Through the Starr Center’s Explore America summer internship program, junior Madi Shenk is working at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Madi Shenk ’19 is spending her summer surrounded by presidents and first ladies, leading suffragettes, and four justices—or their likeness, at least.
The humanities major is interning this summer within the history department at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., as part of the annual Explore America internships offered by the College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
The program pairs students from any discipline with a passion for history and culture at various host institutions.
“I applied for the National Portrait Gallery internship because of my interest in art. Ultimately, I want to work in a gallery or an art museum,” says Shenk, who was placed under the supervision of art historian Kate Lemay. A former Explore America intern, Jackie Petito ’15, is one of the members of Shenk’s team. As an intern in 2015, Petito conducted research, utilized the library, completed gallery checks, and attended exhibitions. Shenk, too, will have similar opportunities.
“It’s going to evolve over time as different projects happen. For now, I’ve been working on the presidential portrait collection, helping Kate with research and providing write-ups,” Shenk says.
Shenk was tasked with writing about historical figures who appear in the gallery, such as Bill T. Jones, Charlotte Cushman, and Walt Whitman.
Shenk already had some gallery experience; last year, as an intern for the College’s Kohl Gallery, she was responsible for gallery upkeep, the installation and de-installation of exhibitions, and working with artists. As part of that internship, she led a gallery talk for the 100 Proof student art exhibition in April.
Her academic work has been especially beneficial.
“Taking art history classes has been super helpful, fostering the way I’m able to talk about art and the subject in general,” she says. “My English classes, [too], because I’m doing a lot of writing and research.”
Though the National Portrait Gallery internship is slanted toward the historical rather than the curatorial approach, she believes this will position her well for graduate studies in art history.
“I really just want to learn more about the job of an art historian or a curator. Obviously, I’m trying to follow the path to working at a gallery or museum, so I just want to learn more about what it takes and what I need to do to get there. I want to stand out in the field because it’s such a competitive one.”