Museum Fellows Go Behind the Scenes

Museum Fellows Go Behind the Scenes

Students who choose to supplement their studio majors with a Concentration in Art History can get a firsthand look at the profession of museum curatorship via the Museum Fellows program. Introduced in 2007, the program places students in semester-long apprenticeships with curatorial departments at the RISD Museum of Art. The positions carry course credit, require significant time commitments and involve “real work,” explains Professor Mary Bergstein, head of the History of Art + Visual Culture department.

“When we initially presented the idea, there was general agreement that the Fellows should be engaged in substantive tasks – the real work of curators – rather than administrative support,” Bergstein explains. As a result, students get an accurate sense of all the behind-the-scenes activities curators engage in, while also learning the value and rewards of research and how to handle and thoroughly examine sensitive art objects.

For instance, when Textiles senior Danielle Andress apprenticed with Emily Peters, assistant curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs in the museum’s Siskind Center, she spent several hours each week becoming intimately acquainted with the center’s collection of 25,000 works on paper. After working with Paper Preservation Specialist Linda Catano to learn how to handle the pieces properly, she concentrated on locating, pulling and preparing objects for academic classes. She also assisted with the Siskind Center’s open hours – the time each week when students are invited in to search for specific objects for close study.

For Andress, the fellowship experience complemented her extensive coursework in HAVC and her position on RISD’s Student Gallery Board. Despite the prestige of the position, though, Andress felt that the most rewarding aspect of her apprenticeship was the opportunity to get her hands dirty (figuratively, of course) in the Siskind Center’s countless boxes of original works – the chance to quench her “visual curiosity” on the museum’s extraordinary collections.

During the 2010–11 academic year, four students pursued internships through the Museum Fellows program during the fall semester: Holly Broussard 11 GD, Adam Hyman 11 FD, Shu Min Lim 12 GD, Julien Nguyen 13 PT and one, Hanna Szynal, will be working with Curator of Costume and Textiles Kate Irvin in the spring.

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