Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern | Jeanette Tan

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information!  


Jeanette Tan will be a 4th year History student at the NTU School of Humanities and Social Sciences. In May 2015, she joined us as a Museum Outreach Intern where she worked on organising and executing outreach programmes, research and development of content for online and offline platforms. In this blog post, she ponders on the "where/what/whom is she reaching out to" during the course of this internship.

I’ll be honest—I’ve been putting off doing this blog entry for the longest time. Not because I don’t find joy or fulfilment or any of the wonderful things that come with the end of a rewarding experience, but precisely because of said joy and fulfilment and wonder that I feel towards this internship that I am finding so difficult and frustrating to extract from the visceral, and to translate them into the decidedly more cerebral domain of words. What strikes me next is how this strange tension/ambivalence that I am experiencing now is perhaps emblematic of my experiences of art as a whole—how I feel and enjoy it aesthetically, and yet, the accompanying anxiety that almost always tags itself with me trying worriedly to understand it “correctly” and “meaningfully”. This is a persistent issue that I believe I, and other non art-critics/ art students, consistently face when encountering the seemingly highbrow world of art. After spending almost 3 months as a Museum Outreach intern, I can safely say that although I have not come anywhere close to pondering intellectually about the art histories of Ng Eng Teng or Cheong Soo Pieng, I would like to think that I have now at least scraped the surface of understanding the skills and strategies required towards thoughtfully communicating an exhibition to a wider audience, by way of public programmes that complement these curated exhibitions.

At the beginning of the internship, one of the main questions that were provoked during curatorial tours and reading programmes, was the issue of exactly who the NUS Museum was reaching out to? In other words, what was the branding of the Museum and what sorts of people do we want visiting the museum? Was it the “general” public at large? Art lovers and/or an academic crowd? Eventually, upon conversations with curators and my outreach supervisors, the answer that seems to be teased out was that the NUS Museum’s primary crowd would be students and lecturers—members of an academic community. To this end, as a Museum Outreach intern, my main job expectation was to engage participants of the Museum in meaningful and interesting ways, by way of helping to conceptualise and execute programmes such as talks, workshops, and film screenings, as well as generate written publicity material. I see the Outreach team as effectively managing the “middle men” role between understanding the workings of curatorial minds, and translating these complex and dynamic ideas into a manner that suits the purposes and usages of its audience.

Of course, this all sounds like very important and serious desk-bound things to do, which no doubt all adds to an enriching experience for an intern, but on some days, us outreach interns get whisked off to the museum to help out with wardening guided visits and school tours too! These are not only great fun because you get to interact with people ranging from adorable young schoolchildren, all wide-eyed with wonder and natural curiosity, to tertiary students and university professors, invigorating in their thirst to further academic knowledge. This is immensely fulfilling because it is nice to see people be genuinely interested and pondering about art, and honestly, the best sort of workplace fulfilment there is (well at least for me). One of the more memorable times I can recall about these school tours was an overseas visit by a Hong Kong high school. Without warning, me and a fellow Outreach intern, Jiayi, got suddenly roped in to assist as interview subjects to the high school students. This was intimidating to say the least, because there we were, two shy interns, having to be interviewed impromptu about our lifestyles as Singaporean students, and be thrust into an uncomfortable position of temporary-role-models reflecting studious and well-adjusted university undergraduates.

There we were, standing awkwardly, flanked by Hong Kong high school students eager to ask questions.

I jest. It is not all that terrifying most of the time.

In happier times, talking about textiles to the girls from Marymount Convent School!

Apart from observing tours and school visits, I also helped out with writing content for both online and offline platforms. I was tasked to write an article about the opportunities available at the NUS Museum for Artzone, a print publication produced by the NUS Centre For the Arts. This was particularly interesting for me as I had the task of interviewing two former NUS Museum interns who had written their honours thesis sparked off from interest towards the research they had done during the course of their internship. As an undergraduate student about to embark on her final-year thesis, this definitely struck a chord with me. I also enjoyed researching about the history of the NUS Museum and using this information to write an Infopedia page on the NUS Museum, which I hope, will generate interest and awareness of such an underrated treasure as the NUS Museum.

Once, I even helped out as a reception staff!

I would like to think of my time as an outreach intern as having the privilege of attending a buffet table of ideas, experiences, and conversations—at the end of the buffet, I feel extremely stuffed, satisfied, but yet still craving for more the next time. Benefitting from the company of really interesting and bright young interns (Emma, Derong, Jia Yi, Venessa, Yee Ting) also enriched this journey. These are friendships and newly-built networks that have become valuable to me. Not to end this entry on a cliched note, but this experience has honestly opened up my eyes to the industry; the ways and workings of museology. I may have left my internship at the NUS Museum, but I definitely will continue to explore opportunities into art and heritage!

To read Jeanette's article in the latest issue of Artzone, copies are available at the NUS Museum, University Cultural Centre, and CFA / OSA brochure stands around campus! 

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