When I found out that Mike Sittenfeld, Director of Publications at The Jewish Museum, received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, I felt that sense of camaraderie I like to imagine all English majors feel amongst each other. Mike understands just how delicate the editing process is. He acknowledges that his job requires much sensitivity. Writers often become tied to their words and are resistant to outside editing. However, Mike’s favorite part of the editing process is clarifying a text so that the author’s intentions can be fully realized. With his help, The JM publishes two to three books a year.
Before joining The JM staff ten years ago, Mike worked at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. His long career as a publisher/editor allows him to offer the following advice for students interested in his field: The best thing to do is read widely, paying close attention to the subtleties of language and the originality of the writer’s voice. (Insider tip: During interviews, Mike always asks what an applicant is currently reading.)
A typical work day for Mike consists of editing exhibition text panels and essays for exhibition catalogues (which are copublished with Yale University Press), securing image rights for catalogue images, planning new books, managing project budgets, and working with designers. Over the past ten years, Mike has cultivated relationships with wonderful designers and says they have taught him a lot about visual aesthetics. He loves that working for The JM allows him to explore art and history, and enjoys getting to work on books that are strongly connected to Jewish culture. The most challenging part of his job is balancing all of his responsibilities so that books get published on schedule.
Two of Mike’s favorite works at The JM are Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings permanently installed on the second floor. He loves that LeWitt used simple materials (only lines and colors) to create vibrant paintings that seem to respond not only to each other but to the architecture of the museum. Mike’s favorite JM catalogue is Alias Man Ray. He thought the essays and illustrated timeline were very engaging, and he enjoyed learning about an artist of such importance and subtlety. He was also exceedingly pleased with the book’s design.
In his free time Mike enjoys reading, spending time with his family, swimming with his daughter, going to other museums, and watching old movies.
Scene + Heard is an ongoing blog series profiling Jewish Museum staff. We often hear questions such as the above from our friends and visitors. These profiles provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our 9 to 5 lives. Please feel free to send us questions for future profiles to info(at)thejm.org.
– Shira Dickstein, Marketing Intern, conducted the interview and wrote this article.