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September 14, 2015

Interning at the Museum: Sara Morales, Collections Management

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 

Sara Morales working with a textile from the museum's collections.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

My name is Sara Elena Morales, I am going to be a senior at Cornell University, double majoring in anthropology and archaeology, with a minor in American Indian studies. I’m Hopi, and I’m from Whittier, California. 

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

I interned in Collections Management. I helped with the installation of the exhibit The Great Inka Road and the de-installation of the Our Lives gallery. I have also been able to lend a hand in the packing of Our Lives objects from the museum on the National Mall so that they could be returned to museum's Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland. 

Why did you decide to intern at NMAI?

Objects play a major role in representing cultures by reflecting what is important to specific communities and their way of life. Yet communities must also be a part of the work to accurately portray what they would like to share. The NMAI drew my interest as it integrates community collaboration in its efforts to inform and educate others. Additionally, with such a large collection of items, I was curious about the care and tracking of the objects and the way that the museum handles them, whether in exhibits or for research purposes. 

What is your favorite aspect of your internship?

I really enjoyed how hands-on the work is. During the installation of the Inka Road exhibit I saw the empty gallery transformed over the period of three weeks. It was amazing to see how many people were involved in the process of developing the exhibit and the amount of time and hard work that had gone into its production. It’s great to have the opportunity to meet people with various skills and ideas who work together towards a specific goal. 

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

I have learned the steps that are taken within the museum and at the CRC to keep objects in the collection and in the museum safe. In order to continue representing Native communities and telling their stories, these objects must maintain their integrity and be prevented from harm or damage. I hope to continue working to preserve cultural materials and make sure they are used or displayed as their creators would like them to be.

How has interning helped you understand your own cultural interests?

My internship has shown me how important it is for communities to be able to represent themselves. I’m shocked that others are not always aware of the current presence of Native peoples, yet it has also demonstrated the great role that the museum plays in educating people and opening their world view. I have become interested in the way that that information is gathered and what aspects or elements are utilized in creating an exhibit or showcasing a story.

Do you have advice for aspiring interns?

Don’t be afraid to try new things because you might enjoy them more than you thought you would! The internship provides many opportunities to speak to people of various backgrounds and skill sets and figure out what interests you the most. Also, don’t stand on the left side of the escalator.

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 will continue to work on the museum's digital projects this fall.

Photo courtesy of Sara Morales; used with permission. 


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