(Note: Movers & Shakers, which I’ve been writing since its inception in 2011, features recently hired, promoted and otherwise news-making executives, entrepreneurs and business owners each Monday in the Star Tribune’s business section. Here, Movers Extra includes additional insights and wisdom from these smart, accomplished people.)
Mia Schillace Nelson, creative director at Outhouse Exhibit Services, has what many would consider a dream job — creating permanent and traveling exhibits for museums and other attractions in the Twin Cities and across the country. (Read the original Movers & Shakers piece here).
The company’s exhibits include Dr. Entomo’s Traveling Insect Circus, which this winter will bring tarantulas, scorpions and giant millipedes to St. Paul’s Como Zoo, and BUGS: Outside the Box, which consists of Italian sculptor and naturalist Lorenzo Possenti’s greatly enlarge insect sculptures, including such wonders as a dragonfly with a six-foot wingspan. Nelson’s latest effort is serving as project manager for the museum in the Masonic Center Heritage Center, which is to open next year in Bloomington.
One of the keys to keeping a small, specialty business like this going since 2003, as Nelson and her husband, Paul, have done is bringing out the best in the members of their team and finding individuals who will be “the heart of any project.”
How does Nelson go about getting the best of the people she works with?
“In every instance, you need someone who has that passion and drive and in-depth knowledge of the subject matter to make it sparkle and shine. It’s a lot of quiet observation and it’s a matter of figuring out how people tick and what makes the connection for them with the project, where their interests and drive lie in developing the project. The president and CEO are going to have a different point of view than a volunteer or a project manager or marketing director. All of these individuals bring their own unique viewpoints and it’s really important that you have that global view to have a successful project. And allow people to do the job they’re meant to do.”
How did Nelson get in to the exhibit business?
“I have a bachelor of science degree in merchandise management from Michigan State University. I started my career working in high-end jewelry. I was drawn to the creative process of creating unique pieces with pretty spectacular raw materials. And through that I have always had a passion for natural history. It was through a colleague that I found my way to the Field Museum and my first job there. It all came together for me when I started working in the exhibits department. It has that creative process but it also had a little meat to it in terms of an educational message. That’s very important to us, that our work has an educational message.
“It culminated for me, my career at the Field Museum, when I was the project manager for a temporary installation, “Cartier: 1900-1939,” which were the formative years of the company, where they were drawing their inspiration from global exploration and discoveries. Some of the jewelry was heavily Egyptian themed and some of it heavily Asian theme. That was the culmination of my early passions and my early career, that exhibit. I was fortunate enough to travel to the collections in Geneva and work with the curator for the British Museum and with the collection manager in Paris. It was a very exciting exhibit to work on.”