MoMA

MoMA

It was exactly four months ago when I discovered I’d be spending the fall of 2007 working at The Museum of Modern Art. I had long dreamed of the opportunity to live in New York City, yet never imagined it would arrive in the form of an internship at arguably the world’s finest Modern Art museum. A heavy application process (including three essays) had ended with a carefully coordinated trans-atlantic telephone interview with a certain Larissa Bailiff, MoMA’s internship coordinator. I was extremely nervous beforehand, and spent that morning researching extensively the museum’s current and upcoming exhibitions. Fortunately, Ms. Bailiff immediately put me at ease, and we settled into a breezy chat which lasted over forty-five minutes. I like to think my British charm and wit over the phone was what secured me the position of marketing intern, as less than a week later, I received confirmation via email that I’d be spending the next three months stateside. I barely had time to obtain my visa and update my iPod before I was jetting off across the Atlantic to confront a healthy mix of the familiar and the unknown.

Having spent the last four years livin’ la dolce vita in Italy, how would I cope when suddenly tossed into the ultimate modern metropolis that is Manhattan? Quite well, as it turned out: all those years spent studying the city combined with intensive previous visits had earned me something of an honorary self-taught degree in Newyorkology, and I felt confidently able in dodging such infamous New York pratfalls as subway navigation, the delicate art of tipping, and the correct pronunciation of Houston Street.

It seemed like an eternity before I finally had to go to MoMA on Monday morning. In my eagerness I had arrived spectacularly early, and spent almost an hour reading in Central Park before I was due to meet Ms. Bailiff and the other interns. When I arrived at the entrance to the Cullman Building on 54th Street I was informed by the receptionist that the other interns had elected to go to Starbucks. Putting aside my usual boycott of the Seattle-based coffee giant I walked over to Sixth Avenue where I met three other interns — from Connecticut, Los Angeles and Paris. I was surprised to discover such an international bunch — something had told me I’d be the sole Brit. Instead nearly all of North America and Europe was represented. I was relieved to find all the interns smart and instantly likeable, yet I felt a bit like a reality show contestant meeting my competition rivals. I suppose this would make Larissa Heidi Klum. Larissa in person was as I had found her to be on the phone: warm, friendly and a very entertaining speaker, to the extent that a side career in stand-up comedy would not be out of the question.

After our welcoming talk and initial introduction I met my supervisor Julie Welch, who immediately struck me as bearing an uncanny resemblance to the actress Annette Bening. Julie gave me an extensive behind-the-scenes tour of the museum before introducing me to the rest of the marketing team, including marketing coordinator Zoe Jackson and director Peter Foley. She then showed me where I’d be working: a tiny cubicle the size of a phone booth (but without the windows). When Peter suggested to Julie that I’d go crazy in there she gave me the option of sharing the back office with three other interns. But for some reason I chose to stick with the private cubicle, despite its lack of space. I took off my jacket and got down to work.

Though I never quite got over the fact I was spending most days sitting feet away from all those Picassos and Pollocks, it wasn’t long before I began to feel more at home within the field of marketing, a feeling which was enhanced when I attended our weekly marketing meetings. These would generally last under an hour, but I was fascinated to learn first hand of the department’s operations (as well as interdepartmental gossip). One day Zoë gave a report on her visit to Tate Modern, and it was interesting for me to hear how the Tate’s marketing department compared with that of MoMA. I was also amused to hear my colleagues’ take on their London counterparts, and it seemed odd to think I was on the New York side of things. Peter was an impressive director with a sharp sense of humour. I admired his absolute support for his department and the confidence he showed in forcing his opinion for the good of the museum.

By this time Julie and I had begun working closely on a guerilla advertising project, for which we held a meeting with two of Downtown’s hottest young media talents. They were “humbled” to have been contacted by MoMA and enthusiastically bombarded us with ideas, from posters to a MoMA blog (which they felt I should write). It was from this meeting that I began to expand on the MyMoMA idea, a concept I’d originally toyed with before my arrival in New York. MyMoMA is essentially a two-fold idea: 1) a fun, alternate MoMA brand designed to introduce the museum to a younger audience, and 2) a prepaid card with which a larger proportion of the city’s inhabitants could gain regular entry to the museum. I created a marketing outline for MyMoMA, including possible advertising techniques. The guerilla media project never got past the concept stage, and it was frustrating not to be able to follow it through. That’s something I soon learned about MoMA: as cool as it may appear from the outside, in reality it’s also a big business, and ideas must go through everyone from curators to directors to trustees themselves before you see anything happen. While I think the department was generally satisfied with my performance, I don’t feel like my work challenged me enough, and nor was I given the opportunity to show my full potential or range of skills. Of course much of this was due to the relatively brief three-month period of the internship itself.

