University of Massachusetts Amherst

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The Art Lab

Museum prepares students for careers in the art world
  • Loretta Yarlow stands with interns in front of paintings

Students in the University Museum of Contemporary Art internship program learn how to conserve art, develop exhibitions, and assist in museum management, among other things.

Tucked away on the North side of the campus’ Fine Arts Center is a concealed cultural gem—the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA)—a teaching museum and multidisciplinary, international laboratory for the exploration and advancement of contemporary art. Through its highly regarded internship program, the museum provides hands-on experiences for students—from handling and conserving artwork, to conducting research for exhibits and developing educational materials, to understanding the practicalities of museum management.

“It’s wonderful experience and practical knowledge for anyone wanting to go into museum work as well as those interested in going into the non-profit sector of the art world,” says UMCA director Loretta Yarlow (left, top photo).

Alumna Kim Carlino ‘11, an emerging local artist, interned for four years at the UMCA as an undergraduate studio art major. She now manages public relations, events and marketing for Eastworks, a 500,000 square foot converted mill stretching several blocks in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Eastworks is home to industrial artisans, creative entrepreneurs, small businesses, and a burgeoning arts community.

Carlino says she applies her UMCA internship experience on a day-to-day basis. As a developing artist, she was able to work one-on-one with esteemed artists from all over the world. Her work is also greatly influenced, for example, by the sheer volume of art she handled while learning how to install artworks with UMCA staff members Craig Allaben and Justin Griswold. Carlino is able to spackle, drywall, handle artwork with trained precision, and curate exhibitions, thanks to their teaching. Carlino also hails the camaraderie fostered within the UMCA and the staff’s nurturing methodology.

“Craig’s calm and patient sense of how to do things—I really do carry that with me, now,” Carlino says.

Carlino recently came full circle as the UMCA featured her paintings in the exhibition Dialogue with a Collection: Kim Carlino. For the exhibition, she paired her paintings with pieces she curated from the museum’s permanent collection. Carlino says she was humbled to be able to share her work with the institution that taught her so much.

“They’re very proud of one of their own,” says Carlino. “To be recognized as this active, emerging area artist by an institution that has exhibitions from artists all around the world feels like a real accomplishment. They’re recognizing the kind of momentum I have.”

Interns are drawn from a range of disciplines. Alumnus Nafis Azad interned as an undergraduate while majoring in engineering. Azad now works for Studio 20X24 in New York City with artists Mary Ellen Mark, Magdalena Compos-Pons, Elsa Dorfman and Chuck Close, among others. Close, who rents camera equipment through the studio, enlisted Azad to help him maneuver the 250-pound Polaroid camera he uses in much of his work. Like other adopters of the large Polaroid camera, Close uses it to take photos of his subjects, many of which he later uses in his paintings and prints.

Azad says his experience photographing artwork for the UMCA as an intern was invaluable. Not only did he learn how to handle artwork with professional care, he says he also became intimately acquainted with the museum’s archive as he photographed it—experience that contributed to his decision to return to campus for his MFA in photography. The process of photographing the art was not quick, he explains, but long and careful.

“My favorite part about that job: having that opportunity to look at artwork that close and without any interference. I think that was priceless,” says Azad.

Joe Saphire, a graduate student pursuing his MFA, interned at the UMCA to produce a ‘teacher’s guide’ for the museum’s recent exhibition, Du Bois in Our Time. The 50-page guide was created with an ear to the ground—Saphire and UMCA staff met with local schools to get their input on how these materials in-making would best be utilized. Saphire, who has years of experience teaching high school level art, says working for the UMCA was an important step in his path towards building a new kind of platform for teaching the arts in light of a changing educational landscape—a non-profit organization, perhaps, that could serve multiple schools simultaneously.

Danielle Gagne is also working on the Du Bois project. A graduate student in art history, Gagne is compiling materials from the fall exhibition for the museum’s online catalogue. Bringing together media, video, and photo files, Gagne is writing abstracts about each piece and setting their context within the larger exhibition. In developing this public online resource, Gagne is also learning about reproduction rights and copyright laws as she works—highly valuable skills in the job market. Passionate about museum education as a career path, Gagne has been able to sit in on conversations held between museum educators along with UMCA’s curator of education, Eva Fierst.

“Anyone who has any interest in museums or art, even if contemporary art isn’t your field—get involved in it because it’s going to give you invaluable experience regardless of what your interests are,” says Gagne.

Formerly known as the ‘University Gallery,’ the UMCA is moving into its fortieth year of operation. To commemorate that, Yarlow and Liz Bola, a graduate student in art history, are working on an exhibition called 40 Years, 40 Artists, which will feature 40 artists from the collection’s 40 years. It is slated for winter 2015.

Amanda Drane '12