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A photo shows a young, light-skinned woman with light-brown hair smiling and facing the viewer. Behind her and to her right is a balcony rail, beyond which extends the light-filled, white expanse of the Art Institute of Chicago's Griffin Court, within the Modern Wing. Glass doors and windows hint at a park just beyond. A photo shows a young, light-skinned woman with light-brown hair smiling and facing the viewer. Behind her and to her right is a balcony rail, beyond which extends the light-filled, white expanse of the Art Institute of Chicago's Griffin Court, within the Modern Wing. Glass doors and windows hint at a park just beyond.

Lauren Makholm, Director of Production, Publishing

Meet the Staff



Before we began working closely together, I knew Lauren as a caring, thoughtful, chill friend with a bright energy who’s always down for a song.

In recent years, as the Publishing and Experience Design teams have increasingly collaborated, I’ve come to know her as a colleague with a passion for surfacing new stories, a keen attention to detail, and a strong reverence for honoring an artist’s vision. When she asked me to join her in this conversation, I didn’t hesitate. I’m excited to share it with you.

nikhil: Because you work in Publishing, I thought I would ask you a question about books to start. Do you remember the very first book that you read?

Lauren: Oh wow, that’s a tough one. My parents read books to me, of course, but the first book I have a significant memory of reading by myself might be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

nikhil: That’s an epic first read!

Lauren: I enjoyed the story, and I remember I had a beautiful box set of the series. I loved the colors on the casewrap and the art on the book jackets just as much. 

So you’ve always thought about books in a physical way. 

Lauren: I think so. It would be very difficult for me to look at them any differently now, given my work. 

Photo of Lauren Makholm, left, and nikhil trivedi, a medium-skinned man with glasses, right, seated at the near end of a long white table across from one another. Beyond them are several small round tables and a balcony railing. Above is the very high ceiling of the Art Institute's Griffin Court, its skylights adorned with a rainbow of colored vinyls composing Margaret Honda's installation "Double Feature with Short Subject."

Lauren and nikhil in the Modern Café

nikhil: Tell me in a nutshell what your job involves—maybe some of what you do from day to day. 

Lauren: I produce exhibition and collection catalogues for the museum in both print and digital formats. The Publishing department is made up of two halves: production and editorial. In production, where my work is focused, we manage the technical aspects of book projects, from the creation of schedules, budgets, and bookmaps to working with designers, printers, and developers. We also oversee the acquisition and adjustment of image files for publication. Over the course of a year we produce eight to 10 books.

nikhil: Before working at the museum, had you ever thought about making books?

Lauren: I’d never really entertained working in publishing, although as an English major I chased a number of editorial jobs. I didn’t know that museum publishing was a thing, and I didn’t know anything about book production at all. But I fell into it and fell in love with it along the way.

I think there are a lot of jobs in museums that people don’t realize are a thing there—web development included! What was your first role here? 

Lauren: I was an intern in the department of Prints and Drawings around 14 years ago, if you can believe it. I worked on the exhibition and catalogue Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–1945, which was an eye-opening experience. Because I had studied English literature and Russian in college, I was able to do some of the Russian-language research this project involved. But I had very little experience with art, and I hadn’t ever expected to work at an art museum. I particularly enjoyed working on the catalogue, though, and when a position opened up in Publishing, I jumped at the opportunity.

A personal photograph of Lauren Makholm in the Art Institute's Museum Shop next to a stack of exhibition catalogues that read "Windows on the War."

In the Museum Shop, 2011, with the first catalogue she worked on: Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–1945

nikhil: What was that role?

Lauren: Photography editor, a position we now call rights and reproductions specialist. My job was to obtain images and clear rights for our books. A role like that is a great introduction to the art and museum worlds, because right away you’re interacting with scores of museums and rights holders, and you get to work on every single catalogue. One day you’re deep in conceptual art of the 1960s and ’70s, and the next you’re working with museums in Italy to obtain images of Renaissance and Baroque drawings. I learned a lot very quickly.

nikhil: I think I’ve told you this, but part of why I wanted to work here was so I could take classes at SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago). I had always wanted to go to art school, but my immigrant parents were like, “You’re not going to art school,” so I pursued computer science instead. I didn’t end up taking many art classes after all, but I’ve gotten an informal art history education just by working here. 

Lauren: That was my experience too. Although I did eventually take some art history classes—I have a master’s degree in modern and contemporary art history from SAIC, which I completed while working and learning from the collection here.

nikhil: Was there much art in your life growing up?

Lauren: Some, but my family is more oriented around music. My grandmother was a pianist, choral conductor, and educator. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a master’s degree in piano performance in the early 1950s, and she made sure that everyone in our extended family played the piano and had music in their lives. Other members of my family have gone on to pursue music professionally. To be honest, I was never a very dedicated piano player, but I channeled my love of the humanities into books, literature, and choral singing. My aunt is also an art historian!

A personal photo shows an older, light-skinned woman in a yellow T-shirt seated at piano and playing it while a young girl with light hair, about the age of 2, sits staring ahead, her arms clutching a gray plush animal.

At the piano with her grandmother

nikhil: What do you love most about making books?

Lauren: The process of working out a book’s design is highly collaborative and always really interesting. Working with curators and designers and asking questions to determine how the physical aspects of a book can help communicate the thesis of a project are fun challenges. You can say so much through the feel, look, design, and organization of a book. 

