My Summer at MASS MoCA
Jordan Young Recalls His Internship
By: Jordan Young - 08/23/2008
As I sat in my dorm room towards the end of April, scrambling through Idealist.org, I kept thinking of my only two requirements for an internship that summer: First and foremost, I didn't want to return to Colorado; secondly, I wanted to do something in the arts community. However, a history in sales for giant corporations like T-mobile didn't exactly line me up as an ideal candidate for a Visual arts position. So I opted for a sales/ customer service position under the umbrella of an arts institution.
Finally, I came across The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. I saw the package they offered and thought what the hell; it couldn't hurt to apply right? It looked like a long shot. When a call came from my would-be boss, Alexis, I was shocked and said yes without hesitation. As she described the opportunity it sounded like a perfect match. Then I recalled my only other experience with contemporary art, the opening of the new contemporary wing of the Denver Art Museum.
It was all night affair which drew my attention as an insomniac with nothing better to do. But I became a mere wallflower in a world of artsy people as I stood there in my Rage Against the Machine t-shirt. I was clearly out of the loop with no idea what the dolls with heads replaced with pictures of ex-presidents meant. I was annoyed by the performance art piece of a girl dressed like a tree taking her leaves off and "dying". The only piece that stuck out. because of film references, was "Wayne's World" by Jesie Cooday. This piece depicts an otherwise stoic, complacent picture of John Wayne and the superimposition of a sad, ghostly figure of a Native American man. I immediately thought of "Psycho" its infamous triple-imposition at the end, and how in "The Searchers" John Wayne's racism felt too real for comfort.
So I drove to North Adams Massachusetts, (which I told all my friends was Boston in order to sound much cooler than it seemed) and started thinking how uncomfortable I would be in a museum full of contemporary art that I didn't understand. My training in the arts has consisted of a lot of film studies, literature and poetry, just to clarify, nothing pertaining to the fine arts. I arrived in North Adams and took in the atmosphere. The first thing I saw coming in from Route 2 West was the giant MASS MoCA sign on my left; I immediately let out a sigh of relief. I explored the complex and was blown away by the aesthetic that this museum encompasses. I thought I would be working in a traditional museum but thank God I was not.
I met a very enthusiastic Alexis at as she called "the bouncing desk", (which I couldn't truly fathom until Sunday mornings with a hangover and people shaking my workstation as hard as they possibly could), who gave me a packet of material to browse through and keys to my future home around the site. I read the description of the job, and in addition to what I expected (selling tickets, memberships, and answering questions) there were a myriad of aspects to the job I didn't realize, like giving tours Good grief.
So here I am, a rookie in the world of contemporary arts, and now I will have to explain the work to people who are in my shoes. I kept assuring myself everything would be okay. The first duty of my job was to master what I was there for, working upfront with everyone. This process included just having to work front line, and get used to what the cash register and ticketing system was. This was the kind of monotony I hated. During my T-mobile days, I was programmed to deal with a transaction as opposed to a person. I wanted to destroy that idea. It was surprisingly easy to accomplish that with the people as they all were very vocal about their opinions of the art at Mass MoCA. This was another very good sign.
Then it came to the art itself. My first interaction with it was a tour from Allison, the education coordinator, someone who clearly knew her stuff. As we walked around with her, I felt like I was grinning and bearing everything around me, but then, when I went upstairs and saw Anselm Kiefer's work, there was a difference in how I felt. As I stared at News from the Fall of Troy, (probably mouth agape) I got chills down my spine. The same chills that I receive from hearing the opening chord progression for the Queen song "Love of My Life", or chills evoked by the devastating silences of Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story". I got it. Everything with contemporary visual art I didn't understand, I should hold the same treatment to film, writing, and music. It's about what it does to you. The execution and the materials used, if you are willing to decipher them, and really engage in critical thinking about the piece, can have a tremendous impact on you.
From then on, I began reading and talking about the work, exploring the critical writing delving into the artists biography and influences. I was curious about what movement's he/she is creating a dialogue with. Expoloring these sources led me to The Hudson River School, Fluxus and Earth Art. It proved to be analogous to the schools of poets I had been accustomed to like the Language poets, or the Black Mountain School. Previously, I knew nothing about those movements in the Visual Arts. I began looking around for every kind of outlet imaginable to be able to fully explain the work to people on my tours if they had questions.
