Followed closely through the Hammer Museum by 11 high school students, Evan Moffitt was constantly in motion, at times making fists, raising his arms and kneeling down to grab his followers’ attention.
Moffitt had a class at that time, but sometimes his job is worth missing lecture. As a student educator who gives tours at the Hammer, Moffitt jumped at the opportunity to lead a tour of younger students despite his busy schedule.
Moffitt, a second-year philosophy student, is one of five undergraduate students employed by the Hammer to give public and private tours of the museum’s exhibitions and permanent collections.
The job is Moffitt’s chance to work at a place he visited while growing up in Los Angeles. He enjoys his work for its intellectual environment, he said. The job has also fostered a desire to work as a museum registrar, where he can plan the logistics of moving pieces into and out of the museum.
“(The Hammer) had one painting that was so huge that they had to remove this entire (wall of) windows, and then bring it out with a crane,” Moffitt said. “It filled the entire back of an 18-wheeler, and then they put it on a jet and flew it to the Louvre in Paris.
“It’s crazy,” he added, a smile spreading across his face. “I want to do that.”
Hired in September, Moffitt plans to continue working at the museum after his yearlong position is finished.
The Hammer is also currently interviewing students to fill additional student educator positions for the next school year, said Sarah Kozal, programs assistant of academic programs at the museum.
Kozal said what she looks for is a general interest in art, but not specifically an academic career in the arts or art history. The Hammer’s student educators come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing interdisciplinary outlooks to the job.
“There are certain requirements about knowing basic elements of the artwork (such as the piece’s title and the materials used), but beyond that, it’s up to (the students’) own interests,” Kozal said. “You get to tailor the tours. We don’t tell you what to say.”
Students get to select their own hours, working an average of eight to 10 hours per week. They can also pick which tours they want to lead, either free, public tours every Thursday at 6:15 p.m. or private tours to groups that sign up ahead of time.
Apart from touring time, students choose when they want come in for their required in-office research on information they want to include in their custom-made tours, Kozal said.
Moffitt said the Hammer’s flexibility is the reason he is able to do the job. Outside of classes and the Hammer, he also coheads the production of Graphite, UCLA’s art journal, and is the social chair for the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Moffitt fills his research hours roaming around the museum, familiarizing himself with new pieces, reading up on artists and preparing pop culture references tailored for that week’s audience.
Tuesday afternoon, Moffitt was giving one of the week’s private tours. Wearing a gray denim button-up that revealed a tattoo of “bottled lightning” inspired by his favorite Charles Dickens quote, Moffitt moved throughout galleries I, II and III, followed closely by sculpture students from nearby Marymount High School.
Piece by piece, he highlighted his favorite sculptures in the current Alina Szapocznikow exhibit, pronouncing the artist’s last name with ease, to the delight of the students’ teacher.
Standing to the left of a statue titled “First Love,” Moffitt brought in the artist’s personal history, sharing with the group how her internment in Auschwitz and diagnosis with breast cancer influenced her sculpting. While he said he could get by with only the basic knowledge of the pieces he discusses, it would greatly limit the experience for his tour groups.
For Moffitt, collecting information for the tours is his favorite part of the job. He has liked researching art history at the Hammer over the past six months so much that he has even decided to add an art history minor, he said.
“My research brings out information or understanding that I value because it’s so connected to everything, to philosophy and art and history and literature and culture in general,” he said. “It keeps my brain going.”
During the tour, Moffitt’s confident demeanor only wavered once, when a security guard reminded the visitors that pens are not allowed in the gallery.
But he quickly got back into the flow of talking, gesturing heavily with his hands to call attention to a sculpture’s gaping mouth, which he characterized as “brutal and violent.”
Ceres Madoo, the Marymount High School teacher along for the tour, said she was impressed with Moffitt’s thoughtful and unassuming presence, and wished her class could stay with him all day.
“He gave a lot of information … but didn’t act like he knew everything,” Madoo said. “He wanted to explore the pieces with us, and that’s exactly what I want for my students.”
For Madoo and her students, the best moments of the tour were when Moffitt stopped to ask questions. Posing questions about the art pieces is key to a tour’s success, but also the hardest part of the job, Moffitt said.
He hopes his questions show visitors that their opinions hold just as much authority as those of an art historian and break down the stereotype museums have as being cold and quiet.
And if there was anything else they needed to know, Moffitt reminded his group at the tours’ end, he could be found wandering the Hammer’s exhibits.