Where are they now?: Cat Roberts Shteynberg, 2004-2005 Intern
What have you been up to since you graduated from Dartmouth?
The summer after I graduated, I worked at the Hood Museum as a curatorial assistant on the Fred Wilson exhibition, So Much Trouble in the World—Believe it or Not! After Dartmouth, I was lucky enough to receive the College's James B. Reynolds Scholarship for Foreign Graduate Study at the University of Oxford. I graduated in 2006 with an M.Sc. in Material Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. I actually wrote my master's dissertation on Fred Wilson's work, and the "artist as anthropologist." The Hood graciously accepted me back as a curatorial assistant immediately post-grad, and then I went on to a job as a curatorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. After, I worked at the Smithsonian Photography Initiative and then the Smithsonian Institution Archives on the Web and New Media Team in D.C. as well. I started as an assistant curator at the University of Tennessee's McClung Museum in Knoxville in 2012 and have gone on to curate its Arts & Culture collections, head up its exhibition program, and serve as assistant director.
Were your original intentions to pursue a career in the arts after college?
I didn't come to college knowing I wanted to pursue a career in the arts—I didn't really even recognize that as a possibility. However, I quickly discovered my interest in the field. I did an internship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as a part of my D-plan my sophomore year of college. I worked there as an education department intern, mainly in the Native American halls. New York fifth graders came in for their (limited) Native American history curriculum each year, but when I taught in that hall and asked students if the people depicted were still alive, they always responded with a resounding chorus of "No!" It was so depressing and really spoke to the deficiencies in our K-12 curriculum, but also the storytelling of the museum itself. I realized that the museum educators couldn't do their job to talk about vibrant and thriving contemporary Native American culture if the exhibitions in the museum didn't tell that story. From that moment on, I was always interested in being a curator and telling stories through objects.
Do you believe that your internship was valuable to your success as someone who went into the arts?
My internship at the Hood Museum was crucial to my success—my first museum jobs were only made possible because I had that experience on my resume. Of particular importance was creating a Space for Dialogue exhibition, and my mentor, Barbara Thompson (former curator of non-Western art), giving me co-curatorial credit on an exhibition called collectanea, as well as working on several museum catalogs with Curator of American Art Barabara "Bonnie" MacAdam. From those experiences I gained a good sense, even as a very green emerging museum professional, of how to create an exhibition storyline and checklist, line up loans, conduct research, and write label and catalog copy.
Did your internship at the museum provide you with any skills, knowledge, or assistance that the rest of your education at Dartmouth did not?
My internship really drove home the idea that museums have a responsibility to tell more inclusive stories not always told in books and cultural institutions, and this was borne out in the Hood Museum exhibitions that I worked on.
Also, while theory and the research and writing chops of my coursework at Dartmouth have always been central to my success in my career, the Hood internship provided me with the practical experience that is simply not a part of the classroom experience. From learning about copyright and image permissions and writing object worksheets, to observing how catalogs are edited and color-corrected and going through the label editing process from start to finish—those are all skills that were learned on the job at the Hood. I also learned a lot about time management, being a good colleague, and a little bit about how museum boards and fundraising operate. And of course, the staff of the Hood have gone on to be amazing mentors and resources throughout my professional life.
Was the Hood a valuable resource for you as an undergraduate?
The Hood was pretty much home to me as an undergraduate. Before I ever worked there in my senior year of college, I often roamed its galleries, both as a part of my art history classes and just for fun. I grew up in a rural area of Kentucky where there were very few museums. I only experienced that level of art when my family sometimes vacationed in large cities. When I was stressed or simply needed a break from normal student life, the Hood was a place to meditate and learn new things. Working in the object-study room there as a part of my coursework was also transformative and really guided me into my studies as a material anthropologist—there was so much information to glean from objects that was different than the type of learning that occurred during a lecture. I couldn't believe that in rural New Hampshire I could access such incredible art!
What advice would you give to a Dartmouth student considering applying for an internship at the museum?
There is nothing more helpful in terms of a museum career—you should do it! I would say that in my own museum, when I'm hiring for exhibitions/curatorial interns, I am really looking for someone who is interested in working in museums in the future, and much more likely to train someone who is looking for a career in the museum field than someone simply testing the waters. Communicate that commitment to the museum field! I know that's not entirely fair, as internships are a great way to test out a career option. However, curatorial experience is quite specific. Museum internships in development, public programs, or marketing, on the other hand, are great general experience for students wanting to work in those areas inside or outside the museum field.
I also always look for great writing samples, someone who can juggle multiple assignments at once, self-starters who work well independently on projects (I'm often in meetings for much of the day), and someone with a passion for going down research rabbit holes—that passion for knowing more usually translates to great writing.
Catherine (Cat) Roberts Shteynberg is the Assistant Director and Curator of Arts and Culture Collections at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She oversees the McClung Museum's exhibition program and PR and marketing efforts; teaches museum studies; and curates an eclectic 27,000-object collection of American and European fine and decorative arts, as well as material culture from around the world. Her recent exhibitions include Fish Forks and Fine Furnishings: Consumer Culture in the Gilded Age (2017), Drawn from the McClung Museum (2015), and Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures and Medical Prescriptions (co-curator, 2018). Shteynberg received her MS in material anthropology and museum ethnography from the University of Oxford with generous support from Dartmouth's James B. Reynolds Scholarship for Foreign Graduate Study. She has over twelve years of experience working in administrative, curatorial, digital, and educational positions in museums and archives, including the Hood Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Smithsonian Photography Initiative, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.