The catalogue for the Christina Ramberg retrospective, for instance, has a really interesting binding. The book block is glued directly to the inside of the hardcover so that the stitching is exposed when you open it. With the design of the book, we’re trying to evoke both Ramberg’s interest in sewing and the way many of her images reveal hidden interiors—to offer an object that is itself polished but exposed.

A photo of a blank book lying open on a round table. Its pages are bound with a visible seam and stitching, while the cover opens flat and fully against the table, unbound to the top edge of the binding.

A mock-up of the binding for the catalogue Christina Ramberg: A Retrospective, with exposed stitching

nikhil: That sounds super cool! I love how you think about expressing the artists’ practices.

Lauren: It’s great when we get to make those connections through design. I also really enjoy spending time with the art itself, which I get to do often as I consider the best way to present the works and as we correct color reproductions. The goal when it comes to images is to give the reader a sense, as accurately as possible, of what it feels like to stand in front of a work of art and see it in real life.

nikhil: As I was preparing to talk with you today, I was thinking about how many things have changed since you began working here 14 years ago. Back then, 20% of people worldwide had a smartphone, compared to 80% today. “Tweet” had been recently named Word of the Year—it was described as “a new form of social interaction.” The world has changed so much in that span of time. How has the production of books changed?

Lauren: The major change, at least here at the Art Institute, is that we now regularly produce digital publications, which of course is something you and others in Experience Design—particularly the web team—remain closely involved with. The Art Institute has been at the forefront of digital museum publishing for well over a decade, and today we have 20 of these publications under our belt, from Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago to the thematic Perspectives series. 

Online publication has enabled us to reach a broad and more geographically diverse audience for our collection, exhibitions, and conservation research, which has been really exciting. And we’re able to share stories about our collection in ways that are often more fitting than making a print book.

nikhil: You and I have spoken before about how a physical book can sometimes be an obstacle, in a way. 

Lauren: Yes. We have all of these amazing books in our backlist, for example—huge and expensive tomes that cover a specific area of the museum’s collection in great detail. The unfortunate reality is that you can’t find many of them for sale today, and if you can, they’re very expensive. They can also become out of date very quickly. So being able to tell stories about our collection or exhibitions in a way that’s nimble, updatable, and accessible to people around the world can often be a better way to fulfill our mission than producing a volume in print.

nikhil: And we can showcase an artwork online in ways we can’t on the printed page. 

Lauren: Absolutely. The online format has been particularly great for illustrating conservation research. Our new layered image viewer lets us superimpose images taken with different types of light—X-ray, UV, et cetera—over an artwork, so you can clearly see what conservators see.

Monet 13 Nrm Masked
Normal light
Monet 13 Irr Masked
Infrared Reflectogram
Monet 13 Raking Light Maskedjpg
Raking light
Monet 13 X Ray Jpg Rev
Monet 13 Uv Jpg
Ultraviolet light

An interactive layered image from the digital catalogue Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago featuring Claude Monet’s The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (1867)

Click the layer menu icon at the bottom right, next to the slide bar, to select and transition between views.

Lauren: Many of our publications incorporate 360-degree views and other multimedia. In Caillebotte Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago we have a video that features an artist on the streets of Paris with a camera obscura demonstrating how the various sight lines of Paris Street; Rainy Day may have been traced and incorporated.

nikhil: In a book—that’s amazing. You’ve touched on some of the projects that you’ve worked on over your time here. What are some you’re most proud of?

Lauren: Almost every project has brought something new to my experience of art or the world. But the ones that stand out are those where we felt a heightened sense of responsibility to an artist or group of artists and their legacy. The Charles White catalogue was particularly special in that regard. A more recent example is the catalogue on Remedios Varo—we had the opportunity to produce the only major English-language publication about the artist in print. It’s exciting to introduce new audiences to these amazing artists and works.

nikhil: Can you tell me about a few upcoming projects that you’re excited about?

Lauren: There are so many! I’m particularly excited about the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition catalogue. It features one of my favorite paintings in the world that’s not at the Art Institute—New York Street with Moon. I’m also looking forward to our digital catalogue on Egyptian art. It will have entries on nearly 100 works in the collection and will include some stunning 360-degree spins and new research. I’m excited to work on that with you and your team!

nikhil: Me too. And I should say that I always enjoy the collaborations we have together. You bring a really thoughtful perspective to your work, and you steer your projects from a genuine place of caring. You care deeply, which is something I appreciate about you as a friend and about working with you here.

Lauren: Thank you so much. I feel similarly. I have always really valued our conversations and the way you bring creative solutions to the table. When I considered whom I wanted to talk to for this interview, I immediately thought of how much I’ve enjoyed our work together. And also our karaoke.

nikhil: Yeah, we’ve done a lot of karaoke, at Museum Computer Network conferences in particular. But never a duet! What would it be?

Lauren Makholm and nikhil trivedi sit laughing together at the end of a white table in the Art Institute's Modern Café.

Lauren: Oh wow, duets are hard. Does anything come to mind for you? 

nikhil: You know the theme song from Laverne and Shirley?

Lauren: Oh, that’s perfect.

nikhil: “Doing it our way!” “Making our dreams come true!” I doubt it’s going to be in any karaoke catalog, though.

Lauren: No, it’s totally not.

nikhil: But it fits.

Lauren: Definitely. We’ve been able to innovate and bring publications to life in new ways together, along with our teams and other colleagues. That’s been one of the really satisfying things about my career here, and I’m really excited about what’s to come. 

—Lauren Makholm, director of production, Publishing, and nikhil trivedi, director of web engineering, Experience Design



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