Leaving my mark

As I approach my last week in this summer internship, one very interesting thought has crossed my mind. Interns aren’t necessarily known for leaving their mark, stereotypically they’re remembered for spilling a coffee on the boss or their speedy staple skills. But I hate to think that after 10 weeks of dedicated work at this internship I wouldn’t leave some sort of positive, influential memory.

So far this summer I have attended meetings, worked with other departments, gone out to outreach programs, and volunteered with school tours. I love variety and was able to gain a full understanding of the museum structure and mission through all my activities. So I guess my mark would be that I am up for anything, that I can tackle any job and learn from any department.

But I also pride myself on my attitude, and work very hard to make sure I am a positive and energetic part of the team every day, either with other employees, interns or museum visitors. So maybe my mark would be that I was always positive and upbeat, and an eager volunteer.

Still, one of the things I am most proud of this summer was working with my supervisor, other interns and the marketing team to put together 3 different brochures and worksheets that would be presented to visitors or schools. It was so rewarding knowing that I worked on something substantial that would help push the museum’s mission out into the community. So maybe this work, and these products, will be my mark.

But the more I thought about all of these things, the more I realized that I did leave a mark, and the museum left a mark on me. I grew incredibly close to all of the people I worked with, and I helped as much as I could. I am obviously now a valued and appreciated member of the team, and I know that these people will remember me positively. At the same time, I have learned so much this summer, and both the people I met and the things I did will undoubtedly impact me as I move forward into my future. Leaving marks can go both ways, and I think I managed to achieve both during my time here, and that means the world to me.

Change

I have never been around for the departure of a supervisor, or a large change in structure. However, last Friday was Martha’s last day at the Telfair Museums. She is moving on to teach 5th grade at a magnet arts school, largely for personal and family reasons. While she warned the museum last summer that she would need to leave within the year, it is still a very significant and dramatic change in the structure of the Education Department.

In the weeks leading up to her departure, I was able to have a serious discussion with Martha about her reasons for leaving, her motivation in finding a new job, and her opinions about the museum, the job, and my possible future in the non-profit museum education field. Because her departure is not bitter or resentful, rather an expected and sad move, Martha felt comfortable having a frank discussion about it. This was so beneficial to me, as it helped me understand what I would need to do in the next few years in order to work in the field, the monetary and job-related frustrations I will likely face in a position like hers, and how I can plan to cope with these issues if I do in fact continue on this path.

As the time came for her last few days I was able to watch her transition all of her information, documents and future ideas onto other employees in the department. Because they have not filled her position yet, Martha wasn’t training in a new person, just shuffling responsibilities out to current employees. It was interesting to watch as she sorted through her responsibilities, determining the most important versus less important, determining who in the department would be the most capable for each task, and what sort of jobs can be set aside until her role is filled. This was the best way for me to see everything that Martha does, and I understand her job significantly better now.

As an intern, I am able to watch the change and progress with almost impartial eyes. While I am invested in the internship and my education, I am leaving the museum in two weeks, so the changes are not of huge impact to me. I will probably not see the hiring process, or meet the new employee taking her spot, so I will miss the transition and readjustment of the department. But for now, I am able to watch how a department reacts to a major change in structure, and will hopefully learn in the next two weeks more lessons about change.

Grant

Getting a summer internship is one of the most valuable things you can do as a college student. Not only does it give you career-relevant experience, but it can also help you better understand yourself and your career goals. For example, last summer I interned at a small commercial art gallery in Seattle. While I loved the art, the gallery and my co-workers, I realized over the course of the summer that I didn’t want to follow that career path. I wanted to focus on art education and outreach, not the bottom line and making a sale. If I hadn’t finished that internship, I don’t know if I would have fully understood what I wanted for my future. On the other hand, the internship I am completing this summer has helped me focus my future and understand how to get on the career path I want after graduation.

Unfortunately, the current trend is that a large majority of internships are unpaid. Also, it can be difficult for students to find an internship in a convenient location. There were no real opportunities for me near my hometown, so I had to branch out and live in a new area. The cost of this type of experience is pretty monumental, with no financial assistance from my internship site. Fortunately for me, Dickinson has a grant specifically to help with situations like this.

