Maria's Adventures in DC: Week One at the NEA

In this first in a series of blog posts, Maria Bastos-Stanek (Art History and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, '17), this year's National Arts Policy Archive and Library (NAPAAL) Intern at the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), reports on her summer adventures interning and exploring Washington, D.C.

The NAPAAL internship is a funded internship that provides a career-building experience for a UMass Amherst or Five College student interested in a career in arts management or arts policy. The internship was made possible thanks to a generous grant from the Women for UMass Amherst Fund, the UMass Department of History of Art and Architecture's Ann Mochon's Summer Internship Award, and the Thomas F. Parker Arts Fund for Student Initiatives.

My First Few Days in DC

I arrived in DC on June 7 in the early afternoon after a seven hour train ride. I spent my first moments in the city walking along the perimeter of Union Station while waiting for a friend to pick me up. As I looked out onto Columbus Circle and the saw the rush of cars all around picking up friends and family from the station, I felt a sense of freedom and possibility. I finally made it!

DC is an energetic and fast-pace city, filled with a mix of professionals heading to and from work, families on vacation, groups of school kids on fieldtrips, and young people looking for a good time. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the National Mall, where diverse groups of people all gather to experience our national museums and monuments, and where I spent my first few days in the city. The first museum I visited was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which I mostly spent in Hall of Mammals and satisfied my fascination for stuffed animals I’ve had since childhood. Next stop was the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the National Archives and, finally, the National Gallery of Art.

As an art history major, I cannot over emphasize the importance of studying art in person. On a technical level, a trip to the museum can help to properly identify the size and scale, and accurate color of a work of art – all important details that don’t easily register on a computer screen. At its best, studying art in person can be a transcendent experience. A work of art can command a room, have the power to make you put down your phone, and leave you mesmerized for hours.

One of my most fulfilling art encounters happened when I visited the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s contemporary galleries, where I encountered Carl Andre’s 1997 abstract sculpture Voltaglyph 28. The sculpture consists of 28 square vertically-oriented tiles made of alternating strips of copper and zinc faceted to the floor in a rectangular shape. Andre worked on the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1960-4, and industrial materials figure prominently in his oeuvre.

The sculpture is interactive, and the gallery label encourages viewers to touch the work. Many museumgoers, myself included, often experience visceral reactions when encountering works on art in person. Put simply, we want to touch the art, but rarely have the chance to do so. I tentatively edged up against the work, looked around waiting for a guard to admonish me out of habit. I hesitantly stepped onto the work and waked across the long side. It felt playfully mischievous and emboldening. I crouched down and placed my palms against the cool metal and traced the outline of a square with my finger. I sat down and sprawled out on sculpture and stayed there for a few peaceful moments while visitors snuck glances in my direction. In those few moments, I experienced the work of art in a way I could never do in the classroom.

Interning at the NEA

On my first day at the NEA, I took the 20 min metro ride from my apartment to Constitution Center. The building holds multiple government agencies, making for an impressive and intimidating walk to the elevator and up three floors to the NEA into the Office of Research and Analysis where I intern.

NEA Entrance

The Office of Research and Analysis primarily researches the value and impact of arts and arts organizations. Through conducting analyses and reports, ORA generates important information that investigates the value and impact of the arts in American lives and communities. Some of my initial tasks included studying recent reports such as How the United States Funds the Arts and the NEA’s Strategic Plan. These publications reveal the wide scope of the NEA and their important contributions to funding the arts.

I’ve spent most of my time so far updating the indexes for the National Arts Policy Archives and Library (NAPAAL). The NAPAAL collection is an online and print collection of public documents generated by the NEA that is housed and managed by Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the UMass Amherst Libraries. By cross-referencing the NEA’s list of publications with the NAPAAL collection, I identify missing publications and update the collection accordingly. As part of my internship, I’ll be using the NAPAAL collection to aid in my own research of topics related to arts policy.

Exploring the City

DC is full of fun and unusual museums and other cultural institutions tucked away all over the city. On Thursday, my friend Caroline Riley, a fellow UMass Amherst Art History Major in DC, and I visited the Phillips Collection, a private collection of European and American modern art a few blocks away from DuPont Circle. The museum houses the private collection of Duncan Phillips in his former family home, which Phillips opened as a museum in 1921. We attended a curator talk of the museum’s current retrospective of William Merritt Chase, titled A Modern Master. Chase was an American impressionist active during the late 19th and early 20th century. The exhibition displays a comprehensive collection of his work, ranging from portrait painting to landscapes, and his masterful experiments in pastel. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to view Chase’s work and will remain on view until September 11, 2016.