The 2021 class of Adrienne Arsht interns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be the first fully paid suite of interns at the Met since its conception in April 1870. Arsht, an American philanthropist and business leader, gifted $5 million to the museum to ensure that all of the internships are paid. Ashton Rodgers ‘21 is part of the first cohort to enter the program.
Rodgers, a classical studies major, expressed that while the internship is not quite what she expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she is extremely grateful for the opportunity to work closely with others in her field to make their work more accessible.
“Since I’m not interning in New York, I can’t go to the museum and see the objects I’m working with,” Rodgers said. “We’ve been working primarily through Zoom. And so I think, as someone who does focus specifically on art and art geology, there’s a lot lost in opportunities to be with actual artifacts and objects. But there’s also a lot of good that’s come from it because people are really focusing on digitizing collections, and making things accessible because everything’s had to go remote.”
There are many different areas of the museum for the interns to work in given the Met’s size. Depending on what their primary interests are, interns can participate in administrative or public-facing work. According to Elizabeth Perkins, the internship program head, interns are selected from a range of academic interests and backgrounds.
“So generally, the experience is meant to help students develop some kind of professional skill and bridge the gap between what they are studying and what they might be doing following college or in a full-time job,” Perkins said. “We want to offer, through different kinds of meetings and networking opportunities, a chance for students to learn about museum practice broadly.”
By “broadly,” Perkins is referring to the interns’ ability to address current issues the museum is facing, as well as learning from and interacting with staff and the museum cohort.
Rodgers works specifically for the Greek and Roman department. Her interest in artifacts dates back to childhood,when she would go to local museums with her family. Rodgers enjoys studying artifacts because they function not only as art but as teaching tools for us in the modern day to learn about those who came before us.
“I think I find a lot of comfort in art as a teacher, like, we can never know everything about an object or a piece of artwork,” Rodgers said. “So, I find a lot of comfort in the idea that it teaches us about ourselves, about others. It can be a painting, poetry, or archaeological finds, it really doesn’t matter. They all speak to sort of something we can learn from that specific object or piece or image.”
“I think I find a lot of comfort in art as a teacher, like, we can never know everything about an object or a piece of artwork. So, I find a lot of comfort in the idea that it teaches us about ourselves, about others.”
The Met’s Greek and Roman department is currently focused on polychromy in ancient artifacts in relation to race and color.
“I’ve been focusing a lot on polychromy and one of the themes I’ve been focusing on is the concept of race and color in art,” Rodgers said. “Polychromy is just the idea of how ancient statuary was painted. Instead of being what we see in western canonical art, and Renaissance art and architecture, statuary was not just white in antiquity. It’s a concern in the field of classics, that there’s a connected history between the idea of whiteness, in western art, in classics, and in museum studies. So I think it’s been really exciting to work on a project that’s pushing back against the idea that antiquity and people in antiquity were very white, and that race was tied to sort of that ideal of the monochrome.”
Rodgers’ work within the project has mainly focused on studying artifacts again over several eras from various regions, and account for the new knowledge in the field surrounding race and color in the artifact descriptions for the Met’s records and website.
“Currently, we’re working with some from the Egyptian collections,” Rodgers said. “We’re working with a lot of artifacts over a large period of time and from different departments. We’ve been talking about Cycladic figures and Egyptian figures. So it’s sort of drawing on a lot of the different wings of the Met, and a lot of its collections.”
The hiring process for the internship opens three times per year. After preliminary reads and an initial sort-through of applications, the pool is narrowed down, and Met staff are asked to submit project ideas to gain a sense of where the interns could focus and study. Selected interns are matched to colleagues of similar interest and then go forward with a second read of the applications and conduct interviews.
The internship program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students that offer a range of qualities and skills. As one of the most renowned museums in the world, the Met receives a plethora of applications from qualified students.
“Broadly, there’s a couple of areas that we focus on when determining who to give offers to,” Perkins said. “One of them is the potential for growth and for exposure. Can we offer something new to the student and are they ready to learn from us? So, we’re really looking for students that haven’t had experiences yet similar to what we can offer them — students who can demonstrate that this opportunity would really benefit them in terms of their next step at success in a future field. We are looking for students with clear goals.”
