Will Work for Art: Christopher Lentz

"Will Work for Art" takes you behind the scenes to meet the people who make the Fine Arts Museums work. This week we introduce you to the fabulous Christopher Lentz, Manager of Visitor Services and Volunteer Programs. Originally from Nashville (by way of Honolulu), Christopher has been with the Museums for over two years.

Chris pictured in his "crying gallery," James Turrell's Three Gems.

What do you do here at the Museums?

I’m responsible for the oversight of visitor services operations, including frontline staff and volunteer programs. In general, we help with crowd flow, non-member ticketing, information dissemination, and patron issues as well as the safety and security of our guests. I like to say my department is the concierge for the Museums. Visiting these buildings can be intimidating so it’s up to visitor services to make them more accessible. Through demystifying the museums, we hope to make our patrons ambassadors who will take their positive experiences out into the world at large and share them with others.

How did you become involved with the Museums?

I’ve been thinking of a tactful way to answer this, but here goes. I needed a job. I was a victim of the economic downturn, coming from a career in corporate retail. I first started working at the Museums for Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs as a Visitor Services Supervisor. At the time I was glad for the work, and now I’m glad for the career. I am still shocked almost daily at the parallels between my former path and my current work. The basic principles of customer service don’t change just because we are in a museum, after all.

What is your favorite artwork or gallery in the Museums and why?

I know it’s going against the rules, but I’m choosing two. So there. The James Turrell sculpture Three Gems and the Richard Mayhew painting Rhapsody. Being from the south, I love a good story, and the Mayhew piece has a great little back story. Rhapsody was purchased entirely with monies from the Volunteer Acquisition Fund, which is comprised of donations collected by the coat check volunteers at the Legion of Honor and the de Young. The volunteers purchased this gorgeous work outright, at the suggestion of curator Tim Burgard, and it makes me proud to see their hard work and dedication displayed in a tangible way. Plus, it’s super pretty.

Richard Mayhew (American, b. 1924). Rhapsody, 2002. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, Volunteer Council Art Acquisition Fund. 2010.2. On view in Gallery 27 at the de Young.

The Turrell sculpture is my "crying" gallery, if you will. When I need a moment I can go there and find some solace. I love that each moment of each day really is different in there. It’s so often overlooked and I think it helps remind me to look for the unexpected around me. That said, Clara Hatcher already chose it in her “Will Work for Art,” so maybe I need a new place to shed my tears.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I watch a lot of bad reality TV… If it’s a show involving a city with some real housewives or some toddlers in tiaras I’ve seen it. But seriously, I’ve become interested in Bhangra dance. I fully believe in the importance of failing regularly, and trying a dance from a different culture allows me the space to do that. A lot. I have also started painting ceramic koi. OK, let’s be honest… Mostly bad reality TV.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around how to provide old-world customer service in a rapidly changing multimedia environment. i-thingamjigs with apps that allow you to launch small missiles while reading the New York Times are certainly changing the way we engage our patrons. Keeping that in mind, an old fashioned look in the eye, a smile, and an honest “how can I help” go further than ever before. I’ve been spending most of my time recently brainstorming about how to use the tools provided by Silicon Valley to enhance the patron experience without removing the human touch. It’s exciting and scary where guest services is heading, and I hope it means I can write-off the purchase of some new, um, toys. They’re work related… I SWEAR.

Do you remember the first time you visited the Museums?

I’ve only lived in San Francisco for the last three years (after NYC and Chicago), so I don’t have childhood memories of the building, sadly. The first time I visited ‘ole Iron Sides was on Mother’s Day of 2009 when Warhol Live was the special exhibition. It was quite an experience. I clearly remember walking up to the de Young and thinking it wasn’t finished, the Tower appearing to be wrapped in scaffolding still. Then I entered the building and had a true "moment" when I first saw the Fern Court behind what is now the membership desk. The crisp white walls of the interior, when viewed in tandem with the copper exterior and greens of the ferns, took my breath away.