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The Apprentices

Interns explore museum careers through institutional collaborations
July 26, 2016
Big Miniatures Project Intern

Alicia Hudson Garr Associate Director of Interpretation

Big Miniatures Project Intern Jennifer Hannan (left), a junior at CWRU, works with postdoctoral fellow Cory Korkow researching the museum’s collection of portrait miniatures.


Each spring, summer, and fall, more than a dozen college students and recent graduates begin semester terms as unpaid interns at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Most of them, who come from art history and arts administration as well as nonprofit management and business programs, plan to pursue advanced degrees in the museum field. The CMA’s undergraduate internships help students understand how a large museum with a comprehensive collection functions by exposing them to a variety of departments within the institution.

For instance, Case Western Reserve University junior Jennifer Hannan is one of 19 undergraduate interns placed with a mentor at the museum this past fall. Like many art history majors, Jen is particularly interested in the curatorial department, an area where interns often conduct some type of research. Cory Korkow, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of European paintings and sculpture (1500–1800) and Jen’s mentor, has assigned to Jen tasks that nurture a variety of skills, from correspondence and database management to imaging and critical looking.

One of those tasks involves sending requests to museums and private donors for permission to reproduce their works of art in a soon-to-be published catalogue of European portrait miniatures. Jen looks forward to receiving e-mail replies to her queries. “It’s a new endeavor, to publish a not-for-profit catalogue online,” she says, “so we’re trying to persuade the owners of these images not to charge us to reproduce their works, which are essential for comparison and illustration of the CMA works.” Jen often must convince museums and private individuals of the scholarly project’s value and the necessity of including their images.

Most prospective interns are art history majors who assume their only career path is curatorial work. However, the CMA’s institutional goal is to introduce them to the variety of tasks essential to the functioning of a large comprehensive museum. Many of the museum’s staff members have some type of art or art history background, even in departments responsible for practical day-to-day functions such as protection services.


Definitely not getting her hands dirty

Definitely not getting her hands dirty Recent Kent State graduate Maia Garcia Fedor translated mat-cutting skills learned in a retail job to work in the museum’s paper conservation lab.

Intern Maia Garcia Fedor is uniquely qualified to perform hands-on tasks related to the preservation of works on paper. Maia possesses specific mat-cutting skills gained from a retail job that translate into practical help for the museum’s conservation department. In turn, she learns how materials and practices used in museum conservation differ from the retail world. “The biggest difference is that everything we do at the museum is reversible,” says Maia. Materials such as Japanese handmade paper hinges and wheat starch paste adhesive are particular to this practice. 

Maia, a graduate of Kent State University, already had an idea that she wanted to pursue conservation, and so had taken the necessary science, chemistry, and art history coursework. CMA chief conservator Marcia Steele emphasizes the difference between undergraduate and graduate internships in conservation: “Undergraduates are here to learn the practices and materials used in the conservation studios [paper, textile, object, and painting], while graduate school interns from conservation training programs work under close supervision to research and treat works of art.” Conservation internships are particularly rare for undergrads, as competition for a “practicum”—which involves hands-on time in the lab—is intense for those enrolled in graduate conservation programs.

Museum staff in most departments generally are aware of the importance of fundraising to institutional health, particularly for a museum like the CMA that does not charge visitors an admission fee to view the permanent collection. Yet few students leave college with both an understanding of art and an interest in business. Intern Maria-Christina Ciocanelea returned to Cleveland after a stint at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, where she majored in art business. Maria found a job working in a bank, but wanted to learn more about combining art and business in a museum setting. Cindy Flores, assistant director of institutional giving in the CMA’s development division, agreed to mentor Maria. Interning one day a week around her changing work schedule, Maria learned a lot about working on grants, from foundational requirements to deadlines and submissions. A year later, Maria continues to intern and has assembled a portfolio of grants she’s worked on, including one that she first matched with a particular need through research and then helped write the proposal. “I found an organization that would help bring a Scandinavian musical group to Cleveland for the performing arts, music, and film department,” she notes. At the CMA, at least one staff member is dedicated solely to grantwriting to help support programs and initiatives. At most smaller museums, however, the task of fundraising often falls to department heads. Because such training is rare even in museum studies programs, internship experience such as Maria’s can prove essential.

Professionally relevant education value is what distinguishes a true internship from simple unpaid work. In a time when less-than-scrupulous employers sometimes string along prospective hires with repeated “internships” that are little more than free labor (a practice frowned on by the federal government, sometimes to the point of legal action), the museum’s program exemplifies what a mutually beneficial internship can be: a way of involving future professionals in substantive work that empowers the student, helps the museum, and brings valuable skills to the larger museum world.  



Internship program Alicia Hudson Garr is associate director of interpretation in the division of education. One aspect of her job is to screen, place, and support undergraduate interns. These interns are accepted for fall, spring, and summer terms of from 10 to 16 weeks, depending on the semester. The CMA requires applicants to submit a cover letter indicating why they might benefit from an internship, along with a résumé and list of relevant coursework. Sometimes an additional writing sample is requested. Those with previous museum volunteer work are given greater consideration. Applications should be e-mailed to internships@clevelandart.org.

Warshawsky Summer Internships Last year, the museum introduced two 12-week paid summer undergraduate internship positions in the curatorial division. Interns assist curators in one of four areas: Contemporary Art (1960–present), American Painting and Sculpture (1700–1960), European Paintings and Sculpture (1500–1800), or Art of the Americas (Pre-Columbian and Native North American). 


Cleveland Art, January/February 2011