Academic Interns

  • Xander describing his exhibition

     

    Politics, Propaganda, And The Steel Industry

    Author: Xander Schempf, Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Fall 2017

    Spending over six months working with Rivers of Steel Arts taught me more about the history of Pittsburgh and its role in the development of the United States than being born and raised here. As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to develop a new exhibition for the traveling “Steel Case” – a mobile display case that functions as a miniature gallery on wheels. In preparation for the exhibition, I began by sifting through Rivers of Steel Arts’ vast archive to create a list of possible themes. None of them were quite right, so I always ended up scrapping them for something else. Eventually, I stumbled upon some old magazines created to spread information about union rights. Searching for related materials led me to an array of interesting artifacts and documents that taught me a lot about the WWII era, a moment in US history that until now, I did not know very much about. 

    With the guidance of Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Ron Baraff, and the Chief Curator, Chris McGinnis, I developed a Steel Case exhibition that examines the political propaganda produced before, during, and after WWII in response to the rise of the steel industry in the United States. The rise of the steel industry ushered in new political ideas, my case considers how the political climate of the period was shaped by two major competing ideologies. There were left-wing groups who sought to attract steel industry workers to the socialist ideology, and in response, there were large corporations who quelled and attempted to maintain the existing capitalist working state. Themes such as the “common man” and the “greater good” were staples for each side in discrediting the other and strengthening their own views. Yet, hidden beneath corporate language was a continued effort to quell movements that threatened their status. The objects on view are only a small selection of the materials that can tell this story, but the ones I have selected seek to illuminate the progression of these interactions from unions, the industry, and popular culture, exploring how their influence made its way throughout many facets of twentieth-century America.

    The exhibition is on display at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland through April 30, 2019.  

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Marsha P. Johnson), 1975, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Important Identities: Recognizing and Remembering the Faces of Ladies and Gentlemen

    Author, Rebecca Moser, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum – Summer 2018

    As the most comprehensive single-artist museum and archive in the world and the largest in North America, The Andy Warhol Museum certainly doesn’t lack research material. During my Fine Foundation Fellowship at the museum under the supervision of Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck, I spent the summer experiencing the daily operations of the museum and learning about the curatorial process. My favorite thing about working at the Warhol was seeing the lengths that the dedicated staff go to exhibiting Warhol’s artworks in new contexts in order to connect with diverse communities.  The opportunity to participate in these efforts was one of the most rewarding experiences of my internship.

    This summer I assisted in the curatorial staff’s research on Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series (1975) as they prepared for a temporary exhibition opening this fall. Ladies and Gentlemen is portrait series featuring predominantly black and Latinx drag queens and transgender women from New York. The series was commissioned by Luciano Anselmino, an Italian art dealer, and is arguably Warhol’s largest undertaking. The series, including Warhol’s preliminary work, is comprised of 268 paintings, 65 drawings, a print portfolio containing 10 collages, and over 500 Polaroids of 14 models. Select prints, paintings, drawings, and Polaroids from Ladies and Gentlemen will be exhibited for the first time as a comprehensive group at the Andy Warhol Museum in conjunction with Devan Shimoyama’s first solo museum exhibition, Devan Shimoyama: Cry, Baby (October 13, 2018–March 17, 2019).

    In an effort to recuperate the stories of figures who have historically been marginalized and overlooked, even by Warhol himself, we focused on the models’ biographies. During Warhol’s lifetime, the models for the series were left anonymous at exhibitions. Due to this persistent disregard for the individuality of the models, they were grouped together and commodified as anonymous faces of an oppressed subculture. After Warhol’s death, when works from the series were displayed, the models were occasionally named, but still little was known about their lives. Thanks to efforts by the researchers behind the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne: Volume 4, published in 2014, extensive information about the models and the series was uncovered and compiled. We now know they did not lead easy lives and most of them lived on the streets fighting homophobia and transphobia in society, even in gay activist circles.

