Hi! My name is Elizabeth Cumbo (’22) from Rochester, NY. While my major is undeclared, I am interested in studying art history, English literature (leaning towards nonfiction writing), and arts administration. While thinking about plans for my first internship, I looked for opportunities that covered a wide array of arts management, including administration, marketing, and curation to get a better feel for different possibilities. I applied to a list of galleries, museums, publishers, non-profits, etc. in big cities with goals that connected to my general curiosity for the humanities and business, and I was offered an unpaid position as Assistant to the Director with Touchstone Gallery in Washington, DC.
Touchstone Gallery is a commercial art gallery about a mile from the White House that consists of a coalition of ~50 artists who display contemporary artwork of different mediums and themes. Each month, the gallery displays 2-3 new shows: a group show and two solo shows, or a group show and a community art show sponsored by the Touchstone Foundation for the Arts, a 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting fellows and the broader DC art community. The gallery also has an annual “special” month entirely devoted to a nationally juried show or a visiting solo show. For instance, last year the gallery displayed gestural abstractions from Japanese artist Yuki Hiyama. This year is a political nationally juried show called “America Is…”, which I got to help open in addition to two other months’ shows.
My roles for each show, particularly on a large scale for “America Is…”, included public relations (answering questions, sharing general information, giving referrals) and marketing via email, mail, phone, and social media; writing invitations for opening shows and press releases; helping to organize monthly opening shows; handling and selling artwork; helping to plan layout of openings; filing and researching reporters and artists; and other day-to-day maintenance tasks such as running errands, acting as a docent, etc. Because the “America Is…” show required a handful of jurors from across the national to vote on hundreds of submissions, I also had to make sure the online process of voting was easy to understand and efficient.
My experience at Touchstone was very valuable outside of the technical roles I played. I got to work with dozens of artists in the area, a handful of whom even had connections to the local art scene in my hometown or Skidmore. The “America Is…” show opening was completely packed, and it was so cool and important for me to make connections with nationally recognized artists in a professional space. Thanks to fellow interns, I even learned about paid opportunities for next summer in the area near DC—because I had known little about the area while applying, my internship research before was less savvy than the insider recommendations they gave me.
My advice for other underclassmen, particularly those who are not 100% sure about a major or field of work yet, is to apply to internships that allow you array of the type of work you would be doing. I think that it is important to be exposed to and sample a lot of different work, and to see what sticks. Also, be systematic while applying; I recommend an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of which internships you are interested in, which you have already submitted the cover letter for, recommendations for, etc. Even if you only apply to a couple, keeping record of what you have to do is just one less thing you have to remember!