While roaming the Internet one day, I ran across a design website with photos of fun coffee mugs of all shapes and sizes. It made me think of our newly opened European Design exhibit, and work, and drinking coffee since that’s what I do at work–drink coffee.
I found some more interesting websites about coffee, especially ones where coffee intersects with art and design. And I thought back to the old days when our coffee arrangement here at the IMA was entirely different. Cue the harp sound effects and wavy visual for a flashback…
Back in the day, the IMA was a different place. Security was a brand new department with all its damn rules and procedures, and the staff lounge was on the Service Level (basement, for the uninitiated), now the Art Viewing room. Coffee was free and the Bunn always had a pot of Joe on the warmer, thanks to Marty Krause, our Prints and Drawings curator. You see, smoking was allowed in the break room back then, and Marty had a reserved table where he smoked his pipe, wrote on his legal pads, and answered the phone (usually calls for him).
Staff from all departments would come in at various times of the day to grab a cup of java and sit and chat with whomever was present at the time. Conversations were often lively and wide-ranging, and everyone could get to know the new security people. The officers guzzled coffee to stay alert while working 12-hour shifts.
Move to the present and we find that coffee is no longer freely supplied by the museum. As a result, various departments have their own coffee and coffee makers. In addition, departments which once lined the corridor along with the old break room have now been moved up and away, a sort of urban flight which has impacted cross-department chit chat. Add a new location for the staff lounge, a new café, and new technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and this site and you have a situation where staff is more inclined to stay in their own neighborhood, so to speak, instead of venturing out and having casual, face-to-face interactions with co-workers.
The idea of a “coffee break” was to get workers away from their activities in order to relax and refresh themselves. With a combination of economic needs (no free coffee), restructuring (department relocations), and new technologies (Twitter) the chance for workers to relax, share ideas, and entertain each other has been reduced.
Now, I find myself refilling my mug and either conversing with my own staff or returning to my desk to check email, the IMA blog, or get my political news fix. I have the luxury of being able to get out and wander the building and grounds, and speak with other folks, but too often my interactions are limited to email or meetings. I miss the days of sitting in the break room listening to travel stories, tales from the C.I.A., and hearing about who fell asleep on post. Sigh.