This Summer, I...
Summer 2013 Curatorial Intern Martha Scott Burton reflects on her time at Studio Museum
One of Studio Museum’s many partners is the ARTS Intern program, developed by the nonprofit organization Studio in a School, through which college undergraduate students from diverse cultural backgrounds gain work experience at some of New York’s most exciting and influential institutions. It is through this program that I have had the privilege of working as a Curatorial Intern over the past 9 weeks at the Studio Museum—certainly one of my most rewarding and educational experiences to date.
Growing up in a small Midwestern town (one of the many Springfields in Tornado Alley) with the closest major art institution over 4 hours away, I thought art history majors necessarily became teachers. But after moving to the city, where museums, galleries and auction houses are abundant, and after working at the Studio Museum, whose mission is pursued with singular energy, a whole new world opened up, almost at a flashpoint.
As a Curatorial Intern, I do a lot of research: on work that might fit with an exhibition theme, information about artists, go-to experts and writers in various art historical fields, provenances for artwork, folks to contact with press releases, exhibition histories, and more. I also had the opportunity to interview artists who are included in Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art—hearing about the work from the horse's mouth. Radical Presence, opening at the Grey Art Gallery on September 10 and at the Studio Museum on November 14, chronicles the emergence and development of black performance art over three generations and provides a critical history beginning with Fluxus and Conceptual art in the early 1960s through present-day. The artists were particularly kind and incredibly generous with their time and knowledge—the Studio Museum’s close relationship to artists is an institutional strength. You can hear them on the dedicated website, which goes live in the fall.
My time here has been evermore educational due to the people making the magic happen. Like the artists for whom they advocate, the folks in the Curatorial Department were supportive and responsive, which was particularly appreciated as this was my first internship in an arts institution (I was often flying by the seat of my pants on some assignments). They trusted me with fulfilling projects and, because of this, I felt that I was able to contribute to the department's work in a meaningful way despite my short time here.
This internship has been what internships are meant to be. My time at the Studio Museum has clarified my career path and given me an education that the classroom cannot offer. What's more, and perhaps most importantly, I leave the Studio Museum wholeheartedly believing in the work they are carrying out as entirely singular and unquestionably necessary. I doubt that I would get the same satisfaction working at an institution that does not actively work to rewrite the dominant art historical narrative and canon. I look back on my time in the Curatorial Department with heartfelt thanks and look forward to the future that the Studio Museum will bring.