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Alumni Voices: A Space for Dialogue and the Hood Internship Program

Hood Quarterly, summer 2013
Amelia Kahl ’01, Coordinator of Academic Programming

For over ten years, students have been curating exhibitions at the Hood Museum of Art through the program titled A Space for Dialogue: Fresh Perspectives on the Permanent Collection from Dartmouth’s Students. These small, focused installations greet visitors as they enter the museum and immediately demonstrate the Hood’s deep commitment to student work. Starting modestly with one exhibition of three works of art in the fall of 2001, the series will feature its seventy-seventh installation this summer.

A Space for Dialogue is education through action. Dartmouth upperclassmen participate as part of the Hood internship program. The students choose works from the museum’s collection by walking through storage, consulting museum catalogues, and conferring with staff members for ideas and inspiration. They work with curators to refine their ideas, and with art handlers to view objects. They write a brochure and labels that go through the museum’s editorial process. They prepare a public lecture and work with the education department to refine their public speaking skills. Marketing plans and brochure layouts emerge from the communications department, and students consult with the exhibitions designer to develop their installation layout, wall colors, and title font.

Every one of the dozens of decisions that curatorial work demands are in the given student’s hands. This is a responsibility that has led to rich and varied explorations over the years, with titles such as “Artistic Brilliance as a Symbol of Cultural Resilience” and “Seeing Time in Photography.” (See the exhibitions listing for many others.) This work has often represented a formative career experience, as many Hood interns have gone on to work in museums, the arts, and academia.

That group includes me. I created the first A Space for Dialogue installation in 2001. I was not a Hood intern but was hired for one year as a Curatorial and Programming Assistant immediately upon my graduation from Dartmouth that same year. Former Hood director Derrick Cartwright had just created the program, and he told me I could choose whatever I wanted to display. Curator of Academic Programming Kathy Hart led me through storage. Nervous and a little overwhelmed, I was nevertheless deeply attracted to Fumio Yoshimura’s Geraniums, a superbly carved wood sculpture that had not recently been on display. I then looked for related material and decided on two drawings of mushrooms by Elihu Vedder that would fit nicely on the small section of wall by the windows in the museum’s entrance area. The installations were more modest then—I did not have the benefit of a wall color or a professionally designed brochure. My essay discussed how technical virtuosity transcended detail and captured the essence of the plants depicted. It was my first piece of art historical writing with an audience beyond my professors. The Hood’s confidence in my work (which was more than I had in myself at the time) helped me decide to attend graduate school in art history. It was with great pleasure that I returned to work at the museum in 2010 and found the A Space for Dialogue program thriving

We recently queried previous Hood interns about their experiences and received over two dozen responses. Former students described work they had done years, and sometimes decades, earlier in detail, from the wall color of their exhibition to the privilege of working with classical coins in the Hood’s vault. They wrote about the important mentoring relationships with staff such as Kathy Hart and Curator of Education Lesley Wellman, and they vividly described how exciting it was to work with curators, artists, and faculty.

The responsibility granted to Hood interns, as well as the writing skills and general work experience their internships supplied, started many successful careers. Working on exhibitions, including A Space for Dialogue projects, provided relevant experience for jobs and internships as well as the basis for several thesis and dissertation topics. One alumna has taken the brochure she wrote to every job interview she has had since graduation. Graduates of the program have gone into publishing, education, nonprofit management, law, design, medicine, and more. Many continue to visit museums in their professional and personal lives. Hood internships are often described as the highlight of their undergraduate experience.

The transition from undergraduate to graduate is a rich and sometimes fraught time. The Hood’s internship program harnesses the intellectual curiosity and creativity of Dartmouth students while providing them the freedom and support needed to develop professionally. As Christine (DuRocher) Carrino ’98 reminds us: “As you develop other undergraduate education initiatives and internships, remember that even the unlikely students may quietly be transformed, whether directly into an actual museum or art career or by simply growing through the process of researching, planning and executing a major project.”

Read more stories about A Space for Dialogue.

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