Every year, History of Art and Museums Studies students take on new and challenging opportunities at museums and institutions throughout the country - and sometimes beyond. These internships are often life-changing experiences, and we aim to support these students by offering scholarships for this very purpose.
Summer of 2018 saw our students traveling the globe to a variety of institutions; click below to read each student's account of how they spent their time.
This past two months, both June and July, I had the opportunity to work at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (PGC) in Venice, Italy, an unforgettable experience that I will always treasure. Housed in the Palazzo dei Leoni, interning at this highly renowned institution was both challenging and enriching and had a profound impact on me both personally and professionally. I received valuable knowledge on the art world, curation, and the logistical interworking of a museum, all while overlooking the Grand Canal, surrounded by the beauty of the city of Venice.
In addition to being one of the most beautiful and mysterious cities in the world, Venice truly is the perfect place to explore as a History of Art major. The PGC contains an array of twentieth-century avant-garde art; From Ernst to Picasso to Pollock, I was able to work and study amongst modern masterpieces inside the museum, and then outside of the museum on my days off I was able to see many masterpieces of the Renaissance and visit museums such as the Ca’ Pesaro, Museo Correr, San Marco, Palazzo Grassi, and last but not least Venice’s Biennale, an international art exhibition featuring contemporary art from various countries linked by a particular curatorial theme (this exhibition dates back to 1895 in Venice).
As an intern at the PGC, I was given a great deal of responsibility and faith to execute tasks assigned. Interns assist in various aspects of daily museum operations, giving a broad insight into the workings of an art museum. I prepared the galleries prior to opening, making sure the works are ready for public display. I also guarded rooms, a great opportunity to become more familiar with the works in the collection and to also simply enjoy the masterpieces around me. While guarding, I would also serve as a docent for the public, answering any questions at hand and interacting directly with the museum visitors. I enjoyed sharing my knowledge of the collection with the public in a more informal conversation. I would also help staff visitor facilities such as the cloakroom and ticket office, managing entrances and catalogue sales. This position was very rewarding, as it gave me a chance to practice my foreign language skills, welcoming visitors from around the world. Lastly, as far as operationally, I would help staff private events, seeing the PGC past its regular operating hours and how it engages with the public on a more personal level.
In addition to museum operations, interns are also responsible for educational programs at the museum. I was unaware of just how much my knowledge of modern art and its context would grow in such a short time. The internship is a complete immersion into modern art; interns need to become familiar quickly with the entire collection and its history. Throughout my time at the museum, I gave many more formal talks to the public on various subjects. I gave biographical presentations in the garden on the life of one of the most colorful art patrons, Peggy Guggenheim herself, including her exceptional life, her achievements as a collector in both Europe and the United States, and her specific contributions to the city of Venice. I also had the opportunity to create a detailed analysis of a specific painting in the collection, including its context and backstory of the artist. Lastly, I gave talks on the temporary exhibitions in the museum, 1948: The Biennale of Peggy Guggenheim and Josef Albers in Mexico. Although I was nervous at first, having to memorize many new ideas and facts in a short amount of time, my public speaking skills developed a great deal. I also had the access to the various archives in the library for study on the collection and the encouragement of the close-knit, supporting community of the museum. I felt confident at the end of my internship, transforming my research into an accessible and entertaining discourse.
While the Guggenheim Foundation is an American foundation, the Peggy Guggenheim, is located in Italy, meaning Italian is a main language used in the museum. Having studied Italian at Michigan and also in Florence this past semester, this internship was also a great way to improve my Italian language skills as well. My Italian was challenged when I was asked to lead a Kids’ Day, a guided visit to the museum and workshop for children aged 4-10, in Italian. Through this experience, I was able to truly distill what I had learned by having to present in another language.
The internship itself, however, transcends to outside of work as well. Each intern must present a thirty-minute seminar on their own work in art whether that be their own art, special research, ideas from a previous course, or a personal interest. I was able to learn on topics outside of the boundaries of the museum. Additionally, members of the staff would give their own seminars, giving insight into their specific roles. This was a chance to learn individually their daily routine and a greater sense of the overall management of the museum. I was surprised that on my first day of work, my intern group was given a tour of the museum by Karole Vail herself, the director of the museum. She explained her curatorial practice and the overall significance and direction of the museum. We also took many Guggenheim-sponsored art-oriented trips throughout my time at the Guggenheim in Venice and greater Italy. In my time we went to Florence and Sirmione in addition to the Accademia and Espace Louis Vuiton in Venice itself. These trips gave me a greater cultural perspective and allowed me to bond with my fellow interns. Lastly, I was a member of the Backstage committee, the intern monthly magazine, combining everyone’s different skill sets and ideas.
