In Conversation with a MCA Intern
Senior Psychology student and Drawing and Painting minor Jessica Malatia (JM) speaks with a Fine Arts Marketing Associate (FA) about her experiences as an intern for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and gives advice to other students about internships.
FA: How did you first hear about the MCA internship?
JM: I heard about it on the MCA's website.
FA: Why did you choose this internship over others?
JM: I have always wanted to work in a museum setting, but was unsure of how I could gain the necessary education or experience, since I am not studying Art History or Museum Studies. I decided to intern at the MCA to gain hands-on experience in museum setting, which I would not have gotten otherwise as a Psychology and Fine Arts student. I was elated to hear about the Interpretive Practices internship, since I had the necessary research experience from my Psychology courses and a research project in my capstone class. I did not think that as a Psychology major I could find myself in a museum, but this goes to show the wide variety of positions that are available for people of all backgrounds.
FA: What was your interview like?
JM: I interviewed with my now supervisor. She talked to me about the details of the department first, and described what my position would look like as an intern. This was helpful, because I was unfamiliar with the field of museum interpretation, and could then base my answers on her description, instead of merely based on the info from their website. Then, she asked me a few questions about why I was interested in the internship and what skills I wanted to gain from my time at the MCA. Lastly, she asked me questions about specific exhibitions I could remember that were impactful to me from past visits to museums. I talked about the exhibition design in the Magritte show from the Art Institute, as well as the interesting tools used to get visitors to interact in the Van Gogh's Bedrooms show (also at the Art Institute). I definitely was not expecting these questions, but after the fact, I realized she was asking about my experiences with interpretive tools in museums!
FA: What do you do at this internship?
JM: I intern in the Interpretation department, which deals with both interpretation and evaluation. In regard to the interpretation part, I research content for interpretive spaces and interpretive tools. Some of my tasks have been to research new and interesting ways to display labels for works of art, and even selecting advertisements from vintage magazines that are on display in the current Howardena Pindell exhibition. In regard to evaluation, I get to conduct exit interviews with visitors to hear about their opinions on the exhibitions. I also do timing and tracking studies. This involves discreetly following visitors through the galleries to track which works they stop at, as well as timing how long they spend in the galleries. Lastly, I help with the docent program, which includes editing docent training materials and attending docent tours of the exhibitions.
FA: What is your favorite part of your internship?
JM: I have really enjoyed meeting some of the exhibiting artists and hearing them speak about their work. Aside from that, I love learning about the behind-the-scenes functioning of the museum. Whether that means chatting with museum guards, attending curator tours of the exhibitions, or learning about the ways exhibitions are evaluated, I enjoy it all. I truly feel like my interests and my learning goals are in mind, and that my input is valued.
FA: What is the most surprising or unexpected thing that you have learned so far?
JM: I have been most surprised to learn that the staff at the MCA come from a multitude of different backgrounds. Like I mentioned before, I worried that without an Art History or Museum Studies background, I'd never find myself working in a museum. Through my time here, I have learned that people with many different backgrounds and skill sets can fit into a museum's workplace. This makes me hopeful about my future career opportunities.
FA: What classes helped prepare you for this internship? And how?
JM: I am a Psychology major and a Drawing and Painting minor, so many of my Psych classes prepared me for my internship. Since my internship at the MCA deals with evaluation, my research experiences in a Psych lab and my capstone course prepared me well. FNAR 311 and my Modern Art classes helped as well, because they helped me become well-versed in modern and contemporary art. This was not necessary for the internship, but it definitely helps to understand all the art references made by everyone working around me! Lastly, my time as a Main Office Student Assistant for the DFPA prepared me to feel comfortable working in an office setting. I have gained a great array of administrative skills as well as the confidence to work independently, which helped decrease my nerves about starting the internship in a new place, surrounded by full-time staff.
FA: Did any faculty help you? And if so, in what ways?
JM: Last semester, I took my Psychology capstone course, which was a human services internship. The capstone also had a once a week class associated with it, so I asked my professor for a letter of recommendation. She could vouch for my experiences as both an intern and a student, which was very helpful.
FA: What advice do you have to other students looking for internships?
JM: Reach out both to organizations that do advertise internships and those that do not. For the MCA, their internship program is clearly advertised on their website and the program is well established. In these cases, finding and applying for an internship is pretty easy. However, there are many more organizations that could accept interns, but might not have it listed online. If you find an organization you want to learn more about or potentially work at, but their website says nothing about internship positions, don't give up there. Feel free to reach out and introduce yourself, ask if they accept interns, and attach a resume.
My second point of advice is to ask for help. If you are applying to an internship with an application, letters of recommendation, and a cover letter, don't feel like you have to do it alone. I spoke with someone at the Career Center for help clarifying my resume, and they helped me put my experiences into words in a concise and clear way. If you are searching for internships and the organizations you are interested in don't list positions on their website, ask for help, too! Speak to your advisor about places that students have interned before, so you can reach out to places that might be more likely to accept interns.