Profile: Sophia Siskel '99
Sophia Siskel '99 leads Chicago's Field Museum into
the 21st Century
daughter of an anthropologist, Sophia Siskel '99 spent
many afternoons under the dinosaur bones at Chicago's
Field Museum of Natural History, contemplating the mysteries
of the past.
later, she still draws inspiration from the Field, but now
her vision is focused intently on the future.
Siskel is the Field's youngest-ever director of exhibitions
and education. A graduate of the Kellogg School's part-time
Managers' Program, she deserves much of the credit
for a string of popular recent exhibits at the museum, including
Chocolate, Pearls and Baseball as America.
is her latest coup that has caused much of the art world to
sit up and take notice. After two years of quiet negotiations
with the Chinese government, Siskel will bring hundreds of
rarely seen treasures from Beijing's Forbidden City
to the Field next year.
is expected to be one of the hottest tickets of 2004, with
institutions around the country lining up to host the exhibit
after its Chicago run.
the exhibit will be the culmination of a long-held dream.
is one of the world's oldest cultures, with an element
of mystery to it," she says. "The Forbidden City
is a world of mystery within a world of mystery. To reveal
the history and artifacts of this place to a broad audience
is very much in keeping with the Field's mission."
Siskel's as well. Her many years of service in Chicago's
art world are testimony to her desire to bring the world's
most treasured artifacts to a local audience.
she joined the Field, Siskel served as an assistant curator
at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Prior to that,
she helped coordinate the Art Institute of Chicago's
smash Claude Monet retrospective in 1995.
to her Kellogg School MBA, Siskel holds a master's
degree in art history from the University of Chicago. She
lives in Evanston with her husband Jonathan, a television
director and producer, and their son Nathan, who was born
in art was forged early, through exposure to both her parents'
careers. Her mother is an anthropologist, and her father is
an architect who often brought Siskel to his job sites.
once thought she too would pursue a career in architecture.
Her early studies in economics, however, convinced her that
a career that melded both art and business would better satisfy
her nature as a "puzzle-doer."
love to figure out solutions to problems and see how all the
pieces fit together," she says.
Siskel turned to Kellogg to bolster her skills in museum management.
"I wanted to learn more about budgeting, looking at
balance sheets, speaking to boards of directors," she
recalls. "I really made myself focus on accounting
and finance, because I didn't feel I could get that
knowledge out of a book."
came in handy when Siskel joined the Field Museum in 1997,
after learning about an opening from a contact she'd
made through a Kellogg class project. As a special-projects
coordinator, she created a strategy to analyze the financial
viability of each potential exhibit to ensure the museum broke
even each year. Before her tenure, museum administrators had
used more subjective criteria in determining which exhibits
moved up quickly through the museum's ranks, assuming
her current post in 1999. And for that, Siskel says, she has
Kellogg to thank.
probably would have been fine if I'd just had the art-history
background," she says. "But I would not be in
the place I am now without my Kellogg degree."