Partnerships & Philanthropy

Former Student Bringing Change To The Museum World

|

In Denver, Colorado, Tanise Fox ’ 16 wants museums to be a place where visitors can “really feel” the items on display. She means that literally.

When her professional background in traditional museums left her wanting more, she joined the team at Meow Wolf ahead of their Denver opening. 

Meow Wolf, in Fox’s terms, removes the expectations of a classic museum, inviting visitors to touch and engage with the art however they want. The immersive art exhibit, now with a handful of locations across the country, started in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when seven eclectic artists rented a warehouse to display their art. The project eventually expanded, moving the original exhibit into an old bowling alley, then opening a location in Las Vegas, then Denver, Grapevine, and soon Houston.

“Too many people enter an art museum only to find themselves getting scolded,” said Fox, speaking from experience. “You can do everything right: stand behind the barrier, speak in only whispers to the people in your group, follow the posted rules, and a docent will still tell you you’re standing too close to the art, you’re being disruptive, and to put your phone away because no pictures are allowed. Just one bad experience like that can turn people away from museums for good.”

When she started with the company, Fox managed a large team, handling day-to-day operations, creating evening programming for adults and overseeing other community events. She is now a project manager for the data and engineering department, working with a team of developers compiling and analyzing data. As somebody who loves engaging with the public, even she was surprised by her desire to move into a more back-of-house role.

“I had never really considered myself a tech person, but moving to the data side of Meow Wolf has been such a great experience,” Fox said. “The process of making sure our company uses customer data ethically and responsibly has introduced me to a completely new side of museums. Our responsibility to our patrons’ data as well as their experience is vital to Meow Wolf’s mission.”

Originally from College Station, Fox knew that she wanted to be an Aggie but wanted the university experience somewhere other than her hometown. Within the Galveston Campus, she found the maritime studies program, which had a pathway into museums. Fox had found the perfect trifecta: an academic program she loved, a unique university experience, and she could remain an Aggie, taking advantage of the perks that come with it: access to Texas A&M’s vast academic resources, the support of one of the biggest alumni networks, SEC football, and, of course, the Aggie Ring.

Fox jokes that as a student, she was able to “build [her] own adventure” with the maritime studies degree, taking the required foundational courses while branching out to supplement her coursework with real-world museum experience.

In addition to her role at Meow Wolf, Fox is in the process of starting her own consulting firm for museums and nonprofits. She aims to help bridge the gap that frequently occurs between museum leadership and the surrounding community.

“There is a systematic distrust of museums within certain communities, and for good reason,” said Fox. “Museums are historically run by teams that value respectability over community building — social status over experience. I’m trying to change that.” 

Emphasizing the importance of leadership that reflects and respects its community, Fox continued, “Anyone should be able to go to a museum and see themselves and their demographics in the staff and volunteers.” 

Fox hopes to work with c-suite executives to give them a better understanding of how to represent and empower the community members in staff roles that are the face of the museum. As Fox puts it, the people “putting in the work” need representation at the organizations’ highest level. Fox is especially passionate about ensuring that no matter their background, museum workers earn a livable wage. 

“Many, if not most, Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and it’s so difficult to break into the museum world without a large financial safety net,” Fox said. She says that many of her colleagues, past and present, worked their way into the industry through volunteering, a luxury that most cannot afford. 

“Museums provide a tangible connection to learning, whether that’s art, history, science, or something else entirely,” Fox said. “Museums were part of my life growing up, and they should be accessible for everyone, so I’m doing what I can to break down the historic barriers for patrons and employees alike.”

Fox is resolute. “At the end of the day, a 9-month-old can participate in art and a 90-year-old can participate in art. I’m here to make that happen.”

Media Contact

Taylor Bounds
Content Specialist
bounds@tamug.edu
409-740-4929