Working at a Museum- What Does That Actually Mean?

Posted on June 18, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM intern Ariella Shua. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Easily the worst question I’ve gotten in college — after “what do you hope to do one day?” and “since you go to Hopkins, are you pre-med?” —  is “what are you doing this summer?”

Until you’ve locked down exactly what you’re doing for three months of supposed freedom, the correct response, I’ve learned, is to laugh and change the question.

Oddly, after a few weeks, the reaction changes. Finally something falls into place, and you suddenly have a plan for the next few months. Once you do have a response to the dreaded question, you look forward to it. Since I’m writing this post, you can guess that I currently fall into the second category.

So, what am I doing this summer? The easy part of the answer: I’m an intern at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I’m primarily working with the Education and Programs departments.

The hard part of the answer: what does that actually mean?

Well, the difficulty behind that question is part of the reason I chose to work here this summer.

Let me give some context. I’m a rising junior at Johns Hopkins University, where I’m majoring in Writing Seminars. As of this spring, I decided, I’m also minoring in Museums and Society and in Marketing and Communications.

It was a long journey before I decided that that would be my path through college. I always knew I wanted to study writing but didn’t have many plans beyond that. I’ve done marketing previously and enjoyed the experience, so decided to add a minor in the subject. As for museums, though, I was mostly just curious when I signed up for my first classes.

After taking three museums courses at school, and visiting dozens of museums throughout my life, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do after graduation. I want to work in museums. The problem was, I didn’t know anything about how that worked.

Enter the Jewish Museum of Maryland. My goal for myself: learn how museums function and decide if I want to work in one someday.

This summer, my job for JMM is pretty broad. For Education, we’ve been working on a curriculum for the Jews in Space exhibit. After a crash course in outer space and how it relates to Judaism, we had to design a teacher’s guide to the exhibit. It was really exciting! I never knew that Jewish people had so much of an influence in space exploration and science fiction, or that astronomy and astrology meant so much to Jewish religion. Even after going to Jewish school for thirteen years, this was completely untapped territory for me.

The original “Jews in Space” exhibit at New York’s Center for Jewish History. In May 2020, it’s coming to JMM!

Working at a museum, I learned from Education, is about taking fascinating, important, and entertaining information and presenting it so that it’s accessible to anyone.

For Programs, so far we’ve primarily been planning for the Jonestown Festival. The Festival is an annual event hosted by JMM celebrating the history of the historic neighborhood, one of Baltimore’s oldest. This year, the theme revolves around Hamilton. While planning events and entertainment for the Festival, I have a great excuse to dive back into the mini-Hamilton musical obsession I had two years ago. (Shoutout: Jonestown Festival is this Sunday, June 23rd, at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House from 12-4 PM.)

Working at a museum, I found from Programs planning, is about inviting visitors of all ages to discover history and society by making it as exciting as possible.

JMM also takes the interns on trips to museums and institutions around Baltimore. So far, we’ve visited the Walters Art Museum and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. While both were great, I especially loved the Walters visit. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Manuscripts and Rare Books collection hosted by the museum. As a Writing Seminars major who also loves museums, this was about as amazing as it gets. The curator showed us a dozen of the Walters’ most interesting rare books. One of my favorites of these was a copy of Aesop’s Fables from the 1400s. On the outside, though, it couldn’t look less like a copy of children’s stories: it’s bound in an old copy of the Talmud!

Aesopus moralisatus,” a copy of Aesop’s Fables, printed in the mid-1400s. The stories are bound in a page from a 12th-century edition of a Talmud. We saw this book, along with many others, during a tour at the Walters Art Museum.

Working at a museum, I saw that day, is also about preserving special items, even if they don’t seem important while they’re being made. One day, they can be about the coolest items imaginable (at least to me).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been discovering a lot about how museums work. Behind the scenes, there’s a ton of planning that goes into every decision. And so far, I’ve enjoyed learning all of it!

Hopefully, it will go well enough that I’ll have an answer to the worst possible question that is posed to college students.

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