Without this internship grant, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come to Savannah and have this experience. An internship like this that is directed by knowledgeable people in the field and is hands-on in the museum is just as valuable as any class I could take at Dickinson. It truly has helped me understand my goals, what I want to do with my future and how I can achieve that down the road. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity Dickinson has given me and hope I can pay it forward to other aspiring students in the future.

Outreach

One day this week, as one of my diverse collection of tasks, I was asked to fill in for an outreach volunteer who was unable to work that day. I had heard a lot about the outreach programming at the Jepson Center, and while I had plenty of experience helping with outreach within the confines of the museum, I had never participated outside the museum. I knew this would be a great hands on experience for me to understand the extent of the outreach programming, and even to contribute to the discussions of functionality and worth in the future with the power of first-hand knowledge.

So on Tuesday afternoon another outreach volunteer and I made the 30 minute drive out to the Crusader Community Center, where the city of Savannah sponsors a low-cost summer camp for underprivileged youth. I have interacted with groups of students like this before in other volunteer opportunities, but never in the context of coming from a museum. The very first thing that struck me was our inability to have every child participate in the activity we had brought. There were 70 children total in the camp, but with our supply and volunteer limitations we were only able to do the activity with 15 girls. In hindsight, I think this is a perfect representation of the issues of getting people into museums to enjoy them and learn. Some are able to make the trip, but many others in this situation just can’t due to financial, time or energy restrictions. Of the 15 girls, only 5 had been to the Telfair, and 4 of those only through school field-trips.

Working with this group of children definitely helped me to understand how much I value outreach in the community in whichever field I go into. There is so much more that actually coming into the museum can give them, and I would love to get every single one of these children and their families into the museum, but when that isn’t possible, it is good to know that the museum can get out to the children. I feel much more connected to and understanding of the museum’s mission after this experience.

Responsibility

At a smaller museum like the Jepson Center, there is a lot to be said for taking initiative. The museum is small enough to need independent workers, but almost large enough for anonymity. I have found that whenever all of the museum employees are honed in on their jobs, focusing diligently, it is easy for an intern to get lost in the shuffle, sitting in the break room or aimlessly wandering the halls. While I love doing nothing as much as the next person, while at work, in a place I can feel a passion for, I strive to achieve more than grabbing folders or sorting markers. I want to feel involved and noticed, a contributing member to a larger idea.

This is where responsibility comes in. I am responsible for myself in this internship. My supervisor made it very clear the first day that if I didn’t like my responsibilities, speak up! And while I constantly fear the possible rejection or failure when taking responsibility, I can understand and appreciate the leaps and bounds my confidence and skills are taking by simply taking responsibility.

For example, during a lull in the work day this week, I took the initiative to help in the ArtZeum without being asked first, something that everyone dreads but needs to be done. Other times I’ve boldly asked to sit in on meetings with the curators or marketing department, or the bi-weekly staff meeting. These things seem so trivial now that I see them on the screen, but at the time, they helped me understand my role within the museum, and what steps I can continue to take in the future to get even farther in developing my confidence and skill set.

At this internship I definitely have a responsibility to the museum, to my supervisor and the others in the Education department as their reliable and productive employee. But I also have a responsibility to myself to work hard to make this the best and most rewarding experience by being the most enthusiastic and informed intern I can. I hope this understanding of responsibility to myself is something I can carry into my future career to increase my confidence and influence anywhere I go.

Workplace Culture

I have worked in many different workplace cultures in recent years, both in internships and paid jobs. Some have been small, familial and extremely hands-on. Others have been large, hierarchical and separated. Knowing that I was going into a large, spread-out and diverse workplace this summer, I had expectations of an unfeeling corporation, with a strict hierarchy and little cooperation. I assumed that the various departments would have no interest in working together, and that within the Education Department I would be marked as the unpaid intern, doing menial tasks and errands.

However, over the past three weeks I have realized that not only do the various departments in the Telfair work together in a familiar and friendly way, but the departments themselves are almost like family units, working together, joking, going out together, getting frustrated with each other but ultimately completing their tasks and moving forward.

