How Artists Work: My Summer Interning at the Biggest Contemporary Art Museum in the U.S.

Throughout my life, I’ve always dreamed about the prospect of working with creative people in the performing arts industry. As a Theatre major, live performance and the process of creation have always been huge parts of my life. However, I’ve also leaned towards the more scholarly and detail-oriented side of everything, which is where my Public Relations degree has come in handy. It wasn’t until my time as a Performing Arts Administration Intern at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (more commonly known as MASS MoCA) that I was finally able to put a name on what I wanted to do; company management.

MASS MoCA’s internship program at times can be completely surreal. At no point have I ever felt like just another intern coming through to work temporarily. The staff at MoCA truly take the time to personalize your experience at the company and appreciate people for who they are. With a $150 stipend per week and provided intern housing with included utilities, the museum does the best they can to provide the interns with everything they need during their time working at the institution. This summer we have interns coming from all around the United States, so the benefits allow people from all over to take part in the experience. Located in the artistically saturated region of the Berkshire mountains, home of Williamstown Theatre Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Clark Institute, MASS MoCA is a non-profit that truly invests not in itself but in the development of the arts industry. I found myself in the process truly feeling like I was contributing to the creation of something.

I loved walking into work every day not knowing what my day would look like. I had a wide range of responsibilities including stocking green rooms, shopping for artist hospitality, transporting performers in company vehicles from the airport, writing programs for upcoming arts events, and acting as house manager for large-scale events. I learned so much about company management and event logistics. The first time I was able to read artist riders and contracts, I spent probably an hour just flipping through the binder. Them giving an intern those kinds of responsibilities and experiences was truly more than I could’ve hoped for. Not only that, but I got to interact with the educational aspect of the museum as well. As an intern at MASS MoCA, you are required to give museum tours to the public. The first few weeks were full of curatorial training with museum staff, where we were taught the fine details about the work of Sol LeWitt, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, James Turrell, Anselm Kiefer, and so much more. While the beginning had me stressing about these public tours, by the end of the summer I was being asked if I was an art history major.

My absolute favorite part of the internship was working with the artists and getting to talk to various musicians about their work. I had the pleasure of meeting artists like Ray LaMontagne, Courtney Barnett, the guys from Grizzly Bear, and Debbie Harry as well as the rest of Blondie. Through Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, I developed not only professional relationships with renowned musicians but friendships as well. My work helping implement elements of the festival fostered a creative environment where art and compositions could be created. Watching it all come together during the Marathon, a whopping 6-hours of orchestral music, was the best reward.

Grizzly Bear playing live in the Hunter Center on June 16, 2018

Courtney Barnett playing live in Courtyard C on July 12, 2018

My summer at MASS MoCA will stay with me for the rest of my life. There are so many people in that organization I cannot thank enough. I highly recommend that intern experience for anyone that hopes to pursue a career in the arts. My biggest takeaway that can be passed along: Don’t be afraid to create new experiences. If the opportunity is allowing you to relocate for minimal cost, go for it and see what you find. During internship interviews, be the most authentic version of yourself you can present. I read in an instant that my future colleagues had a sense of humor and a genuine nature to the way they operated, so I reciprocated that. Not only did it prove to be a good interview, but I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day because of how the interview went. In the professional world, you shouldn’t be afraid to be who you are.

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