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WCU Stories

Alum Artley Porterfield finds his niche at the Titanic museum

titanic museum

WCU alum Artley Porterfield finds his dream job at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Titanic Museum Attraction.

By Brooklyn Brown

Artley Porterfield is a storyteller from Jonesborough, Tennessee. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University and now works as a cast member at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

His passion is film, more specifically the storytelling aspects of film. At the Titanic Museum Attraction, Porterfield is fostering that passion.

“It’s ironic that I was born in Jonesborough, the storytelling capital of the world, and that’s what I wanna do with my life,” Porterfield said.

Porterfield has his own story of resiliency and consistently pursuing one’s passion.

“I attended WCU for film school, got rejected and ended up in entrepreneurship,” he said. “The entrepreneurship program allowed me to cognate business and film.”  

Porterfield loves film and storytelling because of the reactions of the audience.

“I love watching people react. Like when they walk in the grand staircase and say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful.’” he said. “Everyone in the audience gets a boarding pass, and what I love most about the Titanic Museum is those moments like ‘Oh, man. You were Frederick Fleet. You were the one who saw the iceberg and rang the bell three times,’ and seeing their reaction.

“I also love keeping memories alive. I’m one of those people who when they’re watching a documentary or a movie and the library starts burning, I’m just crying inside,” Porterfield said. 

Porterfield landed his job in his second-to-last semester of college. “I heard one of my friends say he found a job at a job fair. I thought, ‘I’m gonna graduate soon, I should probably find a job,’” he said. “The closest upcoming job fair was for the Southern Hospitality Internship Program. I looked into it, and every single job ‘boring, boring, boring,’ but one stuck out: cast member for Titanic Museum Attraction.”

Porterfield quickly had a meeting with the general manager, Cynthia Simpson, and got hired almost immediately.

“I talked to her on Zoom for about an hour and a half. We had a great talk and at the end of it she offered me the job,” he said. “I’m so happy all of that happened the way it did because that was October 2021, I had one last zoom meeting with the general manager in February and she died of cancer a few days after that second meeting.”

Porterfield, like the rest of the crew at the Titanic Museum Attraction, felt the weight of her loss.

“She was loved by everyone at the Titanic Museum, to the point where this March we all have badges with a picture of her because her birthday is in March,” he said. “I was one of the last people she hired and it has stuck with me after hearing all the stories about her and having my small interactions with her.”

Soon after Porterfield was hired, he participated in “Titanic College,” a training program where new hires learn the history of the ship.

“You’re encouraged to pick up 1 to 5 passengers and become an expert on your passengers,” he said. “My first passenger was Alfred Nourney who was coming from Germany to America.”

Porterfield’s German classes with Will Lehman, a professor in WCU’s World Languages department, came in handy.

“Every once in a while a German group will come in and it brightens their day and it brightens my day when I can speak German with them,” said Porterfield, who visited Germany last year. “I’m trying to learn all the speeches in German.”

Along with Lehman, Porterfield credits professors Kenneth Sanney, Peter Ormerod and Vicki Szabo with preparing him for his career after college. Porterfield also took an improv class at WCU that he says helps tremendously in his role at the museum.

Porterfield’s advice for students on the job search is to find something they enjoy as much as he enjoys the Titanic Museum Attraction.

“Unless this amazing opportunity in the film industry pops up, I don’t want to go anywhere. I love the Titanic Museum, my coworkers, my managers, but most of all the people who come through,” he said. “I had this one group that I could already tell was super funny and jokey and I thought ‘Okay, I’m gonna have fun with them’. Everything I said they responded with laughs or cheers. I offered to stay a few hours later because I was enjoying myself so much. Those experiences make it all worth it.”

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