Internship Update #4

Now that I’m more than halfway through with my internship at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it’s interesting to look back and think about where I started and what I’ve learned since. When I started my internship, I thought of exhibit building as a mostly intellectual exercise done by a small team, but the physical reality of it all has become clearer to me, as has the sheer number of people involved.

I now realize how many people it takes to create an exhibit and that many museums outsource that work, as I’ve mentioned before. I also have a much better understanding of the time it takes to put an exhibit together. For example, we’re nine months away from In Slavery’s Wake opening, and the team is turning from research, design, and copy editing to the process of physically constructing the exhibit. Members are starting the process of turning their designs and content over to the fabricators who will soon start building the physical elements of the exhibit. Others are also working through the process of getting artifacts to the museum, so they’ll be in place on time. These activities will take time much of the time until opening and need to start now if the exhibit will open in November.

While the process of creating the exhibit has been largely turned over to fabricators, registrars, and conservators, the curation team has turned toward working with communication and advancement teams. These more public-facing parts of the museum are trying to distill the exhibit into marketing bits that will attract visitors and excite donors. From what I’ve seen, they seem to want to stress the U.S. elements of the exhibit, even though it has an international framing. I assume they think that will engage local people, but I don’t know that they have (or will conduct) any market research to see whether the international and pan-diasporic aspects of slavery and its afterlives might draw visitors who feel they already know the U.S. story.

The curation team is also working on digital elements of the exhibit, including virtual “gifts” that visitors can earn by interacting with the exhibit. I’m helping with this, which means writing short, impactful captions that explain how the gifts relate to the exhibit, who created them, etc. I’m also going to be helping build In Slavery’s Wake online presence soon.