A museum takes its visitor on a journey, exploring art from across the world and time. The visitor wanders, overcome with both the simplicity and the detail of the surroundings. The artwork stuns and moves the onlooker. These aspects describe only the surface of what a museum provides to the public. Many do not realize the inner workings behind a museum’s public image. This summer, two University Honors students, Brady Gwynn (English and French ’19) and Emily Coats (art history and French ’19), discovered first-hand how an art museum is run during their internships at the St. Louis Art Museum and The Columbus Museum.
Both women wanted to be challenged by and involved in many aspects of the behind the scenes work of the museum. Gwynn wanted to find an internship where she could gain professional experience in the workforce. “I knew that I wanted to use my time this summer to push myself professionally. I thought a museum internship would allow me to implement skills gained in my undergraduate classes into the workplace,” she said.
Throughout their summer internships, both women worked in various parts of their museums doing a wide variety of tasks, from replacing faded labels on pieces to preparing photography exhibits and even leading public tours. Some of these things proved challenging and pushed the interns to become more confident in themselves and in their work.
This newfound confidence gained through her experiences allowed Gwynn to overcome the daunting task of working and discussing ideas with scholars and professionals and allowed her voice to be heard as an equal among her summer colleagues. By the end of the summer, Gwynn had gained enough experience and confidence in her new field to suggest a new public tour at the museum, Woman as Both Muse and Artist.
Coats had previous experience working at the Center for Arts and Theatre on campus, and was used to handling the artifacts and artwork as the exhibits were being installed. However, during her internship, liability concerns prevented interns from touching or moving any of the pieces. As a result, she faced a few new challenges as she was helping to create exhibits.
While every new task, job or internship comes with its fair number of challenges and difficulties, it also can be very rewarding. For both Coats and Gwynn, the rewards far outweighed the challenges. Gwynn loved seeing all of the behind the scenes work come together to form the beautiful exhibits.
“As a visitor, I enjoy the exhibits and learn about different artists and forms, but as an employee I see the conservation team working on a new acquisition. I see the engineers maintaining the structure and temperature of the museum. I see the learning and engagement teams organizing school groups and art activities. I see the curators dedicating countless hours to research for a new exhibition. This internship gave me a greater appreciation for all the work done behind-the-scenes,” Gwynn said.
Coats shared a similar sentiment. “By interning in a museum, I learned that there are many more positions needed to run a museum than the general public is aware of, such as the design team that I worked with as well as the collections managers,” she said.
This newfound appreciation of the small details that all come together to form a final product will remain with Gwynn and Coats far beyond their summer internships. Even though the work they did could seem minute or unimportant, all of their work contributed to the effectiveness of each exhibit. “It was very rewarding to help with a project and then see that completed label or updated text panel hanging up in a gallery and knowing that I played a role in something that will educate people on the history of our world through art and artifacts,” Coats said.
These skills not only helped these women to succeed during their summers, but they are also continuing to help them in their academics here at Georgia Southern. Since returning to school this fall, Gwynn has been able to incorporate her professional work into her classes. She gave a presentation on museums to her Nineteenth Century British Literature Class and related her museum experiences to the topics they had been discussing throughout the class.
Coats was able to get a better look into her desired career and gain some hands-on experience that will benefit her for the rest of both her academic and professional careers. Because of these benefits, both women highly recommend a summer internship to all students
“Internships are a wonderful opportunity to learn more about yourself,” Gwynn says. “You can discover what work environments you succeed in. You can dip your toe in the water and gain firsthand experience in a field of interest. If you put yourself out there, you can discover new passions and gain valuable professional relationships.”
Coats agrees saying that, “having the opportunity to intern is a life changing experience. Nothing can compare to working with an established organization that could be similar to your future career. It is so valuable to be able to ask professionals questions.”
“I would tell anyone thinking about doing an internship to jump on the opportunity. Be proactive and don’t be afraid to ask too many questions. There is so much to learn and there is no better way than to dive in and try new things,” Coats said.
Posted in Uncategorized