Museum specialist showcases her lessons of work life balance

By Steven Adamo

During a virtual meetup Thursday, Independent Curator and Program Specialist Jennelyn Tumalad shared lessons learned as a first generation Black, Indigenous, and People of Color museum professional. The virtual event was hosted by East Los Angeles College’s Museum Studies Certificate Program at the Vincent Price Art Museum.
When wondering at which point success is reached, Tumalad described a “colonized mindset” that she had to break out of in order to thrive.
At the time, she thought that success in the field was determined by moving to New York City and working at the Museum of Modern Art or The Met. “So that’s what I did,” Tumalad said.
“Success to me, in my earlier career, really was tied to title. To institution. To things that were characteristics or values that were associated to my work life and my work identity,” Tumalad said.
Balancing work and personal life is something that Tumalad says is important. She describes the impulse to say “yes” to everything as being a good worker and team-player, something she attributes to her being a first-generation immigrant. Tumalad admits that she’s still learning to actively say “no” to certain projects.
“As a woman, particularly a woman of color, you’re socialized to say ‘yes’ to everything and just support, be quiet and not take space,” Tumalad said. “I’ve been actively trying to say no and to prioritize breaks.”
Tumalad struggled to afford a four-year college, working other jobs to pay for her education.
At the time, she was offered to be a contractor. She was not offered an actual position with benefits, often being told that she wouldn’t like working at the institution.
“There really is an extra pressure in which you are feeling pressured to achieve that American dream, to prove that your sacrifices and your family’s sacrifices are worth it,” Tumalad said.
The legacies of museums, Tumalad said, are rooted in Colonialism that continues today by often featuring work by BIPOC artists. All the while, BIPOC are rarely hired as staff. If they are hired, Tumalad said, they’re often tokenized or featured for optics.
Though many of the systemic barriers seem impossible to change, Tumalad said, it’s important not to get discouraged because the unique aspects of the work make the field worth improving. She said it’s best to be strategic, when given the opportunity, and to think of yourself as your “own org” by making sure your future jobs align with your own personal values.
Tumalad said that do-it-yourself work is important to include on resumes, and in her experience, some of her biggest successes. Focusing on passion-projects, Tumalad said, is a good way to create new opportunities for yourself — just be mindful of the “red flags.”
High staff turnover and no salary amount posted are a couple of the “red flags” Tumalad said to look out for when applying or taking on a new collaboration.
The next Museum Studies Certificate Program meetup takes place virtually on April 21 and will be a conversation about community museums. To register, visit

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