringements on the assumed “shirt and shoes required” policy.
When the doors aren’t open to the public, Kim is often changing desks and darting through various departments. “My position requires me to wear many hats throughout the day,” explains Kim. “I work with a wonderful team of volunteers and staff at the VIC. I have also recently become more involved with our volunteer program, working with my boss…and the almost 500 active volunteers we currently have.” Kim is now organizing the museum’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Brunch, held in April.
Kim joined the museum staff in 2012, after volunteering for a year—at the same time that she completed dual degrees in English and Art History at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Prior to that, she was an intern at the Museo dei Ragazzi (The Children’s Museum), part of the famed Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. In that role Kim, who is from quiet Kaimukī, “designed and led tours for children and the general public” through what had been the Florentine town hall during the times of Dante, the Medicis and Michelangelo. This meant overcoming challenges, says Kim, like her fear of heights while taking visitors “all the way up to the battlements to show them the machicolations where hot tar could be poured on invading enemies. It took a lot of discipline to get it together and stand on the plexiglass that covered the straight 300 foot drop to the piazza below.”
Other times, language was an issue. “Visitors from countries like Japan or Russia would opt for the English tour as their language was not offered. I have basic skills in a few languages—French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish—but am certainly not at the level where I could explain complex architectural history, so I had to rely on other methods of communication in order to provide them with the best possible experience I could. I would keep on hand small vials of gold leaf to pass around as I explained the process of gilding the ornate ceilings, as well as samples of the materials used to make pigments such as ochre and lapis lazuli to aid in discussing the multitude of frescos housed in the Palazzo.”
Despite her time in Florence, when asked to name her favorite work at the Honolulu Museum of Art, Kim doesn’t pick something from the Medieval and Renaissance Gallery. “In fact, my favorite thing in the museum is not a piece in our collection–it’s the wrought iron screens in Kinau Courtyard,” she answers. “One side depicts scenes from Aesop’s Fables, the other the Tree of Life. I love the shadows it casts in the late afternoon on the stage above the courtyard—it brings the scenes to life and almost creates something of a shadow puppet theater.”
Kim plans on pursuing an advanced degree in museum education. But in the meantime her priority is helping to expand the museum’s growing education programs–lucky thing for Hawaiʻi’s keiki, artists and visitors alike.