While taking on these new challenges in understanding the work on view, I began to get more involved with the museum. I was attending marketing meetings and brainstorming about different ways to get people attracted to our events. In addition to the pieces in our galleries. I came up with an idea inspired by the artist Vaughn Bell regarding her personal, pocket biospheres that were adoptable. I e-mailed Brittany who maintains Mass MoCA's blog . Several days later I received an e-mail that was CC-ing a listl of names. Apparently, Brittany loved the idea and it went to the curator Denise, who liked it enough to send it to the artist. Wow. I thought it was a stupid little idea, but now it turned it to something pretty big. I couldn't help but think something was wrong here, after al,l I'm an intern, and people are listening to me? Go figure. I then got to e-mail the artist back and forth establishing the best way to implement my idea, (a compatibility test for the adoption of her pocket biospheres).
Then something else astonishing happened. I got emotionally invested in the community and the economy. This was shocking considering I have only been here essentially three months, but I felt like everything that happened to this community was of the utmost importance. I took those marketing meetings very seriously, and considered the notion that the impact of my suggestions could very well help the economic growth of North Adams.
Illusions of Grandeur? Yes. But that's what should be expected from an idealist. Regardless, I have never before had such a strong connection to a place. There was nothing like this feeling while living in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, or Denver. So why here in a relatively short time ?
After this realization, I made it a point to convey that spirit to everyone I talked to Whether it be someone getting excited about the art itself, the performing arts department, the tour they were on that I was giving, or a recommendation I gave them for a restaurant or hotel. I wanted them to take on the same enthusiasm I had for the unique Berkshire community. It became so clear for me that the more time people spend here, the more money that represented for the local economy.
There was then a development in every other intern, perhaps an epiphany, of the city, the state of the museum, and its future. We were all talking about utopian visions of North Adams, post-gentrification, and what we envisioned Mass MoCA to be. This was all a similar viewpoint with a subtle twist, some people wanted to expand the image and identity, re-brand the museum entirely, and some wanted to affix the museum with a new mission in mind. I was included in the last vision. In my ideal view, (and please excuse the alliteration) I wanted to see MoCA become a multi-medium, visual and performing arts Mecca. The talks with fellow interns I ended up cherishing. It was fascinating to see everyone take on this internship with an almost "pet-project" mindset.
This talk not only was limited to just interns but everyone on the staff was buzzing about this idea, specifically, the idea of the division of the performing arts and the static arts. Throughout the summer there were weekly meetings, titled Intern-Ed, which MoCA initiates in order to provide academic credits for the internship. One particularly memorable meeting was with the curator, Susan Cross. In this intern-ed, as an unexpected turn of events, Susan asked us, what we all wanted to do, where we are going, and where we see ourselves a couple years down the road? She was actually interested. This is not to say that Susan hasn't been friendly, in fact it was very much the opposite. But just to hear those words come from her mouth, felt really good. In all of these introductions, I told her about how I am becoming more and more interested in the dialogue between the arts, and she was responsive to that idea.
Going back to one of the first intern-eds with Courtney, the membership coordinator, she was speaking about a further investigation in the dialogue about the arts It was intriguing to hear. This idea was one of the building blocks to a summer of personal and professional development.
I am leaving Mass MoCA with a much clearer head. I have an idea about my future, my post-grad career. As a result of this summer long internship I have much more of a knowledge of visual arts, as well as, great connections, and memories. In addition to all that, I finally have a better sense of a communal feeling and its goals. Recently, one of my co-workers, Kristin, teased me about catching the "bug" of the museum and its atmosphere. Well folks, this is one bug I was glad to catch. It's the best kind of virus for which, hopefully, there is no cure.
Jordan Young is sick of all of these fresh-faced writers coming right out of college and wanting to take on the world. However, he is a huge hypocrite and plans on doing that after he finishes his senior year at Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and two minors in film and lit. He is a music junkie, a film snob, and a pretentious wannabe poet. In his writing he plans on pursuing the dialogue between the arts, and how those worlds collide. We look forward to his further writing for Berkshire Fine Arts.