Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Wang Chutong

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! 

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Wang Chutong is a fourth-year Marketing student at the NUS Business School. Chutong joined the Outreach team where she undertook various research tasks and event organisation, providing her with with more insight on the Museum’s outreach operations and programming.


This summer, I spent a meaningful 10 weeks with NUS Museum as an outreach intern. Out of the 8 interns from my batch, I was the only one who was in year 3 (going year 4), and the only one who's from business school while the rest are all from arts and social sciences. Being the unique one of the gang, my personal experience proves that so long as one has a passion for art and culture or the passion to advocate them, one can gain from this internship. The internship experience has been truly an eye-opening one which brought me to see the multiple aspects of the art and culture industry in Singapore. Prior to the internship, I was a passionate outsider; after the internship, I became on track of exploring this industry as a partaker.



My post as an outreach intern has been a mystery to many of my friends. People had problem understanding what the post meant. Even my intern friends at NUS Museum asked me what I do in outreach. At the beginning, I tried to put it really simply and said: " It's like being in the marketing and PR department of the museum." As time passed, I felt that rather than relating it simply to the marketing aspect, using the below analogy would have been more accurate: If NUS museum was a book and its exhibitions were its contents, the outreach team would be the one that designs the book cover, invites renounced people for its recommendations, writes its introduction and postscript and edits a summary with suspense at the back cover, finally the outreach team plans the look launch party and the media conference. A book that sits on a bookshelf is silent and passive as it can't shout out to promote itself. The outreach team then does everything to support, to package, to market and to convey its value to the audiences out there.

One routine of the outreach team is to give museum guided tours to various visitor groups. As an intern, I was tasked to do the same. My guided tour experience started with a short 8-minute introduction tour on NUS Museum's background information and progressed into a 2-hour full museum tour covering 3 permanent exhibitions and 2 temporary exhibitions. At the end of the Internship, I could even give a guided tour in Mandarin to a group of immersion programme students from Sichuan, China. Well, before there were good results, there was also a good deal of suffering at the preparation stage. My challenge was that other than having attended several curator's tours of the museum's exhibitions, I wasn't equipped with any additional information or tour script at all. While I was preparing my own tour script, I had to read through many artists' archives, documentary books and other online materials in order to to pick up interesting stories and facts to build up the details of my script. It was also important for me to keep on cross-referencing, validating and substantiating the facts that I wanted to elaborate on in order to improve the accuracy and reliability of it. In addition to a script, I had to prepare around 30% more materials so that I could answer the impromptu questions raised by visitors. Slowly through this intensive research and writing process, I eventually established a strong personal connection to the museum and its exhibitions. My passion towards the artists and artefacts grew each time I read about them.  Understanding the exhibitions also made me salute our curators even more. I came to realise that the process in which the curatorial work brings life to an exhibition is an artwork in itself. Thank to this preparation process, I was able to lead my own guided tour with a tinge of my personal flavour. Imagine if I were given a readymade script and a tour SOP at the beginning, I wouldn't have been able to give such passionate and affecting depiction, but a rather dry and robotic one.  


This was me giving a full tour of the museum to a group of my friends. Thank you Trina for letting me invite them over! (With regard to giving guided tours, I have to say how I admire Michelle and Trina who are able to vary their tone and styles to tailor to different visitor groups while maintaining a high level of professionalism.)

The execution and facilitation of various museum events is another important task of an outreach intern like me. Events such as exhibition opening, movie screening and exhibition closing talk bring crowds to the museum and generate good marketing resources. To the interns, an event night could as well mean a welfare night. Not only do we get to listen to the guest speaker giving an in dept analysis or leading a meaningful discussion on the exhibition topic, we also get to enjoy the reception after the event while chatting among ourselves and networking with other participants.

I still vividly remember the opening talk that we held for the two Vietnam exhibitions Lines and Who Wants to Remember a War. Our curator Siang invited Phoebe Scott from National Gallery Singapore to come down and give a talk on the struggle and the development of Vietnamese art during and after the Indochina Vietnam war period. I have always been an admirer of Ms Scott who co-curated Reframing Modernism with Centre Pompidou Paris at National Gallery and I was charmed by her passion for art since the opening day of National Gallery when she gave a talk on Raden Saleh, an Indonesian artist. Having heard that she has been confirmed to be the guest speaker, I started looking forward immediately and hoping to be able to speak to her. On 14th July, the event date, I was preparing the registration list and I realised that even the participating guests were big shots in the art industry: there were staffs and curators from National Gallery, university professors and researchers in the relevant fields. I felt grateful and honoured to attend the same event with them. In fact, during the Q&A session, all the interns learned so much from the interaction of the guests and the speaker Ms Phoebe Scott. Right after the event, I walked up to Ms Scott and had a short conversation with her. She is a friendly person who did not hesitate to share. Though we couldn't talk more due to the many other people awaiting, I value this networking experience as I could finally come out of my comfort zone and make an effort to participate in the art industry that I always wanted to be in. 


I was super excited before talking to Ms Phoebe Scott


I rarely have that nervous-happy-smile in photos


Here are my lovely friends/colleague. Together, we invented jokes that only we could understand.


Lastly, I want to thank Trina and Michelle for their guidance during the 10 weeks. Thank you Trina for letting me tag along in many events and meetings that I showed interest in and advising me on my career path that I'm always concerned with. Thank you Michelle for the abundance of information, resources and network that you shared with us. I feel very blessed to have been working in the same office with two of you!

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