When students apply for internships at the Cleveland Museum of Art, it is sometimes unclear about which department is the best fit for their interests and skills. Art history students are typically steered towards internships in curatorial or education departments by their professors, but what about the interpretation departments becoming prominent in art institutions across the states? Over the last decade a number of education departments have added the term “interpretation” to their department descriptions – such as the Education and Interpretation Division at the Cleveland Museum of Art. But what does interpretation in an art museum mean – and how do art history students know if it is the right path for them?
**giving a tour on portrait frames at the Summer Solstice Party**
I started out as a student guide at my university’s art museum because I wanted to help create a less-intimidating environment and experience for first time visitors. As a guide I could facilitate discussions and help visitors make personal connections with a work of art. Through conversation, I learned what people were interested in and what they wanted to know more about. I could then present an artwork to them in a way that made it easier and more exciting for someone to understand. In other words, as a guide I helped people interpret the artwork – which is an essential function of any Interpretation Department.
In my internship in the Interpretation Department at the CMA I certainly did a lot of touring activities including shadowing specialty tours (such as for individuals with memory loss) or composing and giving my own thematic tours for CMA events like the Summer Solstice party or the monthly MIX events. But the Interpretation field in art museums has been expanding over the last several years, and the CMA is on the forefront of utilizing new technologies and ideas to engage the visitors with the museum’s collection. This includes Gallery One and ArtLens.
**playing in gallery one**
During my internship I got to write thematic tours for the ArtLens App. These short self-guided tours are downloaded right onto an iPad, iPhone or Android device and can be used in the galleries to help visitors find new artworks they may have overlooked, or look into interconnections between artworks that they may not have thought of before. I wrote tours on frames in the galleries as well as how coffee is portrayed in the CMA’s collection. Tours like these are quick and fun. The ArtLens app offers visitors an amazing amount of interpretive material and is completely free! Many of the featured artworks include videos comprised of interviews with the museum’s curators, prominent scholars, and community members. These videos are made right at the museum, and as an intern I even got to attend the recording sessions!
**making note of things for ArtLens**
The CMA is not all digital in their interpretative materials. The department is always looking for new ways to present information or ideas via printed media. This includes the museum’s approach to the wall labels and even printed self-guided tours and artwork searches. During my internship I worked on several printed projects, such as art searches for artist tools and emblems of love and lust.
The Interpretation Department at the CMA is also well known for their fantastic programs such as Art Bites and the Art and Fiction Book Club. The book club includes a lecture and contextual presentation on the time period or culture associated with the book’s story, a discussion of the book’s contents, and ends with a tour of artwork at the CMA which relates to the story. This summer’s book was Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and will include a tour of the CMA’s medieval collection.
** at the Art and Fiction Book Club Discussion**
The Interpretation Department is responsible for supporting visitors in gaining an understanding of the museum and it’s artwork and resources and making their won meaning in the galleries. If you are passionate about interacting with museum-goers, creative in coming up with ideas to engage people, and fascinated with a wide range of artwork coming from all the collections at the museum, consider an internship in Interpretation!