What I Learned from A Gallery Internship

Interning with Union Street Gallery is arguably the best decision I made this summer (and it was a pretty great summer!). Not only did I gain valuable experience working in a gallery and a nonprofit, I learned more about communication, project management, and the relationships between galleries and artists.

The gallery exterior. It's a beautiful old building in Chicago Heights.

First I’d like to talk a little bit about how I got the position. I know that internship hunting can be intimidating; It’s difficult to find opportunities that fit your interests and even more difficult to find them in your area.

Luckily for me I was already aware of Union Street Gallery; they host the annual exhibit for my high school’s AP studio artists. I just looked up the website and found information on their internships, crafted a cover letter, edited my resume, and emailed both to the administrator (Jessica, who is awesome!). I heard back from her shortly after, and we emailed back and forth to set up a time for a phone interview.

And then… the conversation fizzled. We had missed one scheduled appointment for the interview and another one was not really in the works. I was starting to worry that I wasn’t going to be able to work with the gallery over the summer.

I emailed Jessica again and found that they had found an intern who was able to work year-round (although I think that due to personal issues he’s no longer doing so), which explained the unfortunate fizzling. However, she had really enjoyed my cover letter and asked if I would still like to intern with them over the summer! And thus it began!

It just goes to show that you should follow up on opportunities. For a while I considered letting it go and just applying to other positions, but I did reconnect with the gallery and I’m glad that I did.

So I suppose the learning started during the application process. As for what I learned during the internship itself, I don’t know if I could cover it all in one post! I was given the opportunity to co-curate a small show with the other intern (Which you can see here. Apologies for the poor picture quality. We had to rush to take the photos and get them on Facebook prior to the event) as well as helping with the curation of a silent auction towards the end of the summer. In addition, I was able to observe and work with gallery artists, volunteers, and more in hanging the shows.

While the shows I co-curated were fairly small, we also had some big events this summer! Union Street was lucky to exhibit the work of Sergio Gomez, a Chicago based artist and owner of 33 Contemporary Gallery as well as the founder of Visual Art Today, an online exhibition featuring contemporary international art. You can find his website here.

There's a policy of not taking photographs in the gallery and putting them online, but this is directly from the facebook page so I think it isn't a problem. This is a partial view of the gallery space.

Preparing for the show took a lot of work. We had to patch and repaint the gallery walls, bring in the work, hang it, light it, put out press releases notifying the public of the show, and much more! It was a great experience, one that taught me a lot about a number of different aspects of the gallery world.

Here’s a video Gomez put online about the show:

In addition to the Gomez show we had an exhibition for Union Street Gallery’s guild artists and artist members. This show was a very different experience as we were communicating with many different artists as opposed to one. The resulting show was much more eclectic in nature, and it required much more effort to get the artists to give us their work’s information and to bring in their work! One of the things I learned from this show in particular was that artists often need a lot of prodding to fill out forms, follow deadlines, things of that nature.

It was also interesting to learn how the Gallery is planning to begin using electronic submissions exclusively. There may be some pushback, because some of the artists are still uncomfortable with technology, and prefer hard copies of forms.

The Gallery also has a national juried competition coming up. The show is titled, Being Human and includes work utilizing the human figure and the subject of what being human is about. We had an amazing amount of great submissions! Barring an incredible screw-up on the part of the juror (which I doubt because he seems like a very skilled and talented guy) the show should be great. It’s in October, so unfortunately I won’t be able to attend. I’m sure photos will be put online, and I’m planning on asking my parents to go and report back to me anyways, but I really do wish that I was able to attend. If anyone is in the Chicago Heights area at the time they should take a look!

Being Human required an enormous amount of time. Processing submissions was a lengthy process due to sheer number of entries and the process of inputting information for each piece and filing each entry form. It was a valuable learning experience, to see the amount of work required for what I previously thought of as a straightforward type of show.

If I had to boil it down to the most basic things I learned I would say they are this: Shows require a lot of time and energy, communication is key in working with artists and volunteers, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things (Which sounds cheesy, but come on. It’s still a good lesson!) because they might turn out to be something you really enjoy or really needed to learn.

I’m enrolled in a gallery management class now at RIT. I’m really excited to see how it goes! Hopefully I have as good an experience with them as I did working with Union Street.

Check out Union Street’s website here.

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