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.
Although the COVID pandemic has forced students and institutions to meaningfully re-think how an internship would look like in 2020, we are pleased that our students were still able to take part in whatever ways they could. Click each accordion box to expand individual students' stories.
"This summer I worked as an intern at the Dallas Museum of Art with curator of Latin American Art Mark Castro. My primary project was researching a debate within the field about the language used to describe art made during Spanish colonization. Opinions range the gamut (colonial, viceregal, Spanish Americas) and provoke questions about the prevalence of Eurocentrism, hybridity and anti-blackness within the discipline. This research was a part of a larger project of redesigning and renaming the Latin American galleries.
While initially I was tasked with scouring scholarly sources, it became clear that it was essential to involve the Dallas community in the decision making process, especially as I am neither Latinx nor from the city. My historiography was limited by only considering academic perspectives, and needed to account for the visitor and their experiences in the gallery. I worked with Danielle Lemi, a researcher with the museum, to devise focus groups that would discuss their reactions and interpretations to the language currently employed and alternatives. Although I was at the museum too briefly to see what came from the study, I hope that they continue to think about not only the language used but more broadly about what decolonial work looks like in the museum and in the field."
"Through June and July 2020, I interned at the Dallas Museum of Art under the supervision of the Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art, Dr. Heather Ecker. Over the course of my ten-week internship, I conducted research on the scientific tradition of Islamic astronomy from the 7th to the 17th centuries, in preparation for a forthcoming exhibition at the DMA. As part of the project, I investigated the substantial corpus of Islamic manuscript illustrations depicting star constellations and other elements of the cosmos in the medieval and early modern periods. My experience at the DMA was a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge of Islamic science and visual culture, and I am honored to have played a small part in setting up the groundwork for a promising show in Islamic art at the museum.”
This summer, I worked at the Cranbrook Archives. I was an archival assistant working to update the Archive’s metadata for their 3000-image collection. Many of the photographs pictured the Cranbrook Educational Community’s and Christ Church Cranbrook’s history, and a few hundred of them lacked dates. I used three methods to find a date range:
1. For landscape or architectural photographs, I could give an approximate date range by looking at a) when the building pictured was constructed, and b) the photographic medium. The second way of discovering date was less reliable, as I am not a photograph historian, but I could make simple judgments like whether the photo looked to have been shot on panchromatic film, which helped to date photographs taken between 1910 and 1930.
2. For photographs of or including people, I assessed the clothes the subjects wore, which gave me an approximate date of about a decade. This method of dating varied based on the environment in which the photos were taken. For example, in a staged portrait, the subjects wore fashionable, neat clothing, and were easy to date. However, many of the photographs pictured art students at work in their studios, where fashion was not a key consideration. For these photos, the following approach worked better.
3. In many cases, the photos showed prominent figures in either Cranbrook’s history or the history of American art and design. For example, I came across dozens of pictures of the Saarinen family in all their generations. If a photo did not have a clear date and the clothing pictured did not help me, I could look up the names of the people pictured and date the picture by how old they appeared in it.
Working through the Cranbrook Archives helped me to understand the inherently political nature of archive work. For example, the Archive and many like it use a tagging system from the Library of Congress, which includes outdated and sometimes inappropriate terminology, like referring to Indigenous Americans as “Indians.” A great deal of the photographs of women from in the early-to-mid twentieth century would refer to them as “Mrs. [Husband’s Name].” An archive is a multi-generational memory, for better or for worse. The Cranbrook Archives is engaged in restorative work through updating the archives as well as standardizing its metadata, and I was proud to be a part of that process this summer.
I pursued a virtual internship with the Missoula Art Museum (MAM) in the summer of 2020. They are a contemporary art museum located in Montana’s Missoula Valley. After hearing the programs I applied for pre-pandemic were entirely canceled, the prospect of working for a museum I grew up with was comforting and inspiring. I applied on quite short notice, but they accepted me with open arms. I quickly fell into step with weekly education and staff zoom meetings.
I was delighted to be offered the task of researching, conceptualizing, and writing an online course inspired by an upcoming exhibition covering the work of a Japanese American artist, Takuichi Fujii. Pursuing a minor in Asian Language and Cultures, this was an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge on the Japanese American Experience. The exhibition was centered around Fujii’s experience in Internment during WWII. The course would be made available to middle school classrooms all over Montana. I adapted the exhibit into five modules and a concept which I came up with called the “virtual goodie bag.” It is essentially a Japanese and Japanese American popular culture playlist with movies, books, music, and television. MAM’s small staff granted me much authority on this project.
About halfway through my internship, I was discussing an exhibition the MAM was hosting of contemporary artist Stephen Braun. It became quickly apparent that the use of racist and antisemitic imagery in the exhibit was heedlessly inflammatory and threatening to visitors. This situation was especially perplexing considering the museum’s ongoing discussions around anti-racism. I wrote a statement which sparked the museum to self-reflect and to begin rewriting the wall-text. Carrying along this discussion taught me how to walk the line between questioning authority and appeasing it. I was happy to play a part in the museum’s recognition of its biases and its stance on neutrality. The potential of blank museum walls has always been thus, “what artists are you saying no to when you say yes to artist XYZ?”
After spending all my time for this internship working remotely, and creating a virtual learning experience, my thinking about the museum mission and the museum as a physical space has become complicated. Museums have empty walls to fill and while that is an epic responsibility, profound learning experiences can happen miles and miles away from the brick and mortar of it all.