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September 21, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Anna Kelly, Interpretive Services

The blog series Interning at the Museum highlights the projects and accomplishments of the National Museum of the American Indian's interns. Each intern completes a 10-week internship in a department at one of the museum's three facilities—the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.; Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland; or George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. The museum’s Internship Program offers sessions in the spring, summer, and fall. The next deadline for applications—for the spring 2016 session—is November 20, 2015. These interviews feature members of this year's recently completed summer session. —Sarah Frost 

Anna Kelly assisted with museum tours and a created a cultural presentation on her community, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

My name is Anna Kelly, and I am entering into my senior year at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. I am an American studies major with a concentration in Native American studies, and an education minor. I am a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, located in Akwesasne, New York.

What department did you intern in this summer, and what projects were you working on?

I worked in the Interpretive Services Unit, which works to promote interest in American Indian heritage, culture, and history. Cultural interpreters do this through tours, demonstrations, programs for the public, and other educational tools. We are the ones you see on the floor, interacting with the public, and hopefully teaching them something new or helping them to better understand various aspects of the museum and Native culture. This summer I worked alongside staff in positions of public interaction, such as the activities center and the Lelawi Theater. I also created a cultural presentation about my community, and researched and compiled information for one of our teaching programs that corresponds to the Nation to Nation exhibition about treaties.

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

This summer I wanted to intern somewhere that allowed me to explore my interest in both education and Native American history and culture. I’ve always been fascinated by museums and the way they tell powerful narratives to such a large audience, so NMAI seemed like the perfect place. The work that the Interpretive Services Unit does fit well with what I am studying in school and allowed me to experience firsthand a career that combines many of my interests. The work that everyone in this museum does is amazing!

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

There are so many things I loved about this internship. The Interpretive Services Unit is an incredible place. I was surrounded by smart, passionate people who taught me so much about this museum and how cultural interpretation works, how we can connect themes and objects with people in a meaningful way. So I guess the people I worked with were one great aspect. Also the amazing people who work in all different departments that we met throughout the internship and the knowledge they shared has been awesome. It’s also pretty cool that I got to be around so many objects and artifacts with amazing stories and histories. 

What have you learned and what do you hope to achieve because of this internship?

I learned so much this summer, from so many people. As I said, I learned a lot about the intersection of education and interpretation and how that works in a museum setting, especially at a museum that focuses a lot on culture. I learned that there are so many ways of ending up in a place like this and that it is often unexpected. And of course I learned just how much hard work and collaboration goes into running a Smithsonian museum.

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

Being here allowed me to find ways to express my interest in not only my own culture but all Native cultures ,and the paths I can take that combine my academic and cultural interests. It also forced me to think in new ways about what culture is and how a place like a museum interprets and displays culture, especially with cultures as diverse and vibrant as Native cultures.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Make the most of every opportunity (I know it sounds clichéed, but do it). Get to know the people working around you and make connections with those people. The museum world—and Indian Country—are smaller than you’d think, and people have so much knowledge they are willing to share. Get to know your fellow interns, they turn out to be awesome friends! And obviously explore the city and all it has to offer. Your time will be up quicker than you’d like it to be.

Interviewer Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum as a member of the Web staff, helping launch the Inka Road website and other new projects online and in social media. She is continuing to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Anna Kelly; used with permission. 


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