So much of what we do at the Milwaukee Art Museum depends on volunteers. In the Curatorial department, most of my volunteers are college interns. These dedicated students are willing to give their time and energy to us in exchange for the experience of working at the Museum.
Over the past ten years, I have supervised over 100 interns. At times I have had as many as eleven interns at once! Their enthusiasm and intelligence are invigorating. Most interns commit to working 10-15 hours a week for a semester. Sometimes they intern for college credit, but just as often not. I have had interns stay and help me for years after their coursework is done—which is wonderful, because they can work on long-term projects and mentor new interns.
Although most of the interns we have at the Milwaukee Art Museum are from Milwaukee-area schools such as UW-Milwaukee, Alverno College, Marquette University, Mount Mary College, and Carroll University, I have worked with interns from all over the country—and one from Poland. In fact, my interns represent 45 different schools. Here is just a sampling:
UW-Madison; UW-Parkside; UW-Stevens Point; UW-Whitewater; Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin); St. Norbert College (De Pere, Wisconsin); Boston University; Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan); Colorado College; Duke University (Durham, North Carolina); Kent State University (Kent, Ohio); New York University; Princeton University; Tulane University (New Orleans); University of Colorado-Boulder; University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; University of Notre Dame; Virginia Tech; Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri).
Although most interns are art history majors, that is not always the case. We have seen students majoring in subjects such as English, History, Studio Art, and Marketing.
So what do interns do in the European department? A little bit of everything…
They help with administrative tasks such as mailings and copy documents for meetings.
They design flyers and make nametags for events. They help at lectures and parties by greeting guests and answering questions.
They sit at tables at summer festivals to promote upcoming exhibitions.
They do research on the collection, compile lists of objects for exhibitions, and fact check for publications.
Right now we are conducting a massive effort to enter search terms into our collection database so that when you type in “dog” you get works related to dogs. Who is working on this time-consuming project that requires knowledge of art history? Interns! We couldn’t do half of what we do without their help.
Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of Earlier European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.