Friday, February 7, 2014

Smithsonian American Art Museum

My name is Samantha Grassi, I’m a Junior Painting Major. However, after taking Intro to
Curatorial Practice, I realized that a career within a museum environment would be a fulfilling
and, in my eyes, very practical use of my painting degree. This summer, I was the Exhibits Intern
at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Originally, I was interested in an internship
at the Hirshhorn, so I began that application process. To apply for any fellowships or internships
with any Smithsonian institution, you must apply through SOLAA (the Smithsonian Online Academic Appointment System). This is where I found out about the SAAM internship, as they have a page dedicated to Smithsonian internship opportunities. The SAAM Summer Internship Program is designed for students interested in working in a museum who have not yet built up a resume in the field. I decided to apply at the last minute, despite that I had never been to the museum before. And I am so glad that I did! Even though I found out about the position late, I worked hard on my application, and submitted all of the required materials (a statement, resume, letters of recommendation, and I included a business card to give them the opportunity to view my portfolio). Months later, I received a phone call by the Internship Coordinator, Judith
Houston Hollomon, offering me a position as the Exhibits intern! I originally applied for a position in the Curatorial department, because after taking Intro to Curatorial Practice, I thought that would be the “right” department for me. But after viewing my portfolio, Judith sent my application the Exhibits department's way because she knew that I would be a much better fit for that department. Thankfully, the department felt the same. I am so grateful Judith knew enough to put me in Exhibits!


At SAAM, I worked predominately with Sara Gray, the Exhibition Assistant. But everyone within the department- even within the museum- works so closely together, that to say I only worked with one person is a dramatic understatement of my experience. I was lucky enough to work directly side by side with David Gleeson, the Senior Exhibition Designer; Claire Larkin, the Chief of Exhibits; Grace Lopez, the Graphic Designer; and even with members of the Curatorial department (like the Chief Curator and her curatorial assistants). I was immediately taught how to use TMS (The Museum System) and AutoCAD- two programs avidly used by the exhibition designers. My experience within Exhibits was extremely hands-on and visually oriented, which was something I truly appreciate being a painting major. I was responsible for making maquettes, elevations, and layouts on AutoCAD, checklists on Excel, and object packages on TMS. I also made labels as well as weeded and prepared vinyl lettering, which I then installed in the galleries for both the Democracy of Images and Landscapes in Passing shows. By far my favorite part of the internship was being able to “critique” the layouts with the designers, as well as the art works themselves. One of the steps within the development of an exhibition is viewing the works in person one by one with a checklist, and making notes on its condition, dimensions, color, etc. It was so amazing to be able to help make “compositional” decisions of the space- what goes well with what, what doesn’t, etc. We were able to talk about the pieces as elements of an even larger work- the exhibition. And the biggest plus was being able to see the works outside of the context of the museum, on their own, without any visitors around.

Interning at SAAM was such a priceless experience. I loved everything I did there, and it made me feel so much better about being able to get a job with my BFA. (Claire, the Chief of Exhibits, is a MICA alumna and over coffee we chatted about how to advance my career as an exhibition designer.) This internship was not only a resume builder, it was a giant learning experience. I learned so much about exhibition design, curatorial practice, museum studies, art history, the list goes on. I made great professional contacts, some who have also become good friends. And the best part is, Claire asked me to stay on for the following year (fall ’13 to spring’14) to take on the designing of a three-gallery wide exhibition. What more could I ask for!

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