On the right path


As a student at Iowa State in the late 1970s, Lori Jacobson (A) was not thinking about a career in museum management.

In fact, she didn’t even know that an art museum existed on campus until she met Nancy Gillespie, then director of the Brunnier Gallery (as it was known then), at the Ames clothing store where she was working part time.

Once she learned of the museum’s existence, she was intrigued. Once she met Lynette Pohlman, she was hooked.

Pohlman (L)(’72 interior design, MA ’76) – who is now the longtime director and chief curator of University Museums – hired Jacobson to help install and catalog collections for the Brunnier. Jacobson immediately knew she was in the right place.

“The first day I showed up at the Brunnier and worked with other students installing a permanent collection of glass, I was in awe and smitten,” she says. “I had no idea that the profession existed. From day one, I knew I was on my path.”

Jacobson was then at the end of her sophomore year. She had struggled with choosing her major; she knew she wanted to go into an area of the arts, but she had shifted from art education to interior design to advertising design and still didn’t feel like she was in the right niche. Once she discovered museums, she added history to her already declared art major. She graduated with a double major in 1980 and stayed on for a year to work with Pohlman on a project that would help build a case for using the museum’s collection in classrooms across campus.

The experience at University Museums, she says, boosted her selfconfidence and pushed her out of her comfort zone.

She became curator of collections at the McAllen International Museum in McAllen, Texas, traveling in Mexico to collect folk art and textiles. She became the assistant museum educator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and then executive director for the Western Museums Association.

“One thing just led to another,” she said. “I learned the design and construction side of exhibitions. I always felt excited to be part of something bigger that had an educational mission.”

Eventually Jacobson co-founded THINK Jacobson & Roth, an exhibition development and management firm. For 15 years she managed designs, installations, fabrications, and other projects for natural history, history, paleontology, and art museums.

Two years ago she decided to “push the edge of the envelope” a bit more by launching Lori Jacobson Consulting, her own Los Angeles-based planning and project management firm, working with educational exhibits and interpretive materials.

One of her first clients was Lynette Pohlman.

Pohlman was looking for a project manager to curate the content for a major University Museums publication.

In just two years, Jacobson helped Pohlman and her team organize documents, photographs, and notes that had been collected over the past 30 years. The result is the comprehensive Campus Beautiful, a 480-page book with 450 images, nine primary authors, and 25 secondary authors.

“It came together surprisingly fast and without as much anguish as you’d expect,” Jacobson says. “If we had done this at [another museum], it would have taken five years. Being part of a smaller, can-do team makes all the difference.”

The book was revealed at the Sept. 19 University Museums 40th anniversary celebration in the Brunnier Art Museum.

Pohlman credits Jacobson with having the time commitment, organization, follow-through, vision, and ability to keep people moving in the same direction.

“The book would not be done if not for Lori,” Pohlman said. “I would still be muddling around. She brings energy to everything she does.”


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