In conclusion, there was never a dull moment in my time spent at the PGC and I will remember it fondly. I was a part of such an encouraging team, working in a supportive environment. I met many other passionate interns from all around the world sharing the same interests in art and travel. My internship will stay with me forever, as I believe I have also made many life-long friendships.
Evan spent the summer at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, interning with their team in the Education Department. A brief overview of how Evan spent his time:
- Created a map of artwork locations throughout the museum to be distributed at the July Summer Institute for Teachers
- Assisted in the creation of a ‘facebook’ of information for new interns and fellows in the Education Department.
- Coordinated and developed ‘zones of artistic inquiry’ for six Institute ‘teach-out’ sessions with educators.
- Prepared informational packets of activity guides and artworks cards to be distributed to Institute teachers
- Created instructional Smithsonian object collections with interactive textual material using the Smithsonian Learning Lab
- Published a collection entitled “The Changing Image of American Classrooms,” which used Smithsonian accessioned objects, video content, and website resources to discuss the Civil Rights movement and other developments in the teaching profession. The collection was later used for the Summer Institute Teachers, who will also be working the Smithsonian Learning Lab to create their own lesson plans.
- Brainstormed and created new in-gallery activities for families and intergenerational audiences
- Facilitated the production of the Summer Institute for Teachers through two individual weeks in July. Fifty-nine teachers in total from 25 states and China participated in this year’s Institute.
- Managed and tracked teacher attendance and participation
- Assisted SAAM staff in facilitating gallery conversations and visual thinking strategy activities
- Presented on the history and development of the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the chosen visit site for a Wednesday ‘field trip’ each week
- Developed and led an in-gallery postcard activity
- Led a group of teachers through a practice run of their presentations on a single
- artwork utilizing Harvard Project Zero visual thinking exercises.
- Assisted in onboarding Institute teachers to the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which
- they explored and used throughout the week in developing the outline for their lesson plan. Completed lesson plans from this year’s Institute can be found at https://learninglab.si.edu/searchst=%23SAAMteach&st_op=and&item_type=collections.
- Assisted in facilitating breakout sessions for WISSIT Conference Museum Day – A local teacher conference organized by the Washington International School and Harvard Project Zero.
This summer I worked with Karl Longstreth at the Clark Map Library, looking at Michigan’s collection of Renaissance maps depicting the city of Rome. I learned a lot about cartography, methods of representing cities, and the history of printmaking, in addition to how a research library collects and displays its objects. Karl Longstreth and I worked with maps held in the Clark Library and Michigan’s Special Collections, and we took a trip to the DIA to see their collection of prints. The maps often appeared within books written about Rome or in atlases that collected city imagery, but several were printed alone for use as wall hangings.
Some of the maps depicted Rome as it could have been seen at the time of the making of the images. The most common ways of doing this were showing the city from a bird’s eye view or obliquely from an imaginary hill overlooking the city. Most interesting to me, however, were maps that reconstructed the appearance of Rome at the height of the Empire, over 1000 years before. Some printmakers worked like archaeologists, carefully analyzing the ruins of monuments, textual sources, and images on coins in order to recreate the ancient city. Other artists relied more on their imagination, taking creative license to make fantastic images of a lost imperial capital. To study these images I looked at traditional cartographic texts that described the technical process of mapmaking, but also new art historical research that studies the deliberate choices used by artists to represent a place.
One of my main projects was writing a report on the De Disegni delle piu illustri città, et fortezze del Mondo, an atlas of city images made by Giulio Ballino in 1569. The book contains 55 images of cities, from Venice to Tenochtitlan, four of which depict Rome. This is an early city atlas, and the images differ wildly without a standard method of representing each city. During my internship I researched the origin of each image and tracked how it was copied in the following decades. At the end of the summer I scanned the book for online viewing and wrote up a report on my research for use in the library.
I learned a lot from this summer in the Clark Library, and it was a great opportunity to have hands on access to these centuries-old objects. I enjoyed working with maps and I hope to continue learning about city representation in the future.
For the past three months I have interned in the Director’s Office of the Brooklyn Museum, with the support of the Department of History of Art’s Scholarship for Summer Internships. This experience has aided my professional development by teaching me key administrative skills, and by giving me an inside look of a museum with a unique mission and groundbreaking exhibitions.
