Art Matters Because It’s In Our DNA - 10 Questions with Sheri Verile, Chief of Security at MOCA Jacksonville
At the time of reporting, there were 291 full-time employees and 413 part-time employees who worked for the 26 non-profit arts organizations in Duval County that received public funding through the City of Jacksonville's Cultural Service Grant Program (CSG) during fiscal year 2016-2017. Add on top of that another 539 independent contractors and 14,776 volunteers. These figures are used to illustrate the fact that a lot of individual and collective efforts go into developing, marketing, and delivering engaging cultural programs and activities that make Jacksonville a better place to live, work, and visit.
Many of these individuals go unseen by the patron's eye as they work behind the scene to execute their organization's mission. But, one employee at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA) has taken a role that is traditionally viewed as authoritarian and has elevated it into a role that includes patron engagement, customer service, education, and being a cultural ambassador. That employee is Sheri Verile, MOCA's Chief of Security.
Verile is a native of Jacksonville. She attended a local university where she received her associate's degree in Office Administration before obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management. Her formal job description includes being responsible for the safety of the art, the building, guests, and staff, but the impact she has made at the museum goes far beyond that.
Verile is what you would describe as a genuine "people person." Start a conversation with her and you're bound to have your perspective of art expanded as she communicates additional context related to exhibits, individual pieces, and the artists responsible for the work. Verile has a unique ability to provide patrons of MOCA with an incredibly personalized experience, making her an invaluable part of the museum's team.
MOCA is one of the many non-profit arts organizations in Duval County that relies on individual contributions, corporate sponsorship, and public support to serve their mission. Public support comes in the way of federal funding, state funding, and local funding. Non-profit arts organizations are operating on tighter and tighter budgets as funding across the board either remains flat or is drastically cut. For instance, funding at the State level has been slashed from $1,690,178 in 2017-2018 to a proposed $132,695 for 2018-2019, a grotesque reduction of 90%. Additionally, funding at the local level has remained flat since 2013-2014, even though the number of organizations applying for funding has increased.
Remember the employment figures shared at the start of this article? It isn't unlikely to see those figures reduced in proportion to funding reductions. That's why it is important that each of you reading this article contact your local City Council representatives and State legislators and voice your support for arts and culture. Make no mistake, a simple email or phone call expressing that you believe in adequate public funding of non-profit arts and culture organizations can make a difference. Please, contact your Council Member, Senator, Congress Person, and House Representative today!
10 Questions with Sheri Verile
How did you begin your career at MOCA?
I had just moved back to Florida from the state of Virginia. I learned of a part-time security position open at the museum, and I applied. The rest is history.
What have you learned about yourself through your time spent at the museum?
I’ve learned to appreciate and love art!! My love for the arts has truly evolved over the years. Sometimes I feel abstract art is speaking to me through lines, color, and patterns; it expresses the artist's emotions during the moments of his/her creative process.
What is an individual piece or exhibit that left a lasting impression on you and what do you think it was that allowed for you to be impacted in the way that you were?
There was an exhibition a few years back, The White Exhibit, that featured a wall of clouds created from clear drinking straws. That exhibit really blew me away. Who would have thought that straws would be a center of attraction and an art form! It amazes me how an artist can take everyday materials and create a beautiful work of art that is adored by many people.
What role do you see like MOCA playing in the community?
I would love to see MOCA work in collaboration with other museums to create a platform or start a program that reaches out to all parts of the City to conceive an art project that involves a community themed work of art. It could be displayed in Hemming Park on a semiannual basis in the form of a community exhibition. Think of it as an initiative suitable for all ages.
If someone has never visited MOCA what would you say to them to encourage them to experience the museum in-person?
MOCA is unlike any other museum. Project Atrium is a space to see large scale installations of art that transform a space. You get a behind the scenes view during new installations and have an opportunity to see artists and installers at work. How cool is that?!
Culturally, I see it as place of inspiration. I would say, MOCA is a place of knowledge that fosters creativity, especially in children, and it’s a fun place to be. Some exciting moments are when school aged groups of children enter into the galleries for the first time while on tours and their eyes glimmer with excitement when they see colorful large paintings and sculptures. Their reactions are priceless.
By title, you are the Chief of Security. However, you approach your job with a level of engagement and interest that positions you as an ambassador to the museum and the works on display. How do you define your role at MOCA?
Engaging in conversation with guest and visitors about art related topics is really the most exciting part of my job. At the end of a visit, I sometimes ask the guest what was their favorite piece or series. When they say “I loved the Picasso series” in our permanent collection or “I loved the glasses of water on the stools in the Smoke and Mirrors exhibit, Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair images, or James Rosenquist’s Time Zones,” that’s music to my ears because Picasso and Ken Matsubara are favorites of mine, as well.
What do you think are some effective ways to provide someone with additional context or encourage them to think more broadly when their first reaction to a piece of art is to claim that they don't understand it?
Moments when some may not understand a particular work of art could be, perhaps, because contemporary art might not be a style of art they like. Talking points would be something informative about the artist that’s not written on information sheets or the directory, such as, “Did you know that this artist was the first in his/her time to work with this type of technique and process?” This usually strikes their interest and gives me a chance to engage more about the work of art.
You're a Jacksonville native. How do you think the artists and arts organizations of our region can help communicate the City's identity and what do you think that identity is?
I think family is the identity of the community. An important part of community building is identifying the overlap between self-interest and common interest. By identifying the source of a particular interest of a community, art organizations can build strong relationships in diverse neighborhoods. By sharing ideas that involve family activities, art organizations stimulate creativity within the communities.
Why do the arts matter?
Art is therapy and can soothe the soul. Art belongs to everyone and it can influence every aspect of the World around us, even if it is not always obvious. I believe humans are creative beings by nature, and art can help develop and nurture what is within all of us. Art matters because it’s in our DNA. It’s beyond words of beauty; it's things that should be seen and shared by people all over the world.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector and creative industries?
I see that art is on the rise in our city and we should keep a tenacious spirt when it comes to nurturing the growth of the art industries/communities.
We'd like to thank Sheri for her participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville serves six primary roles in Northeast Florida.
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