    By revealing their names and their stories, the images of Ladies and Gentleman become more personal, allowing viewers to connect with the artworks in new ways; especially when the series is put into conversation with Shimoyama’s portraits of black boys and men in queer spaces. Over forty years after the completion of this series, these drag queens and transgender women of the past will be recognized as early advocates in the fight for racial and queer justice and equality that continues today.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Kendall in the Yayoi Kusama’s "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" installation

     

    Development Difficulties: the Challenges of Working to Secure a Non-Profit’s Financial Future

    Author: Kendall Dunn, Mellon Museum Profession Fellow at the Mattress Factory – Summer 2018

    Over the summer of 2018, I worked in the Development Department of the Mattress Factory as an Mellon Museum Profession Fellow. Having served as an Education intern in the previous semester, I was generally familiar with the staff and offices of the museum. Transitioning from Education to Development, however, was definitely harder than I expected. Working in Development requires patience, determination, and focused work behind a computer, whereas museum Education is more creative and active work.  This fellowship gave me a better understanding of how valuable a development department is to any non-profit organization.

    Working full-time every day for three months, I got a taste of what it was like to be an employee at the Mattress Factory, managing a set of day-to-day duties and long-term projects. My daily tasks included donation requests, membership mailing, and filing. In addition to this administrative work, I was responsible for four larger projects throughout my fellowship.

    One of my first tasks as a Fellow was to write two Letter of Inquiries to two different foundations, requesting funding for the Mattress Factory. In order to create persuasive and informed letters I learned to write project proposals, which included conducting research, drafting budgets, and establishing funding plans.

    Secondly, I did a lot of work to prepare for the Mattress Factory's 40th Anniversary Auction. I was responsible for creating artist folders for each winning bidder at the auction. These folders contained a certificate of authenticity, the artist’s bio, CV, and a photograph and description of the artwork donated for auction. I attended all of the auction planning meetings and worked closely with the museum's Archivist. 

    My last project involved visitor experience surveys. This task included, conducting research on museum surveys, compiling a long list of potential survey questions for the Mattress Factory, and then going into the galleries and surveying visitors on a weekly basis. These surveys were designed to supply staff in the Development and Marketing Departments with inspiring visitor quotes for grant writing, social media platforms, and advertisements. 

    Each of these projects were time consuming and detail oriented in ways I found challenging, but I’m happy that I have experienced the ups and downs of a Development office. I want to pursue a career in the museum world and by working in a Development Department I have learned the importance of communication, patience, hard work, and teamwork to professional life at a non-profit organization. Every department of the museum relies on Development to get the job done. I left the Mattress Factory with a greater appreciation for non-profit organizations. Each employee's drive, passion, and hard work contributes to the museum's reputation and financial future. My fellowship experience at the Mattress Factory is something that I will cherish forever, as I jump further into my future career in the arts.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • One of the focus group sessions at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Nile in Focus: Assessing Community Expectations for CMNH’s "Egypt on the Nile" Exhibition

    Author: Alec Story, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Summer 2018

    When preparing for the installation of a new permanent exhibition, museums often assess the needs and assumptions of the communities they serve. For its upcoming gallery rework entitled Egypt on the Nile, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been doing just that. Egypt on the Nile unites human and natural histories, a unique approach that differs from traditional Egypt-oriented galleries. The novelty of this concept necessitates properly gauging audience reactions to and receptions of the exhibition and its themes. Over the course of my summer fellowship I assisted curator Dr. Erin Peters in, among other things, the planning and execution of these community focus groups.

    Paramount to this process was recruiting participants from a wide variety of backgrounds: museum members, college students, K-12 educators, and senior citizens. Diverse groups were chosen in order to accurately represent the thoughts and feelings of those who visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Prior to the focus group meetings, we created prompts and questions that participants could respond to, and a session schedule to ensure we used our time effectively. Questions were designed to be open-ended, promote discussion, and to tease out valuable information on the proposed exhibition themes. During the focus group sessions we used an array of strategies including surveys, sticky notes, and open discussion to gather relevant information. The focus group environment allowed anyone, regardless of education or experience with Egypt, to come in and share their thoughts on one of the most famous cultures of all time.

    After the focus groups I was tasked with recording and synthesizing the data accumulated during each focus group. With this information the Egypt on the Nile team can even more successfully create an exhibit that both depicts all desired themes and does so in a way that is easily communicable to the public.

    This experience has allowed me to see how museums plan exhibits, how exhibits are constantly undergoing change and adjustment, and how cultural institutions interact with the community.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Museum guest poses with work of art

    Museum guest poses with work of art.

