For more than a decade, Crystal Bridges has developed opportunities for students to expand their practical experience through hands-on learning at the museum and more recently at its satellite contemporary arts space, the Momentary. While its internship offerings have become a first choice for top talent in a competitive field, the museum recognized a need to enhance the program.
“Five years ago, we strengthened an already successful internship program to focus on hiring and nurturing leaders from diverse backgrounds. Today we recognize there is still work to do,” says Alice Walton, founder, board member, and chair emeritus of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. “I believe it’s essential for museums to build an inclusive culture, and in order to do so it’s imperative to educate and develop future arts leaders.”
Diversifying Recruitment Efforts Expands Access
Crystal Bridges is partnering with Spelman College (Atlanta, Georgia) and Fisk University (Nashville, Tennessee) to recruit interns from populations currently underrepresented in arts leadership. Destinee Filmore was a student at Spelman when she participated in the museum’s internship program in 2018. She credits the internship for emboldening her to advance in her career as a museum professional, first as a Director’s Fellow at the Cleveland Museum of Art, then as a Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellow at the High Museum of Art. Today, Filmore is a Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Williams College Museum of Art.
“My time at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art empowered me with the knowledge that my art historical interests were deeply important to other scholars and to the field at large. Seeing women of color excelling in their careers showed me what the many pathways to becoming a successful curator looked like and inspired me to chart a path all my own,” reflects Filmore. “I owe much of my success to my time at Crystal Bridges and am eager to see the many opportunities that the expansion of its internship program will present to early-career curators and art historians.”
Working with institutions like Spelman and Fisk, which focus their art history programs on racial and cultural identities, reflects the museum’s promise to build a diverse workforce while training the next generation of museum leaders.
Potential for learning experiences across artistic disciplines increased significantly in 2020 with the opening of the Momentary, whose mission to present contemporary visual, performing, and culinary arts expands opportunities for interns to explore all manner of artistic expression. At the Momentary, interns may receive training in theatrical stagecraft, music festival management, art fabrication, and sophisticated culinary production – cultural and educational experiences that hold tremendous appeal for a new generation of museum staff.
Focus on Content Increases Impact
To better serve its students during their time at the museum and beyond, Walton’s endowment gift allows Crystal Bridges to add an administrator focused solely on the internship program and its impact. With a dedicated coordinator, Crystal Bridges will provide a more equitable experience and allow curators and other content experts to concentrate on student learning. The intern coordinator will install a rigorous evaluation system to continually measure the overall impact of the program – to monitor the quality of the individual experience, to discover new aspects of museum practices, and to prepare interns for additional coursework and employment opportunities in the field. Further, the intern coordinator will track students’ cultural careers for a minimum of five years following their time at Crystal Bridges.
“This generous gift embodies everything I’ve known Alice to care about as a museum leader and arts patron – access, diversity, and nurturing the next generation, a representative generation, of arts leaders,” says Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Crystal Bridges. “This gift asks Crystal Bridges to continually sharpen its focus on diverse student learners and helps to establish a new standard in the field.”
This gift follows the Alice L. Walton Foundation’s recent support for internships and training at East LA Community College and LACMA in Los Angeles and a partnership with the Atlanta University Center Collective including Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.