Museum Internship Offers Multifaceted Experience

You would imagine that a doctoral student– particularly a Union learner – has enough to do with balancing career, family, and community commitments, but two Union students took the extra step of participating in a Professional Museum Internship as a part of their Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies Programs.

Tamara White

Tamara White

Kathryn Turley-Sonne and Tamara White interned at specialized museums to enhance their studies and their experience.

Instituted by Union in 2018, the Museum Studies Certificate was developed by Dr. Anu Mitra, a professor in Union’s Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies program, and facilitator of the Museum Studies certificate. Mitra is active with numerous museums and is a specialist in visual culture, arts-based practices, art, and leadership development. In addition to her full-time load as a professor at Union, she is a trustee at the Cincinnati Art Museum and sits on the Ohio Advisory Board of the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. She is also a long-time docent at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati.

This innovative 12-credit certificate, one of the few at the doctoral level in the world, provides students with a formal recognition of their scholarly practice in graduate-level coursework. It also provides them with a more robust experience and familiarity with the museum field. Students examine reflective practices of reasoning and skill-based critical thinking to explore alternative, refreshing, and new solutions to old problems.

Turley-Sonne and White found their internships to be enriching and invaluable in real-world experience.

Kathryn Turley-Sonne

Kathryn Turley-Sonne

Turley-Sonne, a Union 2020 Ph.D. Humanities & Culture graduate with a Certificate in Museum Studies, completed her internship at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, England.

“My dissertation “Curating the Contemporary Art Witch Movement” went hand-in-hand with my interest in visual culture, protest art, and gender studies,” said Turley-Sonne. “I wanted to discover whether there was a traceable connection to images of witches in art from historical artists like Francisco Goya to contemporary artists working with similar images.” Of note is that Dr. Turley-Sonne received the coveted 2020 Marvin B. Sussman Award given to the best doctoral dissertation of the year.

Kathryn in front of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (MWM) with Dir. Simon Costin & Mgr. Fergus Moffat.

Kathryn in front of the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic (MWM) with Dir. Simon Costin & Mgr. Fergus Moffat.

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic has the largest collection of magical art and artifacts in the world, having opened more than 50 years ago.

“I was able to study and work on exhibitions and newly donated artifacts, and learn how to prepare items to be sent to other museums on loan. I also sat in on museum meetings, helped with the annual Equinox Conference, developed a draft internship program, and became familiar with the daily rituals of running a small museum,” said Turley-Sonne. “Perhaps the most thrilling participation was to archive the condition of the 8,000 books in the museum’s library. It was an exceptional experience to work with this special and rare collection of texts.”

White is also a 2020 graduate in the Ph.D. Humanities & Culture program with a Certificate in Museum Studies and Design Thinking. Her dissertation focuses on the intersection of diabetes and incarceration. White also has an interest in visual storytelling.

Flying by the seat of my pants by Tamara White. Flying by the seat of my pants depicts the supplies that a person with diabetes must leave the house with every day. It is not as simple as grabbing your phone and keys.

She completed her internship at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

“My exposure to the museum field through the Contemporary Arts Center was enlightening and the behind-the-scenes experience was both illuminating and invaluable,” said White. “I worked on the Robert Colescott retrospective by assisting with the educational guide that is created for visiting school groups,” said White. Colescott is an African American artist whose art exposes gender and racial stereotypes throughout America. “I am an artist interested in social justice. This participation expanded my visual storytelling skills and enriched my understanding of museum studies. I learned that putting up new exhibitions is not as simple as it seems. There are various facets involved, including conception, board approval, curation, and financial realities.”

White serves on the board of directors at three art institutions and is a practicing artist herself.

Twenty-Six by Tamara White.Insulin bottles on antique shelf. Twenty-Six represents the age when young adults are ineligible to remain on their parents’ insurance, which has proven deadly for many.

“I now have a different perspective of what it takes to run a museum,” said White. “I learned there are many layers to the operation of a museum not seen by the visitor. I will be a more effective board member because of this background.”

Dr. Mitra explains the benefits of a certificate in this growing field. “A Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies combined with the Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies can definitely enhance a career by providing a deeper understanding of what it takes to be an agile museum practitioner for the 21st-century museum – one who is always making connections and finding new possibilities in order to keep operations smooth, collections relevant, and visitors inspired.”

Dr. Mitra designed the certificate to focus on the importance of developing new problem-solving skills through visual cognitive skills, as well as developing novel social justice theories through the lens of art – and even leadership principles through visual culture. In addition, her goal is that students learn the skills and knowledge that are the basis for many aspects of museum work. Areas covered include museum management, collection care and maintenance, as well as exhibition and educational program development.

Turley-Sonne and White revere Dr. Mitra’s knowledge.

“Dr. Mitra has so many connections working with curators and museums around the world,” said Turley-Sonne. “I attended Union because of Dr. Mitra and her reputation as a scholar in the discipline. I am a university English professor and I wanted to expand my teaching to include art history and curation. A doctorate in the field would enable me to continue what I love at an expanded level. I also had to have a flexible program because I work full-time. Most museum programs are master’s programs and require you to be in residence. Dr. Mitra responded to my need and created the Museum Studies Certificate. That is the absolute definition of responding to a student’s needs.”

White agrees. “Dr. Mitra’s skill to link art, social justice, and leadership development has had a profound impact on me. I will be forever grateful for her mentorship.”

How will Turley-Sonne and White incorporate their studies in their future plans?

“I am working on a curriculum to start a museum studies program where I currently teach,” said Turley-Sonne. “Because of my studies, I have become involved with my college gallery and hope to work on gallery education and curation and to increase student and faculty engagement. My post-retirement plans include museum education, writing, and arts-based research projects.”

White is interested in creating informative exhibitions that can heighten awareness about diabetes and incarceration for the purpose of creating policy changes in prison medical protocols. Additionally, she has an interest in working on a book that visually compares the American and Norway prison systems.

The Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies offers students the opportunity to combine their passion for art and social justice into a career pathway. In addition to the benefits of an internship, the integrated program of study consists of courses on The Nature of Museums, Design Thinking, Education, and Leadership, Visual Culture, The Art of Social Justice and Leadership, and Leadership for a Complex World. A Special Topics course is also designed for students.

An excellent opportunity to learn more about the Museum Studies Certificate is available in an upcoming webinar with museum expert Deborah Richardson, a native of Atlanta, GA, facilitated by Dr. Mitra on Wednesday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m. The hour-long discussion including a Q&A will examine the lessons Ms. Richardson learned in creating the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA. The discussion will also include the unique role museums need to play today as they strive to educate and address issues of equity, inclusion, diversity, and reconciliation. Please join us on Wednesday, December 2 at 7:30 p.m. EST for this informative and free webinar. Register today at this link.

If your career dream is to combine your passion for art and social justice into a career, enroll today in the Union Institute & University Ph.D. Program in Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies. Learn more at this link.

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