Campus lacks resources for students seeking fine arts internships

by Amanda Harkavy | 11/4/13 3:11pm

11.5.13.arts_.unpaidintern_Madeline-Baird
Museums and arts institutions do not typically list employment opportunities with university career centers.
Source: Madeline Baird

Employment positions in the art world are some of the most competitive and sought after, and each year, numerous students commit to following their passions by pursuing internships.

Jessica Womack ’14, who began her professional arts involvement while interning at the New Orleans Museum of Arts during her freshman summer, researched modern art expert and curator Michael Taylor and discovered that he would soon become director of the Hood Museum of Art.

After emailing him about arts opportunities, in particular hands-on experience in museums, Womack secured an internship at the Hood in her sophomore winter. She worked with Taylor on his exhibit that explored the influence of surrealism on later art movements.

“It’s definitely all about networking,” Womack said.

Jane Cavalier ’14 also gained valuable experience at the Hood by working as a curatorial intern during her junior year.

“The Hood Museum is wonderful, the curatorial opportunities there are unreal,” Cavalier said.

Senior internship positions at the Hood are paid, and also available in the programming and public relations departments.

Both Womack and Cavalier secured internships their junior summers at major museums, but expressed frustration with finding resources through the College. While Cavalier was able to receive some funding for her unpaid internship at the Smithsonian through the Leslie Center for the Humanities, she found the Center for Professional Development, formerly called Career Services, less helpful in the process. Museums do not typically post curatorial internships with university career centers, and the center was not able to offer the advice she sought as she began applying.

“Career Services’ strength lies in business,” Cavalier said. “I would be really eager to see them look toward the arts and to dedicate more time to museum and art historical professional opportunities.”

Womack, who interned at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was frustrated by the limited resources available, as her curatorial work did not fit the criterion for various fellowship opportunities.

“I feel there may be a disconnect here between what is being taught and how well we allow students to find opportunities that match what they are passionate about in their studies,” said Womack, who eventually received funding through an alumna.

“I hope that the Center for Professional Development would begin reaching out to alumni who are interested and involved in the arts to have them publicize their information,” she said. “There should be an institutional push towards providing more opportunities in these areas.”

The center is implementing a concerted effort to expand resources for unpaid internships, and will pursue funding from alumni and other organizations, director Roger Woolsey said.

Associate director Monica Wilson stressed the arts resources available on the center’s website and networking events in industry-specific subgroups.

“We’re always looking for opportunities in the arts and new artistic platforms to post for students,” Wilson said, adding that because Dartmouth has formal recruiting for certain positions, there is often the perception that the center focuses predominately on business.

Because students are not required to report their work experiences, the center does not know the number of students interning in the arts yearly.

Despite setbacks in receiving funding for their internships, Cavalier and Womack both found working in the fine arts rewarding.

“You really have to commit yourself,” Cavalier said. “Every opportunity to publish your work, to get involved in a museum, to dip your finger into the arts, will be widely helpful in your application process later on. Don’t be afraid of rejection, because in the arts, it’s inevitable.”

Womack added that students should take advantage of the people within the art history department.

“Talk to other students,” she said. “Some of the ’14s have had some incredible experiences and are eager to advise other undergraduates.”

Cavalier is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.