14 May 2018

ASKING FOR HELP, POWER TOOLS, AND MUSEUMS IN SPACE?

INTERNSHIP CHECK-IN

BY: KATHLEEN LEW

Ever wonder what Master of Museum Studies students are up to during the summer? Welcome to the first installment of the Internship Check-In series! Between the first and second year of the program, MMSt students complete internships at institutions across Canada and internationally. Read about their experiences through the following interviews.*

This post features:

Keelan Cashmore: The Rooms Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s, NL

Erica Chi: Art Museum, University of Toronto, ON

Maddy Howard: Archives of Ontario Art Collection, Toronto, ON

Tell us a bit about yourself and your museum-related interests.

Keelan: My name is Keelan and I am interning at The Rooms in St. John’s Newfoundland. I originally intended on pursuing a Master’s of Archaeology. However, during my undergraduate degree, I was an interpreter at Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur and Heritage Museum. Three years later, I was the assistant manager, and I had found something I adored. With museums, I am primarily interested in natural history and cultural heritage institutions. These institutions satisfy my interests in both pre-history and history. I’ve dabbled in collections, curation, visitor services, public programming, and education, and there are aspects about each that I enjoy! I am also interested in museums that push boundaries and present unconventional or controversial topics and ideas. I love that currently museums are pushing the envelope further, and I am thrilled to be a part of that.

Erica: Hello! My name is Erica Chi and I recently completed my first-year of the Master of Museum Studies program. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Art History with a minor in French Studies from the University of Guelph. Born and raised in Ottawa, I was surrounded by world-class galleries and museums that influenced my career path. I am passionate about the exploration of identities and cultures, which fuelled my travels abroad in Marseilles, France. I worked as an ESL teacher, learned a lot about myself, and ate way too many croissants. I am excited to work in the field of museology with a specialization in art collections management. This summer, I was hired by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto as a Collections Assistant.

Maddy: I am interested in anything and everything related to museums. I have volunteered and worked in museums since I was seven years old, but I am still constantly learning and adapting my understanding of museums. I am particularly interested in the increasing impact of technology in museum spaces, as well as the convergence of libraries, archives and museums. I am currently working towards a Masters in both Museum Studies and Archives and Records Management, so convergence has always interested me. I am also interested in other areas, such as repatriation, collaboration, and diversifying collections and exhibition spaces.

Maddy doing a condition report of an artwork installed at Macdonald Block, 900 Bay St
Photo courtesy of Maddy Howard. 

What is a typical day at your institution? What are your responsibilities?

Keelan: No two days are ever alike! Today, for example, I spent doing research, partaking in an exhibition meeting, and examining newspaper articles to determine why a primary source stated that a meeting was reaching its “boiling point”. Other days, I’ve completed tasks such as photographing and cataloging artifacts for an upcoming exhibition. Every day is different! My current responsibilities are researching various immigrant communities in St. John’s and helping with an exhibition opening in June. Each of these responsibilities encompass a wide range of tasks. Depending on what needs to be finished, some days are more research-based, while others are more task-based. Generally, there’s a good divide between the two, and I get to partake in a multitude of endeavours each day.

Erica: At Art Museum, there is no typical day as the environment is always changing. Its 'all-hands-on-deck' approach allows several opportunities to help with various aspects of the museum. My internship focuses on the ‘Art on Campus’ (AOC) initiative, where Art Museum arranges art loans from its stewarded collections to different units across the University of Toronto. I am responsible for AOC administration, audits and inventories, site visits, condition reports, cataloguing, registration, and several other duties. However, based on the museum’s priorities, I participate in a multitude of permanent collection and incoming loan activities.

Maddy: My responsibilities at the Government of Ontario Art Collection vary. I am responsible for cleaning the artwork, inventory, assisting with shipment of artwork across the province, helping to install and uninstall works, as well as conducting additional research on artists and artwork in the collection. I am also responsible for assisting with loan agreements, creating reports, helping with exhibition preparations for the Fall, attending meetings, and occasionally attending events. These responsibilities are great because they involve hands-on experience and allow me to apply class material to the real world. This variety of tasks will expose me to different areas of the museum field and broaden my skillset. I also get to explore the city of Toronto and learn outside of the traditional and controlled environment of the collection.

What is something you have learned so far at your internship?

Keelan: I’ve learned how extensive the curatorial process is. It is interesting researching for an exhibition in its early stages compared to helping with an exhibition that opens in a month. For example, my research on communities in St. John’s is more extensive than I imagined for display in the exhibit; however, it is absolutely necessary. On the other end, seeing the curatorial process in action for the upcoming exhibition is an eye-opener. Throughout an exhibition meeting today, every aspect of the exhibition was scrutinized, images and objects were added and removed, text was changed, and layout was tweaked. It was incredible to see so many people working together to pull off a relatively small exhibition, and it really made me appreciate how much work goes into everything museum professionals do, especially in larger institutions such as The Rooms.

Erica: As we prepare for the upcoming exhibition, I witnessed all the hard work and patience involved with staging a museum for the public. During this time, I have mastered the skill of conditioning reporting. Sometimes it's tricky to condition report artworks since it’s possible that pieces could have "defects" inherent to manufacture. It becomes crucial to develop an eye for recognizing when an imperfection has accumulated over time. Fortunately, I intimately spend time with the artwork and as an art historian, this is the dream! Learning the provenance and life of these objects is so interesting when you allow them to metaphorically speak to you.

