5 Weeks in at the Phillips

I can’t believe I’m already halfway done with my internship at the Phillips! The past few weeks have flown by as I’ve worked on a wide range of projects for a variety of departments. My experiences during my fifth week are truly reflective of my internship experience thus far in terms of variety and value. Week five gave me opportunities to hone old skills, learn new ones, and even explore new parts of the museum.

My week started off with a great deal of proofreading and research, which let me apply the important skills that I’ve learned at William & Mary to my current museum setting. Proofreading materials for membership, music programs, and audio guides reinforced the level of teamwork necessary to make a museum function. Just like writing a paper at school, sometimes a good piece of writing for a museum requires a look from a different set of eyes, and those producing such materials at the Phillips are not afraid to ask colleagues for help in this way. Getting to proofread these differing materials also showed me how necessary good writing skills are for any museum worker, no matter their department.

As for my research this week, I got to use my prior knowledge along with some new strategies as I tried my hand at grants research. Looking up grants for one of the museum’s upcoming exhibitions was tricky since I used a new database dealing with information I’m not accustomed to researching. The amount of money offered by some private foundations was mind-boggling to me, and some foundations were easier to track down and learn about than others. I quickly learned that careful grants research takes time and can often turn frustrating, as one small piece of criteria could make a request for the upcoming exhibition ineligible. When I had completed as much research as possible and profiled my top foundations, I sent off my research to Tori, one of the grant writers, who then asked me to sit down with her and explain my findings. Sitting down and explaining my reasoning with Tori helped me understand the thought process that a grant writer has to use in his or her research to find the best options, and really made me appreciate the painstaking work that grant writers do as a great service to the museums they serve.

In addition to my grants research this week, I also got to do some research for the music department by figuring out which upcoming performers would be making debuts during the Phillips’ 2017-2018 Sunday Concert season. I looked up every musician and musical group set to perform in the upcoming season and determined whether or not they had already performed at the Phillips, in Washington D.C., or even in the United States. My research helped me familiarize myself with the types of music and musicians associated with the Phillips Collection’s Sunday Concerts, which would be important for my next project aiding the music department.

At the end of the week I got to start creating the upcoming Sunday Concert series’ event pages for the Phillips Collection’s website. The process involves plugging in a lot of information (most of which has already been researched but will be edited later) and can become rather time consuming, so I was glad to do my part and begin the process. I also loved learning how to format information, images, and video for a website since I had never worked that intimately with any website before. Seeing the information that I added get transformed into a sleek webpage through the “preview” mode was really exciting for me since it provided a visual manifestation of my digital input (basically, I’m not the greatest with technology so this was all a pretty magical experience for me).

Speaking of digital magic, one of the coolest things I got to do this week was explore the software VGCurate with the Phillips Collection’s Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs. VGCurate lets its user input sizes and images of works for an upcoming exhibition and mount the works on a digital replica of a real-life gallery space. I helped the Deputy Director move around pieces for an upcoming exhibition to make sure that they would all fit in the space provided. It was amazing to see such realistic renderings of the works and the museum, and fun to play around with the various options for placement. While the software is amazing, the Deputy Director assured me that it’s still not a full replacement of the work that curators must do in person with the works and gallery walls – just another way in which technology enhances traditional museum practices.

Last, but certainly not least, one of my most exciting experiences from this past week was going up to the conservation lab to assist with some scanning. While the scanning itself was a simple procedure, the documents I scanned were conservation reports on works for the Markus Lupertz exhibition, symbolizing an important staple of the conservator’s job. Conservators make reports of works received before they go on display to keep a record of the state of works of art, essential for insurance purposes as well as recording the history of an artwork’s life. While up in the lab, I also got to watch two conservators at work as they made careful adjustments to two separate canvases, helping to improve their conditions. Watching the conservators’ work was fascinating since the conservators themselves get to work so intimately with works of art, knowing that one small mistake could prove detrimental.

So at the halfway mark in my internship I’ve seen and learned a lot, but I’m excited to keep absorbing new information as I go forward. I have gained so many wonderful and unique experiences already, and having these new skills under my belt can only serve to make me a better intern on my way to becoming a true museum employee.