2009 PFIG Recipient Gayathri Segar
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs and Art History Major
2010 Graduation Year
Internship: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Notes on the first week
Working in the art world has been something I have been aspiring to do for a long time, and landing an internship with the Guggenheim Museum has provided me with the opportunity to really explore the field and expand my interest. Walking in on the first day, I was so nervous. Other than the cursory details, I was completely unsure of what to expect. However, from the very moment I met Nicki, our intern coordinator, and the four other interns starting with me, things just clicked. Nicki was so friendly and helpful and her advice to us at orientation was to simply enjoy the experience and learn as much as we possibly can. That is exactly what I intend to do as I spend the next three months learning the ins and outs of the Guggenheim.
With this internship, I am getting a behind the scenes look at what it takes to run an art institution of this magnitude, and the careful strategic work that goes into planning and executing every event and exhibition. My goals for this summer are not only to absorb information and take away as much as I can from my supervisors, but also to really understand how this system ticks. My department focuses on external affairs, specifically dealing with the museum's members and events. Already I have learned how to work on the computer database system to organize member records, worked on the webpage and members events photographs and finally I have been assigned to research the progress of the Museum's First Friday's membership event. So far it has been amazing getting exposed to the underbelly of the museum system and I can't wait to get to attend the events that I have been involved in planning.
At the rate things are going, I have my work cut out for me, and a whole lot of fantastic things to look forward to this summer.
I am now smack dab in the action of my Guggenheim Internship and even though some days things are slow, the experience is still amazing. I work four days a week at the downtown offices and then every Friday we have an event for the interns meant to increase museum and cultural awareness. For me, this internship is like no other job/intern experience I've ever had…not only because of the large scale of the company but also because I have significant and measurable input in the projects that we work on in my department. Even though it is still a desk job to a certain extent, I'm not simply staring at a computer screen all day—I get to converse with interesting clients on topics relating to the museum's upcoming events and projects—and I also am given significant responsibility with the things I am asked to undertake. Knowing that my supervisor (who is becoming a friend as well) trusts in my judgment and gives me free reign on assignments was a first a little nerve wracking but once I became more comfortable with the systems we work with, I have also become much more confident in how I handle situations.
I work with Raiser's Edge a lot, which is a sort of data organizing system used by a lot of nonprofits. Recently we have been compiling data from past charity events to determine member involvement and revenues. I had to go through hundreds of cells of data to bring together a comprehensive list of all the events and members attending since 2005. The research I have done has given the museum a good idea of where the events have been going and in which direction they plan on taking it for the future. Another big thing I worked on was contacting local libraries in and around New York City speaking to them about ‘Museum Pass Programs' to see how the Guggenheim has been doing within smaller communities. We are trying to revamp our system to encourage more libraries to become members so that more people would have free access to the Museum and be able to come from outside the metropolitan area to visit. I have done a lot of research not only with libraries, but with other museums to see how best to situate our program in order to benefit the largest number of libraries possible. It was extremely rewarding to speak to so many library directors who were so grateful for this program because they felt that it was one of the best ways that less wealthy families could have access to such large cultural institutions.
Seeing the benefits of my work given me the confidences to take on larger tasks and feel more at ease in my position. I have also gained more insight in dealing with people from all different backgrounds, many of which are completely different from my own. I was initially worried that though I would learn about the inner workings of a museum, I would get it only from the sidelines and not really be involved in the process. Yet it is not like that at all. I am given a lot of work that forms the basis for a lot of the projects we are working on in the Membership dept. and my opinions are solicited in way as to make me feel truly valued at the company.
My initial goal was simply to learn and absorb as much as I can and now I know that I can expect much more from that here. I have been brought to sit in on executive department head meetings, operations meetings for the entire museum and even given my opinion to the department head on the library research I conducted. I am really very excited about this summer and even though it's half over, I know that by going out of my way to enter this world I have so much more to look forward to in the future. I am already looking eager for this week's mock auction at Sotheby's Institute of Art and will be continuing to work on the library proposal. Not only is New York City awesome this summer, but I am hoping to find a way to become a part of this city once I graduate as well.
As the summer came to a close, I tried to think back to my first week and see how things had progressed. In terms of my actual work contributions, I finished the research and development of my big project which was to create a separate category of membership catered towards community geared Libraries. I drafted and submitted a proposal to the Director of Development that, based on my research, put together a set of guidelines to which the new Library Membership would adhere. The best part about my summer work is knowing that my efforts have led to concrete implementation of a new membership program at the museum which will begin this fall. Personally, I have grown immensely in the last three months, having had a kind of life experience in New York City that was beyond anything I had ever known before. The fact that I could go so far out of my comfort zone into such a place made me much more confident about my ability to adapt and improve as an individual. Working at the Guggenheim felt more comfortable to me than I ever could have imagined, not simply because I worked with excellent people in a creative environment. I really felt that my work there was meaningful, and I have a much more concrete understanding of what it takes to create and produce an exhibition at a prominent museum. My goals for the summer were to learn as much as I can and hopefully gain a good insight about museum work; not only did I fulfill them, but I felt that through my work, I have given back to the museum community by helping them to improve their programs so that all audiences can continue to enjoy the artistic experiences that they provide.