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The Museum Business

woman using a brush to clean a large mask-type sculpture
Interns help set up, clean, frame and narrate various UW Art Museum exhibitions. (Courtesy Photo)

The UW Art Museum offers student internships for the right mix of real-world experience.

By Nicole M. Crawford

Ask anyone who works in a museum—they will tell you they have the best job in the world. But how does a person get one of these coveted positions?

The museum field is a distinct combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. However, it is often difficult for students to attain the balance between the two when entering the job market. Museums look for applicants who have a strong academic background related to the focus of the museum, but real-world museum-related experience is just as important. Consequently, students who have an internship, paid or unpaid, on their resume have a better chance of landing an entry-level positon at a museum.

The UW Art Museum offers semester-long internships for credit and usually sees two to five interns each semester, including summers.

A background in art or art history is not a requirement, as most students—both undergrad and graduate—come from a variety of departments, including history, anthropology, American studies and law.

Typically, interns in the collections department spend half of their time working directly with the collections manager for hands-on experience in object handling, data entry, inventory and basic collections management. The other half is devoted to working with the curator of collections on collections and exhibition research that includes creating exhibition checklists, writing drafts of exhibition-related text and general research.

Students in the past have assisted with curating exhibitions from start to finish; written scripts and recorded audio tours; participated in public exhibition talks; completed inventory projects; participated in field trips to Denver museums and conservation studios; assisted a conservator with a survey of the collection; worked with a professional photographer to document the collection; and conducted general object research that becomes part of the permanent record.

In addition to resume-building, an internship at the Art Museum allows students to work directly with museum professionals who can become future mentors. Museums do not work in a vacuum, and networking is an important aspect of the profession. Students network with curators and scholars from other institutions, conservators and other museum specialists who can become important contacts for the future.

The experience gives students a broader understanding of how different departments function in the museum and allows them to work in different areas to find roles that fit with their interests and strengths. Many former interns have gone on to prestigious graduate programs and now work in museums across the country. Through the internship program, the Art Museum strives to help UW students succeed in this highly competitive and rewarding field.

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