     

    First Impressions: Attracting Museum Visitors Through Effective Web Design and Usability

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2018

    For many people visiting museums in the contemporary world, the first point of contact with a museum and its collections is not within the walls of the museum complex itself, but through the museum’s online presence. An individual’s decision on whether or not a museum is worth visiting is informed not only through word of mouth and reputation, but through Google (or any other search engine of choice). Review sites such Yelp and social media presence via platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are relevant to this discussion. Even more significantly, however, is the museum’s portrayal of itself on the official website. 

    In Spring 2018, I was a Museum Studies intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art, focusing on the museum’s online presence and improving outreach to audiences. Because cmoa.org website is likely the first platform on which museum goers are going to experience the Carnegie Museum of Art, it is crucial that the website constructs an image of the Carnegie Museum of Art that is both accurate and enticing. While this may seem like an obvious and overly simple goal, it is difficult to sustain a consist pubic image in a very active programming environment.  Because events and exhibitions come and go on a day-to-day basis, online representation must also reflect and synchronize with the series of events.

    Achieving accuracy and synchronicity with programming is related to another difficult goal—the intuitive usability of the website for visitors. Usability must anticipate the impulses and cognitive patterns of online visitors. This means that a good website must reflect the associations that most people—literally the majority—form in their mind, anticipating their online “desire paths.” This is difficult because a wide variety of people will have personal preferences for which website layouts are the most intuitive.   

    In my job I helped the museum website’s usability to potential guests—hopefully transforming them into actual guests.  I had to assure that the dates posted for upcoming events were correct.  Meanwhile I had to make sure that past events did not linger on the website crowding out the upcoming events.

    I learned that it is important for a museum’s website to appear as though it is cared for. In the minds of online users, this appearance and usability reflects the amount of care that is put into the museums actual collections and programming.  For many audiences the online presence and real-life presentations of museums are one and the same.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    What is Significant in a Mass of Visual Impressions?

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Spring 2018

    "Wallace Richards, one of the lead photographers of the project said about his role that 'photographers can see what is significant in a mass of visual impressions'"
    -Witness to the Fifties: Pittsburgh Photographic Library

    “I don't even like history!”  I said in frustration, to one of my friends, with one week left to finish planning an exhibition on historical photographs. Of course, this remark came jokingly from a place of stress. And yet, it was still half true. I didn't really “like” history.

    The subject of history was always something I never found the time to connect with, even as an Anthropology student. Yet there I was, choosing and developing the “big idea” on an exhibition of 1950s-era photographs which highlighted a key era of local history. During my time interning with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I quickly came to realize my naiveté and discovered the wider need for historical narratives in many different communities, including my own.

    The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh houses an impressive collection of historical photographs. One such collection, the Pittsburgh Photograph Library (PPL), became the center of my work during my time with the Digital Strategy Department and the REcollection Studio. The REcollection Studio, a DIY Lab for digitizing photographs and videos, has set out on the daunting task of digitizing the PPL materials and all 11,000 or so photographs taken of Pittsburgh during 1950s.

    For my internship, I was to help with this task of digitizing and editing photographs. But I also worked on an individual project creating a small exhibition centered on a selection of PPL photographs, as part of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's “Gallery @ Main.”

    As I stated earlier, historical work had not been my focus up until this point, despite my studies in Anthropology, Art History, and Museum Studies. When choosing the "Big Idea" for the exhibition, I wanted to consider what sort of statement Pittsburgh was in “need” of hearing. I also was curious what the photographic collection itself “wanted” to tell me.

    The “Big Idea” of an exhibition is essentially the main theme organizing what sorts of content will be displayed. For me, the creation of the big idea was the most challenging aspect of creating an exhibition from the ground up. To arrive at this I had flipped through big and worn-out “photo albums” which house printed versions of the photographs as in a scrapbook. I landed on a striking photograph of a young boy in the Hill District wearing on his face a toy mask made out of an advertisement.

    Throughout the collection I noticed many photographs that included billboards, televisions, protest signs, and other signage media of that sort. I realized it would be interesting to make a connection between these photos, since the 1950s were an iconic moment of advertisement and media boom in the US. At the same time, the PPL is full of examples of tension and destruction during this period especially in neighborhoods such as the Hill District were in people, such as the boy in the mask, were being forced out of their homes to make way for “urban development.” Looking at this photo of the child wearing a mask, it finally clicked: Signs. A “sign” could very literally be sign held up by a striking worker in front of a steel mill. But the word sign could also be figurative in the way that a photographic of a strike sign also “signals” the shifting attitudes and struggles of the moment in time.

