Bachelors of Arts in History and Religious Studies, University of South Florida
Masters of Arts in Museum Studies, Johns Hopkins University
If you have a question about what’s going on at The Ringling or the latest entertainment gossip, Sonja Shea might be the best person to ask. The Ringling’s project coordinator wears many different hats, but her most important project is making sure that everyone is working together to produce world-class exhibitions that (always) open on time.
What was your path to The Ringling?
Sonja Shea: As soon as I graduated with my undergraduate degrees I knew that I wanted to work in a museum. I just didn’t know how to go about doing that. They were hiring here for a part-time position in the accounting department. I had no accounting experience, but it was mostly filing.
I thought it was perfect. It will be my first job at a museum. I can get my foot in the door. And for some reason they hired me. It turned into a full time job in accounting until a position in education opened up, and that was more up my alley. (The position in education) was dealing more with programs and art. I was in education for awhile until I started this position as project coordinator.
How many years have you been here?
You said that you knew you wanted to work in a museum, why is that?
SS: I love history, and I love art. When I started my undergraduate degree I had no one guiding me towards the best path towards working at a museum. So if I could go back I would have studied art history.
But I loved history. When I was a freshmen one of my professors asked what I was planning on doing. I said I could teach. And he suggested working at a museum. I thought that sounds awesome. I am going to do that. So it became my goal.
Why do you like history, and is there an area of history that you particularly enjoy?
SS: When I was 14 my grandparents took me to Italy, and that is when I fell in love with history. We walked in Rome. We went to the Coliseum. And I just fell in love.
And when I was 16 I went back to Europe, this time to England. I loved learning about the Tudors and the monarchy.
Those trips are why I am most interested in European history.
What do you do at The Ringling?
SS: I fall into different departments. I work with the theater, exhibitions, registration, preparation and conservation. One of the big things that I do is I help keep the exhibition schedule on schedule. When I first started in this position there hadn’t been a set schedule of meetings to prep for the exhibitions. So my first large task was to plan those.
I try to make sure that everything is on track and that everyone is one the same page. We start exhibition meetings a year in advance, so this is an ongoing project that will never end. It’s fun though. I really like it.
What is your favorite thing about The Ringling?
SS: That’s an impossible question. It’s like saying what’s my favorite movie.
SS: One of the things that I really love is the Ringling International Arts Festival. It’s really fun meeting performers from all over the world. You see performances that you would not see anyplace else. We had a dancer from India (Shantala Shivalingappa ),who performed traditional Indian dancing. You just don’t get to see things like that.
How did you end up in Sarasota?
SS: I moved here from New Jersey when I was in high school because I had to. It’s hard for a 16-year-old girl in high school to move. It’s an emotional time when you are 16.
What do you like about Sarasota?
SS: I like that it is very cultural. There is something for everybody. You have the opera house. You have play houses. You have theater. You have arts. You have the beaches. There is something for everyone.
You have a reputation as a pop culture savant.
SS I’m a walking E! News. I have a problem. I am addicted to pop culture and celebrities. And I love movies. I would see five movies every weekend if I could.
What movies are you obsessed with now?
SS: I vary from teen movies like Hunger Games to really serious films that are nominated for Oscars. I recently saw Dallas Buyers Club, which was depressing but really good.
So if you had to pick one movie…
SS: I couldn’t. I’ve played the game where if you were stranded on a desert island and you could only pick one… I don’t even know. Braveheart would be one. Last of the Mohicans. This is so hard. I will have to get back to you.
We will hold you to that.