It’s a quiet, rainy Monday morning here at JMM, as I enter week 11 of 12 of my internship. Many mornings I’m immediately brought on board a project, often urgent; I’m grateful since today offers a good opportunity to reflect on my time at the museum.
I came to the JMM with after a six-month internship with the U.S. Navy Museum, in DC, so I had some idea of what to expect – by which I mean that I was only surprised, not mind-boggled – by the various of roles I was asked to fill alongside the professional staff. Working at a smaller museum has been really eye-opening for me, as I’ve learned that no job title can summarize all the tasks a curator, collections manager, librarian, or head of development is asked to do on a daily basis, let alone an intern.
The first task I was assigned here at the JMM was the one I had the most experience in and which I looked forward to the most. I was asked to research Jewish foodways in Colonial and early Federalist America, and to find collections that could provide us with relevant and engaging artifacts for display. I am still working at it, and while I’ve made a great deal of progress in the first part of the task, the second is more demanding still. Research is the most rewarding thing I get to do at the JMM, and arguably my favorite task in my overall museum experience, because not only do I provide necessary context for exhibitions so that visitors will better understand what they see, but I enrich my own understanding of the world; in that regard, I know the curators I’ve worked under wish they could spend more of their time doing what I’m doing.
Interspersed with that primary task, I was part of the team that replaced an exhibition on a graphic novel’s depiction of the Book of Esther with an introspective look at art and the Holocaust. Having helped build the content of exhibitions through research and writing, I was very excited to actually participate in the workings of an exhibition space in transition. I inspected artwork, wrote condition reports, prepared, primed, painted the walls, and hung new artwork. I took advantage of the collaborative nature of the work to get to know my fellow interns and the museum staff, a distinction that faded as we all became bespeckled with paint.
Most recently, I had the privilege to be invited to two meetings dealing with potential accessions to the JMM. The first meeting consisted only of museum staff and interns, who formed a committee to lay out the merits of the donations and prepare proposals for the second meeting. Afterwards, it was my job to answer a number of questions that surfaced about the objects under consideration. At the second meeting I got to present my research before the board members and staff in attendance, which really made me feel like part of the team.
In the two weeks remaining, I’ll have a lot on my plate, but I hope to go out with a bang. One facet of museum work is that it is ongoing. When I’m gone, the projects I’ve worked on will be taken up by new interns, and the artwork I’ve hung will be taken down in time. As much as we do our best to make history come alive for the museum visitor, I think we also make our own mark in the process. I know my experience here at the JMM will leave its mark on me; I hope I can leave something good behind as well.