Maddy: The most important thing I have learned so far is how to use power tools! Even though it has only been a week, I feel like I’ve learned so much already. Going into this internship, I did not have any background in art, art history, or government. This means that every day I get to learn something new. So far, I have learned how to properly handle and care for the artwork, how to apply backings to the artwork, and how to install the pieces. Much of what I’ve learned so far is about how to move the artwork and how input information into the database.

 
Erica in front of Art Museum at the University of Toronto.
Photo Courtesy of Erica Chi. 
Have you found mentorship at your internship? What are the benefits of having mentors in the museum sector?

Keelan: I have absolutely found mentorship at my internship. My supervisor is incredible. She’s brilliant when it comes to curation, and every day I feel like I learn something new from her. I feel fortunate to have multiple mentors here. The individuals with whom I work are open to sharing their experiences and answering my many questions. It’s clear that as an intern, I’m not expected to know everything, and mistakes are okay to make. Generally, I don’t think one can be in the museum sector and not have mentors. The experience of physically being in a museum is quite different from learning in a classroom. Mentors are there to guide, advise, and teach us how to put the theoretical into practice. I also find that much of the learning in museums is mentor-based. To me, this makes mentorship and invaluable asset to museums.

Erica: Upon visiting the Art Museum for a class field trip, Heather Pigat spoke passionately about her work as a Collections Manager. I became enthralled with the possibility of working with the permanent collection and having her as a supervisor. She is an excellent mentor, with years of experience and expertise in various realms of the art world. One thing she emphasizes is the importance of knowing when to turn to others for resources, knowledge, and expertise; power and agency come with understanding your weaknesses and collaborating with others. As the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Maddy: I have found a great mentor at my internship. My supervisor is a wealth of knowledge and is more than happy to help whenever I need it. She knows everything about the collection, the government, and the artwork. While the internship has only just started, I know that she will be an excellent mentor, and an incredible person to learn from. It is extremely important to have a mentor in the museum sector. A lot of what we learn in the classroom is useful for our future careers in the museum field. However, it is also beneficial to have an established mentor in the field that has a practical understanding of what is needed to succeed in our chosen careers. Mentors can help to guide us and bring our attention to areas that weren’t considered beforehand. Mentors can teach you so much that cannot be learned in a classroom and can provide real-world advice for prospective museum professionals.

What are you excited about accomplishing throughout your internship?


Keelan: I am excited to accomplish the creation and development of an exhibit! It will be interesting to see how different facets of museum work come together to create one exhibition. I’m generally excited to learn new skills and study new histories. As someone new to the east coast, I have a lot to learn over the remaining 11 weeks. I’m excited to see how much knowledge I can gain throughout my time here. Finally, I’m excited to see how I can apply the skills I learn here to other aspects of museums. Even if I do not work in curation, the skillset and experiences I’ll gain will be valuable assets when working in different institutions.

Erica: As an ongoing project with my predecessors at the Art Museum, I am excited to contribute to the longevity of the collections by consolidating various records. Preservation and exhibition of art collections are essential to share knowledge, cultural narratives, and access for future generations. I hope to obtain practical skills and valuable experience in this environment to further understand how museums function and how I can play a contributing role.

Maddy: The thing that I am most excited about accomplishing throughout the internship is the project happening at the Legislative Building in Queen’s Park. I am helping to inventory and clean the artwork, but also with the upcoming election, there is artwork that will need to be moved around. I am most excited about this project because it is a chance to get out of the usual museum setting, and work with the challenges that we will face in regard to dealing with a busy public building. This internship provides many exciting projects and opportunities, but I am most excited about the work that will be happening downtown.

 
Keelan with her pile of research at the The Rooms!
Photo Courtesy of Keelan Cashmore.
If you could create any museum (no matter how ridiculous) what kind of museum would it be?

Keelan: I’m a huge fan of immersive experiences. I think it would be fun to create a space museum… in space! Imagine learning about different aspects of the universe by seeing them up close and personal. Want to learn about Mars? Let’s go to Mars! As a child I was fascinated by space, and I think it would be neat to get to experience the universe the same way I experienced dinosaur bones or ancient cultures – through museums. Obviously, planetariums and science centres exist, but being able to physically be in space, learning about Saturn while standing on Saturn, would be unique and unforgettable.

Erica: I loooooove food (and who doesn’t)! My dream museum would serve different cultural dishes and provide the history behind it. Cuisine is such an integral component of culture and identity; it is so interesting to learn how certain dishes have evolved over time through exposure of various external influences. Both educational and delicious, it also has the potential to be extremely aesthetically pleasing. I’m drooling thinking about this museum now.

Maddy: Something related to space, definitely! I love museums and I love space, so why not combine the two? I love reading and watching films about space, so a museum solely focused on space would be amazing. I would want to include fact and fantasy, especially some conspiracy theories, because how can you have a museum about space without aliens? Ideally the museum would be in space, but that’s probably a job for future museum professionals.

*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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