Alexandra Drakakis (MA, 2007) is associate curator at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, where she has worked for nine years. A graduate of Rutgers University, she has also worked at Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers and interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Antonio Ratti Textile Center. She has written “Michele Martocci’s Shoes: Escape from the Towers,” an article in The Stories They Tell: Artifacts from the National September 11 Memorial Museum (Skira Rizzoli, 2013) and the foreword to American Heart 9/11 Tenth Anniversary A Remembrance, photographs by Douglas Potoksky (American Heart Productions LLC, 2013).

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?

I’ve always been fascinated by the cultural power of objects and their unique storytelling capacities. I first learned about the Bard Graduate Center’s program through my thesis advisor at Rutgers University, where I earned my BA in art history in 2004. She thought the program would offer me an opportunity to draw out the sociological and anthropological aspects of art history that I enjoyed and ultimately help deepen my relationship with the field of study. She couldn’t have been more correct. I was immediately drawn to the Center’s multidisciplinary approach to the study of the decorative arts, design, and culture. I was inspired by the way in which the school uses New York City’s constellation of cultural institutions as its playbook. Additionally, I loved the dynamic roster of talented, international professors that brought both academic theory and practical skills into their classrooms.

What was your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it?

When I matriculated in 2004, I didn’t have a clear area of focus. I’d long been interested in representations of women in art, however, and found an instant touchstone in “Ancient Greek and Roman Dress,” a course that was offered my first semester by visiting professor Dr. Jennifer Chi. Through Dr. Chi, students had access to the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection of antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Working directly from some of the collection’s Attic vessels, I ended up writing my final paper on the representation of the hetairai, an ancient Greek class of highly-educated, independent courtesans.

Professor Catherine Whalen introduced me to the field of material culture studies in my second semester, which was a real game-changer for me. It was through studying about people and their relationships to things, and learning —for the very first time—about ethnographic approaches to research, that I first began to think about the material culture of 9/11. In the fall of 2005, when I took “Consumer Culture in the US” with Dr. Marilyn Cohen, everything just clicked. I started to go down to Ground Zero and observe people interact with vendors selling postcard booklets and other memorabilia on the street, back when the site was still just a hole. Soon thereafter, I couldn’t pass a souvenir shop in Times Square without thinking about the commercialization of 9/11 and what that meant—mugs invoking the World Trade Center, or for-sale memorabilia printed with the names of the deceased. And from there, my master’s thesis was born, with Dr. Cohen as my wonderful advisor.

You are associate curator at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. Describe your position—and how you came to it. What sort of projects are you working on?

There is no doubt in my mind that my work at the Bard Graduate Center helped me land my post at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in 2007. I started out my time there performing research for the development of what would eventually become the Museum’s primary, historical exhibition. About a year into that work, I naturally transitioned into a role in the curatorial department where I began drawing from this research to conduct outreach and work to help acquire artifacts for the Museum’s permanent collection. While the collection was just starting out then, it has grown to include approximately 22,000 artifacts, across all mediums, many of which I have had a hand in bringing in. My work’s greatest asset has been the diversity of people with whom I intersect. In addition to working directly with a global network of 9/11 family members, I also meet people who survived that day, recovery workers from a whole host of city and government agencies, artists, scholars, collectors, and teachers. Being able to document memories and stories of a historical event from people who lived through it or were touched by it in some way, through objects that they carried or that their loved ones owned, is a great privilege. Personally, it has helped inform my own relationship to grief, and has re-affirmed my faith in human resilience. As these artifacts and stories come into the permanent collection, I then work as part of a team to find ways to make them accessible to the public in dynamic and meaningful ways through exhibition.

What ultimately is your professional goal?

My professional goals are still very much being shaped by my experience. I hope to always be in a position where I work directly with people and communities, and am able to harness the storytelling power of objects to teach history. I strive to give voice to groups that are historically underrepresented through the work that I do, and want to continue to uphold that throughout my career, as well.