Even though I am working directly with the Education Department, my supervisor has made a point of introducing me to all the other departments, making sure I understand everything from what the Curatorial Department does in their basement offices to the vast domain of the Director’s assistant. Most importantly she helps me understand how and when someone in the Education Department would interact and collaborate with other departments. I was able to sit in on a meeting between the Education Department and the Marketing Department concerning an upcoming exhibit. Without collaboration and understanding of each others’ roles, these two departments would not be able to complete the best possible material for visitors.

Within the department, the paid workers as well as the interns work together to get their wide variety of tasks complete. I sat in on an Education Department meeting this week and watched as they discussed upcoming tasks as well as helped each other decide the best ways to tackle them. There were disagreements, arguments and frustration, but there was also division of responsibilities, help and support. The meeting itself reminded me of a discussion between my own family, one where we would argue, but ultimately support each others’ decisions and help when possible.

I believe the atmosphere in the Telfair Museums is the most conducive for a larger institution in order to achieve a friendly but productive balance. I can tell others feel comfortable expressing their ideas and it makes me feel confident in my ideas and my abilities.

Variety

The aspect of this internship that initially struck me the most this week was the diversity in the work that I am doing as an intern. There are many large projects and conceptualizations necessary to plan for future exhibits and tours as well as daily projects and tasks needed to maintain the museum, the programming and the exhibits.

In this one week alone I did a wide variety of tasks for the department. For a larger project I helped research state-wide educational standards for 6th – 8th graders in Savannah and possible ways to relate it to an exhibit occurring later this year. This project will help the museum plan the program they will distribute to educators, as an educational guide to fully immerse the students’ visit to the museum with their broader education. As well, I cut approximately 400 paper doll dresses for a Girl Scouts program, cleaned the dry erase board in ArtZeum multiple times, and sat in on a meeting concerning the creation of a new educational brochure for the Jepson Center.

What I found most impressive about this aspect is that as an unpaid intern, I was not the only one participating in these projects, both large and small. Every unpaid intern is concerned that they will be taken for granted and be stuck in the corner with menial tasks the whole time. However at the Jepson, I am a part of a team. In the meeting concerning the new brochure, I was able to speak up about the layout and color, and my opinion was obviously valued by both my supervisor and the artistic director. Later, my supervisor got down on the floor to help me clean the dry erase wall, not caring about her tights on the floor and high heels. This sense of cooperation and knowledge of all of the jobs that need to be done has helped me understand the more fundamental aspects of enabling outreach, especially in large museums such as the Telfair.

Outreach and education in museums such as the Telfair Museums are rooted in getting out the message of art, inspiring children and getting them passionate. Everyone in the Education Department, both interns and supervisors, is willing to do whatever awful or tedious tasks it takes to get that passion, and I find that amazing. I am realizing that the drive to inspire no matter the cost might be the most basic element in a successful outreach program.

The Beginning

This summer I am one of the three Education Interns working at the Jepson Center, the contemporary art museum that constitutes one-third of the Telfair Museum Organization in Savannah, Georgia. The Jepson Center is ideal for the internship I wanted to pursue because, of the three sites in Telfair, it is the most focused on educational programming for younger audiences, something I have been interested in for awhile. Between the ArtZeum, a multi-level interactive exhibit, the large auditorium, and the two studio spaces for classes and programs, the Jepson Center has the ability to offer a diverse range of options for visitors. With this internship, I have been given the chance to participate in all aspects of this programming.

I am working directly with Martha Mythlo, Associate Educational Director, but have direct interactions with and input from others in the Educational office, including the Educational Director, Tour and Docent Director, and other employees throughout the building. While I stayed mainly in one office area for my work, I was given the chance to meet and explore the Curatorial Department, Administrative Department and Security. My hope is that throughout the summer I will be given the chance to explore all areas of the museum and understand the basics of not only what the Education Department does to contribute to the overall museum, but these others as well.

As I was getting orientated this week Martha specifically helped me focus on understanding the importance of outreach to the museum. We discussed ways to get out into the community, programs that might be effective and where to go. She led me through the museum and explained the importance of connecting with the visitors in order to understand how to make the museum even better for everyone. We would stop to ask a child what he liked most about the flower house, or watch to make sure a puzzle piece was easy enough for a child to handle. I also watched the Outreach Director working in the studio with children and their parents who stopped in for a quick craft. I’m hoping that so much of this summer will be experiences like these that help me understand the museum and its contributions to the community.