PRO-File: Melody Caban
Interviewed by David Duddy
Melody Caban is the Museum Store Manager and Buyer at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. She has been a member of the Museum Store Association for over 5 years, and has worked in the museum industry for over a decade. Melody currently serves as Second Vice President on the MSA Board of Directors, and as President of the MSA Southwest Central Chapter, and was a founding member of MSA NEXT. Through this work, she has gained both regional and national level experience setting up events, conventions, and working with incredible vendors and members.
David Duddy spoke with Melody about her career path, advice she has for new MSA members, her dream vacation, and more.
What does your position encompass at your institution? What is your favorite part of the job?
I am the Manager/ Buyer – but I really work on anything that touches Retail. That includes email and digital – in fact, I created the website for the store. I also work with Curatorial about publishing, which is a large part of the Museum’s commitment to its mission. I would have to say that my favorite part of my job has lately been watching new visitors since our reopening. Hearing them exclaim over the products and their connection to the exhibitions – it is so rewarding to know that they “get” what we are about and that I have helped to create that connection!
Did you choose the nonprofit world deliberately?
I studied Art History – and I am really fond of analytics. I kind of found the sweet spot by working on the business side of art with nonprofit retail. It really excites both of my interests.
What path brought you to your job? Were there any unusual steps?
I have always been kind of an Art Nerd – and this career is connecting to art in a different way. My work at the museum has also given me an altered vision of the operations of the Curatorial and Education departments. Working in collaboration with them has offered insights into how they view exhibitions – and how that can dovetail with my work in retail. Surprisingly, if I were to go back and study today – it would be Art History and Biology!
Did you have a mentor at your institution or in MSA? What was their best guidance?
I really feel like everyone at MSA has helped to mentor me along the way! It’s almost like a family effort with this group. We all get information and help through so many channels – and others really want to assist you. Best advice from my MSA pals – Don’t hold yourself back! If you want it – go get it! Try that new thing!
When did you get involved with MSA? Tell us about the experience, your first impressions. How has MSA contributed to your success?
It was at the Atlanta Conference in 2016. The previous Store Manager had not had any involvement with MSA – but I needed to start getting info quickly. The thing about MSA is that it doesn’t speak at me – the discussion always includes me. I found that, most importantly, our work was a shared experience. Others were working with the same challenges I was facing. Learning about connection to mission and networking with other professionals transformed my vision for the store. I went back and began to truly change the focus of the business.
What inspired you to become involved with MSA at the national Board level? Are your first impressions matching your expectations?
It really was my work with MSA NEXT – and their collaboration with the Board. It helped me understand the level of work that was being done by the Board that most Members don’t get to see. There is so much work being done by these Board volunteers in order to make sure that MSA survives and thrives. It inspired me to want to make more of an impact – and I truly think that, working together as we do, MSA is unstoppable!
What is your next step in your career? Where do you see yourself headed?
I do love being in nonprofit retail – but that work has led me to connections with other associations – Chambers of Commerce and other professional groups. I have joined several other associations and I really enjoy creating layers of networking between these groups. I always love bringing more diverse groups into the Museum. Recently, I brought a group of millennials in – and a number of Museum staff sort of rushed over. Lets’ face it -- we are all trying to maintain the interest of this group as we move into the future. But I like being the catalyst for this kind of networking.
What are your thoughts on the recent MSA FORWARD VIRTUAL?
I think it was kind of the epitome of ingenuity matched to a present need. It took a LOT of work to pull this together and make it look that good. It was also really important that people who might not have been able to attend an in-person conference could be a part of this really important time for sharing information. There was so much to share about current conditions, reopening, and new procedures during all these changes, etc. We really were able to offer information needed for right now.
If you could offer advice for new MSA members, what would it be?
It is something that is really easy – but can be really hard for some folks. Reach out to other people! Ask questions, join groups, talk to others in your area. Being part of MSA means you are not out there alone. There are so many others willing and waiting to help you.
So -- a few fun questions!
What do you eat for breakfast? Why? Always the same?
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am NOT a morning person. My brain is not really on yet at that time of day – so I have a spinach omelet and coffee every day, no decisions to make. Now ask me at dinner time – a totally different story!
Do you have a hobby? Collection? Unusual talent?
I guess I would say camping and hiking. Being out in the forest – in the middle of nature – it really renews my spirit. I am also a relentless dancer – I can be doing a salsa anywhere!!
I think my answer is different after the year we have just lived through – right now I am desperate to be on a beach with NO COMPUTER!