By Joan Sieg, DOMA Intern
Never has the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ seemed more pertinent than in these last few months. As an incoming senior in Ball State University’s art history program, I know my options are plenty. And while I have always prided myself on having a wide variety of interests I recently came to the conclusion that it would be beneficial to also have a wide variety of experiences. This line of thinking led me to pursue two summer art internships. The first as a museum education program intern at the David Owsley Museum of Art, and the second as a guest experience coordinator at Nickel Plate Arts.
When I heard I was accepted for the museum education internship at DOMA months ago I was immediately excited. Finally, I was given an opportunity to apply what I learned in my art history courses to practice. My brief background in volunteering as a docent, as well as previous class projects such as the DOMA Project App (on GooglePlay and iTunes), aided my expectations. However, nothing could prepare me for the intricacies I encountered. Most pronounced, the fact that the research is meant to be a guiding tool and the knowledge learned is meant to be shared. Through working with other interns, I have also learned about the power of perspective, and how one’s own experiences inform the way they approach art. Educational tours centered on unique critical thinking strategies have helped us connect with the public’s experiences and perspectives as well. It is valuable to understand these differences in perspectives and experiences, to learn and grow from them. For example, ‘Exercises for the Quiet Eye’ invited the public to engage art through slow, mindful activities. Personally, it was an opportunity to hear how people within the community interpreted and connected with art on varying levels. Someone with knowledge of architecture could pick up on architectural features, someone who easily empathized with others could pick up on subtle body language in portraits, and so on.
Nickel Plate Arts similarly engages with many individuals. A small administration team (the director, the artist liaison/exhibit coordinator, the operations coordinator) and interns regularly interact with the public. Essentially, Nickel Plate Arts acts as an art collective. The name itself refers to the historic 30-mile railroad that runs through six communities, from southern Hamilton County to southern Tipton County. The Noblesville campus includes two historic homes that have been renovated for gallery spaces and artist studios. The goal is to promote and provide aid to artists in the communities, and ultimately give the community a space to explore the arts. A number of programs and events are offered in lieu of such a goal, and there is hardly a dull moment. What surprised me most at all the exhibit openings and events were the number of people who walk in and still operate under the stigma that art is not an interactive experience. While there are limitations to physically viewing art, there are few limitations to the thoughts and opinions one can have. Hopefully continued efforts through programs and events will yield change. It could also be interesting to hold educational programs in gallery space, like at DOMA.
These worlds collide more often than not. In fact, they are essentially two sides of the same coin. On one, researching art with a focus on the history and knowledge that can be shared by docents with the public. On the other, promoting contemporary artists with a focus on the communities that can be engaged. Both are important in understanding the role art plays in society, whether it be on more academic or local levels. DOMA and NPA have a hand
their community’s art scene, reaching out in hopes of showing how art can be a substantial means of expression. My internships have personally changed the way I view art and art history. I now have a better grasp on how the historical informs the contemporary, and vice versa. And even further, how continuation of community engagement can perpetuate interest in the arts and strengthen connections between art, history, and community.