Rodgers has previously worked with museums in her home state of Texas. She explained that the work she did at the San Antonio Art Museum is not the same work she is doing now, but was a great help in preparing her for the caliber of work required for the Met.
“I interned with the San Antonio Museum of Art my sophomore year, in the summer with the Education Department,” Rodgers said. “I think that internship specifically just showed me how much was going on behind the scenes and how even if you are in education, you have to keep up with everyone in curation because you have to be able to talk about artifacts and objects and histories with like a level of authority. I really enjoyed understanding how a museum sort of functions in a more practical level first, and it sort of allowed me to better understand how I would interact with people once I was in a departmental internship.”
The internship program is not closed off to students that want to be a museum curator. The Met provides background and knowledge that teaches students how a museum operates, manages its social media content and how it markets to its different audiences. The program does not require a student to major in a field related to the arts or museology, but does require the student to be passionate and excited about the two.
What a paid internship offers that an unpaid one cannot is opportunity. Arsht believes the paid internship creates a more level playing field and enables greater inclusivity — this is one of the core values of the Met’s program.
“I think the major thing a paid internship offers is access,” Perkins said. “If we make sure that everyone can access the opportunity and isn’t held back by financial barriers, then we are not limiting the cohorts to people that can afford to work a job for free or have to choose between a paid internship and a job. But there is also something to be said, a paid internship is not enough. We need internships that are well-paid so that interns don’t have to work a side job, especially like during our summer internship that is full time.”
“I think the major thing a paid internship offers is access…We need internships that are well-paid so that interns don’t have to work a side job, especially like during our summer internship that is full time.”
The Met internship emphasizes that with the paid opportunity, the students can focus on their work as opposed to outside financial stressors. When discussing inclusivity, Perkins focused on the power of inclusivity that the paid opportunity offers.
“We want a culture and a community where everyone is able to learn and creating that learning environment means that students have physical access to whatever we’re doing, whether it’s remote and that’s technology and computers, or whether we’re on site,” Perkins said. “It also means that they’re in an environment where they feel supported by Met staff. That they know that they can ask questions that were available to them.”
Rodgers found that paid aspect of the internship especially appealing when applying.
“I really got into this internship because they got a generous donation that allowed it to be a fully funded internship,” Rodgers said. “So several of us interns got a fully paid internship and that’s a big deal in terms of moving forward for accessibility and sustainability.”
Arsht has given to art centers around the country.
“I flunked handwriting class, please, I am no artist,” Arsht said. “I’m still writing with a number one pencil but my interest in the arts covers music, dance, any form of performance and visual art. Art is everywhere. If you go back and look, the Lascaux cave had paintings on the walls. In Mother Nature, there is something called the mating dance. Birds, they dance, or sing covers any way to express feelings, to share with others. And I think that is what art really is, it defines a society at whatever time and it’s what somewhat makes us civilized.”
“Art is everywhere…it defines a society at whatever time and it’s what somewhat makes us civilized.”
In the past, Arsht has been involved in the Met’s performance, or live arts, division. She has worked with Limor Tomer, who runs the division, and funded the opera performance that honored the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
“I have no talent whatsoever,” Arsht said. “I often say to people in the art world who thank me for my support: I can’t sing. I can’t play a musical instrument. I don’t pay. I don’t dance. But I’m so impressed by those who do, and I support them. So, I want to make sure that any, any city has a place for artists to gather.”
For Arsht, the Met’s paid internship grants access to experiences to a much wider group of individuals than it usually would. It also creates a more level playing field for those who would not be able to afford working an unpaid one.
“Many of these people will bring a different background, different point of view, or different experiences to the call at the job site,” Arsht said. “They all see life through a different lens of experiences. And so, the end product will be infused with how they all think and see things. And as they pass through this, at the end of the internship, they will be able and available to fill many other positions up the career ladder to which they had would not have had the access if they hadn’t had the internship.”
Next year, Rodgers will attend the University of Michigan to work toward a Master of Arts and doctorate in classical studies, with a concentration in art and archaeology. She hopes to stay connected with museum work in the future.
“I definitely hope to stay involved in the museum field,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s really important for academics, to stay in touch with things that are outside of the academy, like the museum. Because you’ve got to think about, you know, you’re responsible for how things are presented in your field, whether or not it’s an academic paper, or in a public institution.”