Theresa Bembnister’s Top 4 Reasons Why Internships are Important

Calder invited me to write a guest post about my internship experiences, focusing on how they helped advance my career.
As a student at KCAI (I have a BFA in Illustration and Design) I had yet to discover the resume-building power of internships. A few years after graduation I decided to pursue a museum career, and approached Elizabeth Dunbar, then curator at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, for tips. Her suggestion: Internships.
I took Elizabeth’s advice to heart, and before I landed my current position as collections manager at the Belger Arts Center, I interned at art museums across the country, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Drawing Center and the Chinati Foundation in Marfa Texas.

So, why did I spend so much time working for little or no money? Because Elizabeth was right—the job market is tough (especially in the art world), and the experience and connections you gain as an intern pay off in the long run.

Here’s my short list of good reasons to participate in an internship:

Reason #1: Gain new skills and experience.

Despite the valiant efforts of your professors, you won’t learn everything you need to know in school. As an intern in the documentation department at the Whitney, I gained most of the skills that I use on a daily basis for my current full-time job, including condition reporting, cataloging artwork, and collections database management. I learned absolutely none of that while I was studying for my BFA and my MA in art history, but through an internship I had the opportunity to gain all those skills on the job working with one of the best collections of American art.

Reason #2: Networking

The art world is a very small place. Moving from museum to museum, I developed a network of coworkers, supervisors and friends I’ve called upon for advice or recommendations. Not only have I benefitted from this network, but others have as well. A Houston-based curator I met during a Chinati Foundation tour asked me for leads on artists for a photography exhibition. I sent her a link to a friend’s website, and she selected my friend’s work for the show.

Reason #3: Future opportunities.

My internships have lead to other opportunities. After my stint as a public relations intern at The Drawing Center, I was invited to contribute to the museum’s blog, The Bottom Line. So now I write posts on drawing-related exhibitions in the Midwest for a New York-based online publication.

Through contacts I made at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, I was able to participate in the de-installation of Donald Judd’s loft at 101 Spring Street in New York. Admitting this secures my status as an art history geek, but I got a kick out of packing up the contents of Judd’s closet. (He was really into Brooks Brothers.)
I still keep in touch with my former supervisors and friends that I made through my internships, so who knows what opportunities might pop up in the future.

Reason #4: It’s fun.

Finally, it’s fun to be an intern. I’m not going to lie—I had to make a lot of copies and carry the mail to the post office sometimes. But I got a behind-the-scenes view of outstanding museum collections, met fascinating people from all over the world, and lived in some of the coolest places in the country.

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