When I first applied to SAM as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern, I felt lost. Having moved here from California just a few years before, I felt lost in Seattle and lost as a recent graduate of the University of Washington’s Certificate Program in Museum Studies trying to figure out how to navigate the job market in this new world affected by COVID-19. I needed a way to break back into the museum scene after its brief lapse following museum closures, and in doing so I wanted to experience a new field as I explored Seattle’s arts scene for the first time.
I saw SAM’s internship posting while scouring museum websites and online job boards, and was intrigued by how this opportunity stressed the importance of achieving a thorough understanding of the many roles available within a museum setting and how they all connect. I had never previously worked in a larger museum setting—most of my experience in San Francisco had been with organizations made up to fifteen people—and was excited to learn how a museum of much larger size functioned on a daily basis.
In applying for an Emerging Arts Leader internship at SAM, I wasn’t sure which department I would be best suited for. I wanted to experience a part of museums I had not yet before, and was aided by those I interviewed with on which department that may be. Eventually, we landed on the Development team. This department is composed of several different roles that all aim to bring in additional revenue and maintain funding. I worked most closely with Sarah Michael, SAM Director of Institutional Giving.
In the galleries I had previously worked in, the Development team was be made up of one or two individuals who oversaw all donor, sponsor, and member relationships. But in an organization as large as SAM where the collection, space, and scope of everything is nearly quadrupled, ‘institutional giving’ has an entirely different meaning.
In addition to the work I was doing as part of the Development team—prospecting new potential corporate members, contemporary art funders, and other exhibition or event specific sponsors; creating sponsor reports to be sent out to already existing partners of the museum; working in Tessitura and Raiser’s Edge and learning how to navigate other related sites and programs—my internship included a few other elements that provided the well-rounded experience I was originally searching for. I had the opportunity to meet with, and interview, many amazing staff members occupying a variety of roles across multiple departments within the museum—some of which I had never even considered pursuing. Interns were also tasked with giving a gallery presentation towards the end of our 11 week program. For this project, I picked two ceramic works on view in Pacific Species to research and study, then connected museum staff to help me structure a comprehensive 20–30 minute long presentation in the galleries.
Through this variety of separate tasks and opportunities, I felt connected to the museum as a whole and the many teams that work together to make it function. I was introduced to so many people who had experienced that same overwhelming feeling of finding your place in the arts world, whether they had years’ worth of experience or not, and learned of many new positions that weren’t covered in the many articles, papers, and textbooks I had read in school.
There were times during my internship that I still felt a little lost—wondering what I was going to do after it was finished and how I was going to make the transition from part time internship to full time employment—but I no longer felt alone. I had others with me who knew exactly what I was going through because they had been there too. Now, my uncertainty no longer feels scary, it feels exciting.
This experience has reawakened my love for museums and reminded me why I decided to pursue a career in this industry. As I move forward in my career, I will remember my time at SAM fondly as the experience that got me back on track to an exciting future in museums. I am incredibly thankful to SAM for this opportunity and everyone that I met along the way.
– Brie Silva, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Development
Photos: Chloe Collyer.