In September, the Arts Extension Service will be holding a Fall Arts and Humanities Internship Fair in collaboration with the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and BDIC. As a way to answer commonly asked questions about the internship process, we profile pairings resulting from our internship program. In this article, we profile Wistariahurst Museum’s Executive Director Kate Preissler and UMass Amherst English major Aradhita Saraf. Kate and Aradhita worked together in Fall 2015, in Aradhita's junior year.
Located in Holyoke, MA, Wistariahurst Museum is dedicated to preserving Holyoke’s history and inspiring an appreciation of history and culture through educational programs, exhibits and special events.
What kind of work can an intern do?
Internships are first and foremost learning opportunities. According to Kate Preissler, Wistariahurst’s Executive Director, “You have to be ready to allow someone completely into your work. You have to be generous with your time. Bringing students and learners behind-the-scenes of my organization and having the opportunity to teach in-depth about the hard work we do in order to present a great exhibit or performance is rewarding in a more personal way than some of the other educational efforts I’ve been a part of. “
While AES promotes and supports arts and culture internships, opportunities will attract students from a diversity of disciplines who bring with them a variety of skills that they wish to develop. Internship providers should articulate their needs in an internship posting, but leave space for the internship to be structured based on a student’s unique interests and skills.
During her internship at the Wistariahurst Museum, Aradhita, an aspiring creative writer, sharpened her marketing skills by publicizing events, writing press releases and media alerts, updating social media, blogging, and working with the Wistariahurst staff on a variety of events. Aradhita completed her semester by doing original research in Wistariahurst’s archives and writing posts based on her research for Wistariahurst’s blog. According to Aradhita, “Digging through the archives to unravel the mysteries of the past only to bring them to the forefront for the rest of the world to learn about has been a rewarding experience.”
How should I structure my internship opportunity?
The simple answer is “collaboratively, in conversation with your intern.” Internships can have lots of different structures as long as learning is at the core and there is time spent one-on-one. According to Kate, “Aradhita was able to work on-site 1-2 afternoons a week and do additional work remotely from campus. Most of her time at Wistariahurst we spent together looking over completed drafts, talking about projects we wanted to start, and working through any issues. We also communicated through email - especially when it comes to editing her written pieces.”
The student's time commitment for an internships must be at least 40 hours of work over a semester (~4 hours of work/week) to be posted at UMass. In addition to being a University requirement, experience has shown that 40 hours provides ample time for interns to both learn and accomplish required tasks.
What is the best part of working with an intern?
Internships can be a lot of fun for everyone involved. Interns bring unique perspectives and fresh energy to an artists or arts organization. “I was thrilled to work with someone new to the field,” said Kate. “Aradhita’s enthusiasm for our organization and our collection have been infectious and inspired us all to look at our work with refreshed eyes. Aradhita’s willingness to jump into whatever task was at hand that day provided great support, and was for her a realistic experience for what working in a small organization is like.”
The learning opportunities presented in an internship are not just for the intern – they are also opportunities for the mentor. “I have benefited from the casual conversations that Aradhita and I have had, said Kate. “As someone who had never before been to Wistariahurst, her reactions and feedback are helping to inform our work. She’s given us a sense for what angles might resonate with people from outside Holyoke and those who have never been here before.”
For Aradhita, the marketing and writing experience will prove invaluable for her future career in creative writing. According to Aradhita, “The opportunity of working behind the scenes at Wistariahurst has opened my eyes to the world of marketing through words, leaving an indelible impression in the journey of the career oriented part of my life that I am beginning to emerge on.”
Do you have any advice for those thinking of taking on an intern?
Kate had several fantastic pieces of advice for artist or arts organizations thinking of taking on interns:
- Make sure you have the time and headspace. “Even though the idea of an extra person to help out is always tempting, our small institution has times when we are so crunched and chaotic that we aren’t able to create a safe learning environment for a student and we know it’s important to say ‘no’ in those moments.”
- The relationships can last beyond the internship. “Internship experiences that I’ve overseen have resulted in relationships that continue for years. When you find someone who is a great fit for your organization the conversations, learning, and mentoring don’t have to end when the semester does.”
- Be prepared. “When I was an intern, it was always frustrating when it felt like a supervisor was coming up with random projects on the fly. Because of this experience, I like to prepare a rough list of projects well ahead of time that will build skills in an intentional way while also getting real, useful work done. “
- Understand where your intern is at. As a college student, interns are still learning “the ropes” – they will need time, space and guidance to produce professional level work. Kate tries to pick projects which are low-risk for the student. ”This means projects that either have deadlines far enough in advance that the student doesn’t have to rush the work or which are flexible enough that nothing is ruined if they find it above their capabilities or can’t finish with the timeframe of the internship.”
For more information on becoming an Arts and Culture Internship Provider, read our Internship FAQ and Current Internship Postings page. Also, consider joining us at our next Fall Arts and Humanities Internship Fair on September 14, 2017.
ABOUT THE ARTS ENTREPRENEURSHIP INITIATIVE INTERNSHIP PROGRAM
As part of the AES Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative launched in Spring 2014, the Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative Internship Program promotes and supports internship opportunities with artists, arts businesses, and art organizations that provide UMass students with real world experience in the arts and culture sector.