Starting this spring, guests will see more folk art, fine art, decorative art and mechanical art; archaeological artifacts; and architectural fragments on display than ever before. The 65,000-square-foot expansion of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, which houses the two museums, will open in late April.
The expansion required Gilliam and the exhibition planning team to do more — and do it faster. In a typical year, for example, the staff changes about four exhibitions, each of which take about three years to plan and implement. In anticipation of the new space that the expansion creates, they planned 18 new exhibitions between 2019 and 2021, or about six exhibitions per year.
Multiple exhibitions are in various stages of production at any given time. As the staff works to fill the new galleries, as many as seven exhibitions are concurrently in production.
At the center of all this planning is Gilliam, who coordinates with the exhibition and curatorial teams to make sure the curator’s vision becomes a three-dimensional reality in a gallery.
“Jan is, in many ways, the glue that holds the exhibition process together because she has her finger on so many different pulses,” said Ronald L. Hurst, vice president for Museums, Preservation, and Historic Resources and the Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator.
Mounting an exhibition has very clear steps: a concept is chosen; an objects list is created; labels are written; graphics are designed; objects are moved; displays are made. But there are dozens of people who do the work in-house — curators, conservators, graphic designers, painters, electricians, fabricators, mount makers, exhibition designers — who brainstorm, develop and execute these steps.
Gilliam takes a hands-on approach, seeing an exhibition through from beginning to end. She not only keeps everyone on the same page but also helps write and edit labels, and even lends a hand with the installation.
“I like the variety,” Gilliam said. “I get to work with each curator and learn something about that topic and do the exhibit and then move on to the next topic. Everyone is so willing to share their knowledge and I get to handle a lot of the objects with them.”