Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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Internship: Interpretive Guide at the Hirshhorn Museum

Posted on April 15, 2011

An update from Marisa DeSalvio, Wheaton Class of 2010:

In the fall of 2010, I received an Interpretive Guide internship at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the modern and contemporary art museum of the Smithsonian.

As an Interpretive Guide, my job is to approach visitors in the gallery and engage them in conversation about the exhibition and its specific paintings.  During the first few weeks, we read and discussed articles to prepare for an upcoming exhibition (in this case, a retrospective of Guillermo Kuitca), and now we are in the gallery, leading educational tours and talking to visitors.

The most challenging thing about being an Interpretive Guide is striking a balance between giving information, asking questions, and listening to the visitor’s comments. The most rewarding part has been the opportunity to discuss art in detail with people you normally would not encounter. At the end of the day, my head is spinning with the ideas I heard from all different people, and it’s impossible to look at specific work in the same way.

What I learned at Wheaton and what I am learning now are intersecting in many ways. After taking several museum studies courses at Wheaton, I learned how a museum can educate the public, but how some visitors may feel alienated by the art world. I have seen this hesitation first-hand in conversations with visitors. They feel like they have to “get” something and then ask themselves “if he can do it, why can’t I?” Questions about the meaning of art and who or what belongs in a gallery can be challenging to answer but my education at Wheaton has prepared me to handle and discuss these questions.

My goal in speaking with visitors is to help them see the value in a painting, even if it is abstract or difficult to understand. The tools for looking I provide museum visitors with give them a way to form opinions and discover their own personal connections with art.

If you’re interested in the Hirshhorn Interpretive Guide program, check out their website. You can also read about the other year-round internships at the Hirshhorn Museum here.

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