Did you know that many of Seattle Art Museum’s day-to-day operations rely on the commitment and knowledge of volunteers? When Jody Tate began volunteering three years ago, he dreaded being asked what to see while visiting the museum. Now he enjoys asking questions to help people define their own interests in art and connect to art that they will think about for the rest of their lives! Our Manager of Volunteers asked Jody some questions so you can get to know him and learn more about the important role of SAM’s volunteers.
SAM: What is your current role?
Jody Tate: I’m a SAMbassador and very excited this year to be Vice Chair of the SAM Volunteer Association Executive Committee.
How long have you been volunteering at SAM?
Roughly three years. I had a year-long stint around 2010 and then started up again in 2016.
Why is SAM important to you?
SAM has the most historically diverse range of culturally significant artifacts in all of Seattle—where else under one roof can you see a painting by Amy Sherald, a sculpture by Cy Twombly, and Coast Salish art?
What is one of your favorite artworks in SAM’s collection, and why?
One of many favorites is Mann und Maus. I’ve had more conversations about it than anything else. It’s both approachable and petrifying. Some children toddle up exclaiming to a parent they’ve found Mickey Mouse, while some adults call it a nightmare rat. As for me, I can’t see it and not think of the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as mice (if you haven’t read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, you should) and Auschwitz’s gas chambers used Zyklon B, a pesticide. If we set aside historical atrocities for a moment, my favorite response to Mann und Maus was a little girl who told her father firmly: “Too big.”
When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?
I like to read (just about anything), write (poetry), cook, and just wander the city on foot.
What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?
In a former life, I was an academic. I did a PhD on Shakespeare at the University of Washington. Also, when I was supposed to be finishing that PhD, I procrastinated by editing a collection of essays on the band Radiohead.
What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?
I think some of the best SAMbassadors I’ve shadowed know how to ask questions that can help a patron begin answering her own questions. For example, an open-ended question I dreaded when I started volunteering was, “Where should I start?” Instead of having a rehearsed answer that’s one-size-fits-all, asking a patron what they’re interested in helps me come up with a possible starting point for a more personalized experience in the museum.
– Danie Alliance, Manager of Volunteer Programs
Photo: Natali Wiseman

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