I worked alongside the two executive assistants for the Director and President/COO of the museum. This exposed me to many diverse departments of the museum, and I learned about how they collaborate with each other. For example, daily I worked on many administrative tasks for the Director’s Office, but I also worked closely with the public programs, chief curator, and development teams on special projects.
It was an exciting time to be at the Brooklyn Museum, with the recent controversy of their hiring of a white woman to be a consultant curator of African Arts, and with the popular David Bowie Is exhibition. On top of my daily tasks of scheduling meetings, managing calendars and contacts, fulfilling expenses via Concur, and tracking correspondence with donor’s via Raiser’s Edge; I also had many interesting projects. In my first month, I had the responsibility to organize internal suggestions on improving the institution, and to create meeting materials for their “Moving Forward” meeting series to discuss the museum’s future. I also researched best practices for dealing with controversy and included examples of art institutions’ responses to controversy, which included materials from my History of Art and Communications coursework. For David Bowie Is, I wrote letters to celebrities inviting them to visit the exhibition, scheduled VIP visits, and wrote detail-oriented logistics to ensure these visits went smoothly. Furthermore, for the upcoming Soul of a Nation exhibition, I researched New York based civil rights and black arts organizations, and created briefings for the team to look over before meeting with these groups. Similarly for the upcoming exhibit Half the Picture: A Feminist View of the Collection, I researched women’s organizations and created a proposal for the Government & Community Affairs/Public Programs teams; once it was approved, I invited the groups to visit the exhibition and to use our meeting space. For the monthly staff meetings, I collected information from diverse departments and created powerpoints for the 200+ staff to see at every meeting. After the museum received over 2 million dollars from the city to renovate spaces and create a permanent African Arts gallery, I wrote thank you letters to the council members who supported our funding. These are just a few examples of the many projects I worked on, and I also had the opportunity to sit in on important meetings. One of my favorites was the “messaging meetings”, where every department from visitor services to curatorial to the museum shop would get together to discuss the logistics of future exhibitions.
Overall, this internship was full of challenging tasks and interesting insights to working at a museum. Working closely with the Director, Anne Pasternak, and the COO/President, David Berliner, was unique. I got an insider look at how Anne’s visions are brought to life by David’s leadership and organization skills. A perk to the job was that my ID got me into all NYC museums for free, so I got to spend my weekends viewing Giacometti at the Guggenheim, surrealist works at the MoMA, and french impressionists at the Met; all of which I studied the past two semesters. Thank you to the Department of History of Art and their donors for funding my internship, without your support I would not have had such a thought-provoking, educational, influential, and fun summer.
Worked under executive assistants and Anne Pasternak, Director and David Berliner, President & COO of the museum.
Assisted in managing the Director & President’s calendars and contacts, and organized all meeting materials.
Answered heavy phones and directed calls for the department.
Greeting VIP visitors & donors, assisted with catering, and wrote thank you letters and invitations to VIPs.
Fulfilled invoices and completed expense reports via budgeting software, Concur.
Chosen for special research projects for the Director, including research on crisis management, strategic planning, and community outreach.
Coordinated VIP ticketing requests around the blockbuster David Bowie Is exhibition, and escorted VIPs to the galleries.
Prepared proposals and logistics for visiting groups, including all communication with security and operations.
Tracked communication with donors via Raiser's Edge.
Collaborated with multiple museum departments, including Development, Public Programs, and the Office of the Chief Curator.
Created the first ever intern guide, explaining all processes and protocols of the Director’s Office.
This summer my contributions to my host museum were diverse. One of the longest tasks was completing the migration of all archived podcasts from the old website to the new one. This was a task that was incredibly important but took a lot of time to accomplish, so it was very helpful for my department to complete it. Another task was the creation of a video project with other interns that discussed close looking. This will make a difference for future interns as the project is one that will be continued in the coming months. Additionally, it provided the Freer|Sackler with a method of reaching wider audiences. I also completed a project that created redirects for important broken links as well as creating a spreadsheet of all known redirects to allow for a smoother process for future redirects. My last big project was making a plan for recreating an old educational resource that has lots of traffic and thinking about ways to recreate it to better serve our audiences and make a more streamlined site. This was helpful because the preliminary planning will inform whoever recreates the website in the future.
After this internship, I have found a greater appreciation for the work of digital and web departments. Their work is incredibly important for so many reasons. Their work touches all aspects of a museum and should be more integrated into every department rather than having one singular web team. Their work allows for wider audiences to be reached, greater accessibility, and a variety of new experiences outside of the physical space of the museum. Ultimately, I discovered that I have an interest in the technology that is integrated into museums.