Rachel Aisenson

Rachel Aisenson '13 describes her experiences working at the Curatorial and Education department of the Tang Museum as part of her Internship.

During the year that I held the position of the Eleanor Linder Winter Intern, I spent the fall semester in the Curatorial department, and the spring semester and summer in the Education department. It was an excellent opportunity to merge my passions for art education and museums, and take on greater responsibility beyond traditional student internships. My role was to focus on an interactive printmaking and activism exhibition, bridging the two departments. Tasks ranged from researching the exhibition in the fall to designing and leading interactive art workshops in the spring and summer. Since I am passionate about both printmaking and social justice, I was eager to have a significant leadership role in this exhibition.

In the fall, I immersed myself in research about contemporary and historical activist printmakers and printmaking collectives. I loved learning historical and contemporary uses of prints as a means for disseminating political messages. My research included studying socially-engaged printmaking artists that would exhibit at the Tang the following spring. One highlight of the semester was interviewing artist Carrie Moyer as part of my research. Working with Rachel Seligman, Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs, I examined potential artists for the exhibition, interactive printmaking exhibits, and brainstormed the logistics of how this unique exhibition would function.

In the spring it was decided that Andrea Bowers’ and Olga Koumoundouros’ installation, TRANSFORMer: Platform for Community Education, Activism and Fundraising, was the perfect fit. The installation included silkscreen stations for visitors to create prints that spread awareness and raised funds for local organizations. To determine the organizations Koumoundouros and Bowers would support through the exhibition, another intern and I compiled an extensive list of local organizations that aligned with the artists’ social causes. Later Bowers and Koumoundouros came to the Tang and worked with students and staff to plan logistics, create and install site-specific elements, and collaboratively run some of the installation’s community-building events. It was an extraordinary opportunity to work with and build relationships with the artists throughout the project.

In the spring semester, I absorbed myself in all aspects of the Tang’s educational programming. My varied experience included bringing art activities to local libraries, helping run the Tang’s inter-generational Family Saturday art programs, creating prototypes for future art projects, and engaging Saratoga Reads participants through art activities, all inspired by exhibition material. It was great to learn from my mentors in the Education department about how to engage art-makers of all ages and encourage their creativity. Creating prototypes helped me to understand how to approach art tasks like a child, rather than a college art student, to better understand whether the assignment’s duration and skill level were appropriate for our audience. Through these projects I gained a greater understanding of roles art education have in museum programming. Additionally, the experience served as an excellent foundation for planning and executing my own art workshops for the last phase of my internship.

The summer portion of the internship was devoted to developing and executing art education programs for the TRANSFORMer exhibition. My two main projects were leading the “Joy & Resolve” open silkscreen workshops and creating a Family Saturday program. At the open silkscreen events, I worked with other interns and high school volunteers to help visitors print t-shirts and posters. Since the screens had logos from the organizations, it was a great opportunity to discuss with visitors what the organizations are about and how to help. I really enjoyed teaching visitors a new art skill -- printmaking -- especially when I saw their faces light up after pulling a print. My silkscreen and educating skills definitely improved through teaching visitors and working with fellow interns and my supervisor, Susi Kerr, Senior Museum Educator. By leading the silkscreen workshops, I also learned how to better organize art-making events to help them run smoothly. We also held numerous silkscreen workshops with participants from a variety of backgrounds, including incoming international first-year Skidmore students, Latino migrant workers from the Saratoga Race Track, staff members of the Domestic Violence Rape Crisis Center, and children from Camp Northwoods, Skidmore’s summer day camp. With each of these populations, the silkscreen workshops were adapted to suit the participants’ diversity in age, cultural background, and language, an exciting challenge that created a dynamic environment. At the workshops, I learned how to better lead future events, through trial and error, and by having follow-up discussions with my supervisors and fellow interns.

Silkscreen sessions with Camp Northwoods — children ranging in age from 6 to 11 — were particularly important for me in learning how to best to address my audience. The Camp Northwoods silkscreen workshops began with a discussion about helping people in local communities and brainstorming creative ways to spread the message. The campers rotated between silkscreening posters, t-shirts, and postcards; then personalizing their own postcards with collage and a message to recipients of their choice, encouraging them to help local organizations. Since I had the opportunity to work with this group more than once, I was able to apply lessons learned from the first workshop to make the second workshop with Camp Northwoods even better. Ginger Ertz, Assistant Director of Engagement, Susi Kerr, and David Paarlberg-Kvam, Museum Educator, all offered me feedback and guidance in engaging participants, as appropriate to their age group. Developing my skills in working with Camp Northwoods served as excellent practice for leading my Family Saturday project, which was also the postcard workshop.

The postcard project aligned with the exhibition’s ideals of people coming together to make art about local causes. Hand-made postcards expanded the concept further by having socially-engaged art and messages reach a larger audience, informing more people to raise awareness and funds. With the families at Family Saturday and the campers at Camp Northwoods, participants of all ages brought up thoughtful ideas about why community engagement matters, and together we brainstormed creative ways to help and to spread the word. It was wonderful to work with so many enthusiastic participants.

I also helped plan and lead “Construct a Community: It Takes a Village – Family Art Making Project.” The activity involved using non-perishable food donations to build a neighborhood inside the gallery. After the event, these donations were given to Franklin Community Center’s Food Pantry. One of my many responsibilities in planning the event was acquiring food donations from various local supermarkets. Through the experience, I learned that creating innovative art activities for people of all ages requires a lot of planning, resourcefulness, and reaching out to local organizations for support. These tasks are essential to running an effective event, equally important as other aspects of art education programming, such as designing an art project and deciding on materials. The event was a huge success. It was a lot of fun for everyone involved to transform canned goods and pasta boxes imaginatively into structures to fulfill community needs, such as a post-office or a school. Children came up with creative titles for places in the food village such as “Noodl Inn” (as spelled by the young art-maker). The project developed participants’ understanding of what community is and a sense of what it could be through art-making.

Since I worked on the exhibition from its initial research phases to designing and implementing public events, I developed a deep understanding of the exhibit and its foundations. This really helped me in leading silkscreen workshops, informing visitors and volunteers about local organizations, and designing the postcard project. Throughout my experience as the Winter Intern, I experienced respect, support, and freedom from all staff members to develop my ideas into educational programming. I gained knowledge and skills that I will continue to use to teach art and execute art activities in museums. Working collaboratively with Tang staff, interns, artists, volunteers, and participants will be invaluable in my future career as an art educator.
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