Stepping Stones: My Time at Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center

This May marks one full year since I graduated from Michigan State University. The majority of the past year has been centered around applying to graduate school, and at times the
uncertainty of the future has been almost unbearable. One thing that has kept me grounded throughout the process is remembering how lost I felt beginning my undergraduate studies and thinking about all of the turning points in my college career that have led me to where I am now.

One of the most significant factors that shaped my academic choices and career path was the internship that I held at Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center. I became a Gallery intern at the beginning of my sophomore year at MSU. At that point, I knew that I was passionate about art history, but I had chosen it as a minor to accompany my broader humanities major because I wasn’t quite sure how I could turn that passion into a career. I was new to the concept of museum studies and unfamiliar with the nonprofit arts world. I applied to the internship hoping to dip my toes into the field, but I walked away with more knowledge and experience than I ever would have expected to receive in just one semester.

I began my internship learning how a gallery was set up: I learned how to properly hang art, put together a window display, and add new pieces to the Gallery’s inventory. I participated in several projects over the course of the semester, from repainting walls to reorganizing the room where art was stored. My internship culminated with helping to plan the Gallery’s Annual
Holiday Art Exhibition. I designed a window display for the show, helped create the inside layout of the exhibition, and coordinated the food table along with another intern. I invited my mom to the opening night, and she loved seeing what I had worked on and meeting the staff. She even bought us matching mugs to take home.

Sometimes, living on a college campus can feel like living in a bubble. It can be overwhelming to be constantly surrounded by schoolwork and other college students, so working at the Gallery felt like a much-needed break for me. I enjoyed speaking about our exhibitions with visitors and even just talking casually with people as I packaged up their purchases. It made me feel like an active part of the Lansing community, rather than just another student on MSU’s campus.

The Gallery’s mission is to provide public awareness, education, and enjoyment of art while promoting local artists. Not only was I able to help further this mission by educating the public on exhibitions and spreading the word about the amazing artists featured in the space, I also felt the effects of the mission myself. Even after my internship had ended, I continued to attend events at the Gallery and around Lansing, keeping an eye out for work by some of my favorite local artists.

One aspect of the internship that I did not expect was the amount of knowledge I obtained about how a nonprofit gallery operated behind-the-scenes. The Gallery’s director, Barb Whitney, often went out of her way to explain aspects of her job and how they affected the Gallery as a whole. When board members stopped by to check on the Gallery or meet with staff members, I was introduced to them and got to hear their outlook on our mission and activities. Often, I was asked to give my opinion on the Gallery’s day-to-day operations as well. The high level of involvement that the Gallery offered me as an intern has helped me to be more confident in sharing my thoughts during later internships and jobs, which has proven incredibly valuable.

By the end of my internship, I recognized that I was not only interested in art itself, but also in the operations of a gallery. I ended up using my internship hours towards credits for a museum studies minor, and I shifted my focus towards learning about art history in the context of working in a nonprofit. During my junior and senior years, I became interested in discussions about museum best practices and how art museums, in particular, are evolving to fit modern times. Specifically, I started learning more about how curators can reframe older artworks to make statements about our current society.

After graduation, I decided to apply to graduate school to study art history, with a focus on Renaissance artwork. Recently, I accepted an offer from Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, OH, to work towards a master’s degree. I was also incredibly fortunate to be offered their Barbato Fellowship. After the master’s degree, I hope to complete a doctorate in art history, which will open the door for curatorial positions at museums and teaching positions at universities. I am extremely thankful for the role that Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center played in helping me find my career path, as well as the relationships that came out of my time there.

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