For the past month I have interned at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) in Washington, DC. I imagine that those of you somewhat familiar with the Smithsonian’s museums have not heard of this museum. To be honest, even though I’ve grown up in Washington, DC for the majority of my life and live about five minutes away from ACM, I only vague memories of visiting about 10 years ago.
I managed to stumble upon this local museum haphazardly by applying to every Washington, DC-based art museum for a summer internship. I locked onto the museum partially because I wanted to work with a museum that I did not already know a lot about, but partially because of the aforementioned five minute commute. Despite my questionable intentions, I ended up at a museum with a surprisingly interesting history.
The ACM began as a museum to attract the African-American community of Washington, DC to the Smithsonian in the 1960’s because only about 1% of local African-Americans were taking the time to visit the museums in their own backyard. The museum began housing the leftovers of the more prominent National Museum of Natural History and National American Art Museums in an African-American neighborhood. It was not until a fiery community activist took over, however, that the African-American attendance shot up. He changed the focus of the museum to local, African-American activism with an exhibition on the rodent epidemic plaguing the poor. Since then the museum has focused on urban and folk art.
Upon learning this history I was glad that I joined a small museum, of only about 20 full-time employees, to focus on a community driven theme not often emphasized in larger-scale museums. My job involves creating a comprehensive list of ACM’s many, many objects ranging from an impressive collection of Aunt Jemima objects to a self-taught artist’s woven baskets. I sort through photographs of the items and label them according to an attached number, called an accession number. Although at times the job can be tedious, at the end my work will help ACM complete the Smithsonian-wide decree for an online database for other museums to have an idea of new collection trends, loan possibilities and general openness between the nation’s interactive learning centers. My experience here has showed me that interning at a small place can be just as rewarding, if not more so, than a larger place due to the increased exposure to the different deparments.
About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.