Lial Jones in her office at the Crocker Art Museum, where she oversees “an ocean of details,” including planning years ahead for major exhibits.

The Way We Work: Lial Jones

A glimpse into the daily life of Crocker Art Museum CEO Lial Jones

Back Article May 4, 2022 By Jeff Wilser

This story is part of our April 2022 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

 

For lovers of art, it’s the ultimate dream job: running the Crocker Art Museum. “My hobbies and my work are so intertwined,” says Lial Jones, Crocker’s CEO. “I am a professional in a field that many people consider a leisure activity.” She knows it’s a rare and special gig. 

That said, running a museum is very much a business. Or many businesses.  “What most people don’t understand is that museums are actually lots of different businesses under one roof,” Jones says. Just a partial list: the exhibitions themselves, a retail store, catalog publishing, facility rentals to companies and studio art classes. 

Perhaps you imagined a glamorous, indulgent workday of being inspired by art. Here’s the reality. 

3AM – Insomnia. Reads email or plays solitaire. 

5AM – Falls back to sleep (hopefully).

7AM – While still in bed, Jones reaches for her iPad and checks her email. This daily ritual is never skipped. “Weekends, vacations; this is the one thing that happens absolutely every day,” she says. She consumes industry-specific news (often via newsletter) such as ArtNews, Hyperallergic and Art Fix Daily in addition to The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

8AM – Takes her “pandemic puppy” (technically, a pandemic geriatric poodle) for a walk, then grabs a quick breakfast and commutes to work.  

9AM – Weekly senior leadership meeting. She jokes these are “rambling meetings that drive everybody crazy,” but are important for mapping short-term tasks to long-term goals — crucial as the exhibits are planned three to five years out.

11AM – Desk work, which often means overseeing an ocean of details. “Exhibitions are something people think just appear,” Jones says, but if an exhibit involves 100 pieces, that’s 100 different relationships that need to be built. That means correspondence, paperwork and sorting insurance policies. “It becomes very mundane in some ways. But the mastery of all these tiny details are what helps the exhibitions look seamless to the public.”

12PM -  Lunch with a member, then a visit to the Coordinates: ICE PAC art installation at the former PACSAT satellite news broadcast headquarters that ran in March. Excursions like this have been rare, especially during COVID. “I’d like to say that half of my time is spent looking at art, but that would be a gross exaggeration,” she says. “I don’t know what the exact percentage is, but if I could get it up to 10 percent that would be more than I’ve been doing the last couple of years.”

1PM – Back to the office. One thing Jones does every day is review the incoming donations, which is part of the museum’s financial controls. “We’re an institution that’s basically kept afloat because we provide services that people are willing to give donations towards,” she says, so she feels an extra responsibility to be fiscally conscious.

2PM -  More meetings, such as with a consultant about new software, or a Zoom meeting with upper-level donors.

4PM –  Back to the desk and managing details. Another example: Given all the moving parts of the museum’s many events, a good chunk of Jones’ job is to analyze the schedule (which spans up to five years) to ensure there are no conflicts. Or as she puts it, “Traffic copping is what that is.”

6PM –  Walks her dog. “Daily dog walks get me outside and are the one thing I can’t say no to.”

7PM – Dinner. “My partner and I have a weekly dinner with a close friend who also happens to be a wonderful chef. I don’t love to cook myself, but love that others do!”    

8PM – Downtime, often a bit of TV bingeing as a form of escape. “I tend to find a series and then I’ll watch the entire series.” She recently enjoyed “Pieces of Her” starring Toni Collette.

10PM - Gives her poodle the final walk of the day. 

11PM – Drifts off to sleep. 

Favorite to-do list system: 

“I don’t have one. Which isn’t to say I haven’t tried many. Despite being very pattern-oriented I’m not a good systems person. Some might call me organizationally impaired.” 

How she stays focused: 

“I was an only child and entertained myself a lot. I think that gave me an amazing capacity to focus. I can sit working on something for hours, even taking breaks, eating, but staying mentally engaged in the project.”

The one thing she wishes she has more time for:

“Looking at art.”

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