By Josef Renton, IUPUI Museum Studies MA student
When I think back on my internship from this past summer the first thing that comes to my mind is calm chaos. I feel this oxymoronic phrase is a great summation of how these past few summer months have been. I feel like each day there was something new to be concerned about whether it was part of the pandemic, something political, or environmental. During all of the chaos, I did find solace in my work. My regular job is at the Children’s Museum here in Indianapolis and while the museum was closed for mandated shutdown I was able to start my internship at the small Carmel Clay Historical Society depot museum.
Thinking back on my internship, there wasn’t one defining instance that helped ground me over this chaotic summer. Instead, it was the array of work and tasks I was able to complete. Some of these tasks, such as collections work, I have experience in, but exhibit design and exhibit research were foreign to me. These new experiences were great, they made all of the crazy background static slip away. This allowed me to focus more on my internship work. This work included collections rehousing, archival work, and label design. There was also revamping and redesigning an exhibit on display (adhering to newly mandated COVID-19 safety regulations), along with exhibit design and research for an upcoming exhibit. All of these different tasks kept me busy and interested in my work. In retrospect, I don’t think I could have gained so much experience in so many different areas were my internship at a larger institution. In a small museum though, an individual’s talents can shine. Thankfully, my mentor was supportive and was open to new ideas regardless of how ‘’off the wall’’ they were.
One thing I did not expect I would be able to do this summer was to travel to other museums to acquire new objects/loans. But, on the last day of my internship, I was able to take part in visiting The Monon Connection Museum. While it wasn’t the most extraordinary exhibit, it instilled how important small museums are to their surrounding communities. Not only do they house physical objects, but the local history and cultures of the surrounding communities. This summer I learned that museums like people can and will persevere through these current seemingly surreal times.
Reflecting on both internship experiences I am glad I was able to explore work outside of the collections field. I was able to see firsthand how connected each department is and how each one contributes to better the overall museum. Any sort of advice I have such as taking time to breathe and relax during the chaos is not novel, but instead is reassuring looking towards the future and for me helps find calmness amongst all of the chaos.