    I chose a selection of 15 photographs, which I felt captured the idea but were also a good example of the diversity and scope which the Pittsburgh Photographic Library covered. After creating the theme and choosing the photos I created the wall text, scanned and edited the photo negatives, advertised for the show, and printed and installed all the media on the walls of the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library. Signs was on exhibit from March 5th to March 31st in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburghs “Gallery @ Main”. After the exhibition went up I also took on the task of giving four guided tours during which I shared the history of the PPL with patrons of the library and creating a reading list of suggested books and a virtual tour of the show.

    Do I like history now? I believe much more than before that I have a greater understanding of the messages that lay in looking backwards at our past and how these messages are often tools for the future.

    Wallace Richards, one of the lead photographers of the project (the PPL) said about his role that "photographers can see what is significant in a mass of visual impressions." I believe that in my experience with the PPL and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I was able to catch a glimpse at its significance and I look forward to the public being able to access the photographs once the REcollection Studios hard work is complete.

    Take the Virtual Tour of Signs here

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  • Surveys ready for distribution in the We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene exhibit

     

     

     

    A Brief Survey of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2018

    Thousands of visitors of different ages visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History every year. As the Museum Studies intern in their Marketing Department, it was my job to ask these visitors about their experience in the museum. My work was overseen by Kate Sallada, Marketing Researcher, and Kathleen Bodenlos, Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

    The best days to collect surveys are weekends because a much greater portion of the population is represented. Families are common on Saturdays and Sundays, especially in the Natural History museum where kids can engage with many of the exhibits.

    I collected surveys for the recently installed exhibit, We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene, throughout my internship. The day that I was able to collect the highest volume of surveys was a very cold Sunday in February. I surveyed over 50 visitors over the course of 4 hours.

    When crafting a survey for the general public, it must be accessible to as many people as possible. Those visiting from other countries or unable to speak English fluently were able to understand the simple survey instructions, and could ask me questions about any sections that needed further verbal explanation.

    In addition to the surveys, the exhibit had several interactive stations where guests could leave their thoughts. One station asked visitors to make associations with a certain emotion, such as “Empowered’ or “Angry,” and visitors could write down their opinions about the exercise on a corresponding Sticky-Note.

    The exhibit also featured many dry-erase surfaces where visitors were prompted to write down words or phrases based on a question. These responses were often documented by a photographer before they were erased to make room for new feedback.

    After surveying general opinions about the exhibit, we also sought feedback on the marketing campaign we were developing. Many of those leaving the exhibit reported that they felt “empowered,” which was a feeling we wanted to reinforce in our marketing strategy. One plan was to change the main photograph on our signage from one of crushed cardboard boxes to a sunny image of a small child holding a sapling. This image was more representative of the visitor experience than that of our previous campaign, according to the reactions from the surveys.

    This experience has given me vital information about how to interact properly with the public in an art institution, and how to develop content that takes visitor preferences into account.

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  • These objects are from the Rosemary Trump Collection at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. Rosemary Trump was one of the most active women in organized labor in Pittsburgh. In addition to being the first woman president of the Service Employees International Union, she held positions within other unions and organizations. She was also a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which was an organization of trade union women associated with the AFL-CIO.

     

    The Great Unboxing: Uncovering Women in Pittsburgh’s Labor History

    Museum Studies Interns at the University Library System (University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center) – Spring 2018

    After hours of scouring boxes overflowing with records and materials about Pittsburgh’s labor unions, I was frustrated. I knew there were women who took part in these unions. Yet what does one do when there are no traces or mentions of women within the records?

    As a great city of industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, Pittsburgh had no shortage of different labor unions. However, this legacy did not necessarily mean that there was a high presence of women within those unions, or that they were represented very well in historical documents. 

    As an intern at the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center, I was assigned the task of researching women within the steel industry of Pittsburgh. This task involved figuring out which archival collections potentially held relevant material on women steelworkers, and then looking through these collections to find this information. 

    This task turned into something a bit more focused, as my focus narrowed from women in the steel industry to the topic of women in organized labor. 

    Finding information about women in organized labor in Pittsburgh was like searching for a needle in a haystack --but in a good way. There were some collections, such as those of local figures Steffi Domike and Rosemary Trump, that had a great deal of invaluable material. There were many more collections that potentially contained information on women and many of them were promising. However, in the process, there was no guarantee that I would find the information that I was seeking. To verify whether the material was there or not, I had to sort through all the collections with potential leads.

    The greatest challenge –as well as the greatest payoff– of my internship was sifting through company records and finding traces of women unionists. I was often happily surprised to find that many women did voice their opinions and become active in their unions. However, sometimes information such as this was disappointingly absent in certain unions, or it was hard to find archival material around the topic. 

    Despite these challenges, my internship research culminated in a LibGuide that will be included in the University of Pittsburgh’s Library System. This research is meant to act as a base on which future students will help to create an exhibition on women unionists in the Hillman Library. With the help of the Media Curator, Miriam Meislik, as well as other archivists at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, I was able to start the first step of uncovering the history of women in organized labor in Pittsburgh. This great unboxing is far from complete, but I have gained invaluable experience from it.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Entry to Copy + Paste.

     

    Copy + Paste: Evaluating Visitor Participation in the Hall of Architecture

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2018

    Before I began my internship with the Heinz Architectural Center, I knew very little about the Hall of Architecture. I had walked through it a dozen times without realizing what a marvel the collection was. In my time spent as an intern working on Copy + Paste: Hall of Architecture, I gained an in-depth understanding of this gallery as well as an inside look at the efforts being made to enhance visitor participation and education.

    My main responsibility was to digitalize the daily surveys obtained by gallery ambassadors who also directed the HACLabs. After attending a few of the weekly meetings with the education department, I was given the opportunity to create my own surveys to replace the versions they had been using. This was particularly exciting to me because my background in the sciences had prepared me for designing new methods of data collection for data analysis.

    The surveys I designed were intended to give us a better understanding of what visitors were getting out of the HACLabs. For example, we wanted to know if participating in a plaster casting workshop would help patrons understand how casts in the Hall of Architecture were made-- or if it missed the mark entirely. The questions I crafted were meant to collect this information as well as that of the visitor’s experience. I also created a visitor survey for the Plaster Re-Cast app, in order to gauge visitors’ opinions about it and understand how it can be improved.

    The data evaluation is ongoing, but I am happy to have had a part in it. This experience has given me the opportunity to use skills I have gained from my college courses, while also providing me with a new understanding of the efforts that go into shaping visitor experience in a museum.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Amanda working with students during Afterschool.

     

    Mattress Factory Afterschool: Techniques of Two Teaching Artists

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    In the Spring of 2018, I was a Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory in their Education Department. I helped with Afterschool, the museum’s art education program for third through fifth graders. During my internship, ten students were enrolled and many attended the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Among my various roles and responsibilities, I have observed two teaching artists and how they facilitate their curriculum. A local artist named Suzanne taught the first six-week session, and Jimmy, an Alaskan native, taught a twelve-week session. The respective learning themes for these sessions were nature/habitats, and memory. I have been able to watch students develop artistic and creative skills through the specific educational practices employed by the artists.

    As a Psychology Major at Pitt, I enjoyed observing the ways in which these two artists ran their respective curriculums, given the many connections to the discipline of developmental psychology. From a psychological perspective I attempted to observe and analyze the ways that each teacher connected to the students, challenged them, included others, and the balance of roles in joint activities. One basis for this is the Simple Interactions tool a project in the department of Applied Developmental Psychology at Pitt, which I had experience with as a research assistant. For my purposes in the intern role, it served me as a foundation or heuristic, rather than an in-depth psychology study.

    Turning to the artist teachers, Suzanne’s eclectic personality influenced her teaching style. Though sometimes the classroom seemed like disordered chaos, the projects made by students were fun and unique, dynamic and amalgamated. Suzanne asked them to make “cool trash”, for bird nests and different habitats. The class made trips to the National Aviary, and to various exhibits in the museum for project inspiration. Her practice was playful, and her spontaneity ensured that the students enjoyed what they were learning.

    Jimmy’s methodologies could not have been any more different from Suzanne’s. He preferred structure, and made students relate activities to the overarching theme of the session – memory. At first he facilitated activities to gauge the students’ skills and to see what would need to be worked on early in the session. The projects built upon one another in very structured ways, and he was able to spark curiosity in the students. Overall, his approach to the program relied on planning and sequence, which was beneficial for the students’ development.

    The diverse approaches that these two artists conducted their classrooms impacted the experiences of the students. A rational artist will connect differently to students than one who operates more spontaneously. But in both cases, their methodologies have had significant impacts on the development of students.

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