Perhaps the most pleasurable aspect of the experience was the friendships that came about among myself and the other interns. Even Larissa said we were an especially terrific bunch. We’d all meet once on a Tuesday for our intern lecture, which each week focused on a different department within the museum. One week we were even granted an audience with museum director Glenn D. Lowry. I asked him why the museum was so expensive yet only stayed open until five o’clock, a question to which he seemed unable to provide a satisfactory answer.

I’d often meet my fellow intern buddies for lunch at Remi To Go or coffee at Zibetto Espresso Bar, while an ever-expanding group of us began to enjoy regular evenings at parties in Chelsea or bars on the Lower East Side. I would have ideally liked to have taken more advantage of the various perks offered by the internship, but somehow my plan to visit every New York museum on my days off was never fully realized. My volunteer work for NYC CultureFest and PERFORMA 07 kept me busy, as did frequent trips to West Virginia and Florida. I was probably too caught up in the excitement that living in this remarkable place inevitably creates. I often felt overwhelmed after work when having left the office at 5:30 I was suddenly faced with an entire city at my disposal. Some nights I would walk all the way back to my East Village apartment simply for the pleasure of being on the street, taking it all in.

The internship provided me with a truly unforgettable experience and made me the envy of almost everyone I’ve ever met. I learned a lot about MoMA, museums, marketing and working in the United States. It helped me focus my career in a more specific direction, and confirmed my suitability to this particular field. I met some great people, and the whole thing just flew by, as I knew it would. My long-term plan is to remain in New York, and a great deal of passion, patience and dedication is required in order for that to happen. Yet even if I do one day work in Manhattan again, nothing will ever quite compare to the feeling of strolling down Second Avenue and jostling with New Yorkers aboard the V train up to 53rd Street, where my very own midtown office — OK, cubicle — was waiting just for me.

9 Comments

  1. Kelsey · November 16, 2009

    Hey there, I just googled “moma internship” and your blog came up. I’m planning to apply this upcoming summer and was wondering not only how it went for you, and was wondering a bit more about the application process. If you get this, could you shoot me a quick e-mail? I’d appreciate two sentences. Thank you.

    Kelsey d.

  2. Kiri David · May 4, 2010

    Hi

    I am also interested in appyling for an internship at MOMA. I’m not sure whether to apply for a 12-month position or just the fall internship programme? Any advice would be great.

    Thanks

    Kiri

  3. Sul · August 8, 2010

    Hi,

    I am also interested in applying for an internship for 2011 spring term. I am wondering about appliction process especially writing an essay part like how much do I have to be specific in the essay. It is only 500 words.. and also I am not sure about the tone of the essay, descriptive or just full of enthusiasism (like cover letter I can do what and what blah blah…) ???

    I will be apprciated if you give me any advice via email.

    Thanks,

    Sul

  4. Lizzie · August 19, 2010

    Hi,
    i just read your blog on moma, thank you it gave me it a lot of insight. ive been looking at applying for internships at moma for a while as i feel it would be a fantastic oppotuninty. ive just fininshed my first year at uni, so i want to apply when i have finished.
    what type of background or experience did you have before you applyed? and what accomodation did you have?

    any advice would be great
    thanks

    Lizzie

  5. Sue · September 2, 2010

    Hi,
    I am also interested in applying for an internship for 2011 spring term. Since I live in different country and have never been to the States before, I need lots of advices.

    If you read this, could you respond me so that I can ask some specific qustions?

    thanks

    Sue

  6. Valentina · September 15, 2010

    Hi,
    I am also interested in applying for an internship for 2011 spring term. I am from Argentina, but I am studying graphic design in Oakland City University, IN (This is actually my last semester). I am wondering about application process especially writing an essay part like how much do I have to be specific in the essay. I would like to have you advice or have your samples as a reference. It is my dream to be an intern at MoMa, so I want to do my best to get it and call the attention of the Staff. I know you get it, you are really very lucky and fortune!!!! I will be waiting your reply!!!! Thanks!!!!!!

  7. hoods · May 3, 2011

    ha, love this article, specially the last line. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you questions about being an intern and how to go about getting hired – but i liked reading this, and oh do i love moma

  8. Lucía · October 2, 2012

    As most of us posting on this article, I’ve been searching for experiences on the internship program at MoMA, and your blog came up. According to the date of the posting, it’s going to be 5 years since you took that internship!

    I’m about to apply (will be sending paperwork within this week), and would really appreciate some insight on the application process.

    Thank you very much!

  9. James Taylor · October 20, 2012

    Hi Lucia,

    Yes, I get a lot of questions about the MoMA internship experience. I’m thinking of making a special page on this website to answer everyone’s questions!

    Sorry for not responding sooner — hopefully you’re application went well. I don’t know if the process has changed in the last five years, but when I applied I had to write three essays and then have an interview.

    The essays were quite fun to write and I tried to use them to convey as much about myself and my interest in the art world/museum work as I could. The interview came much later (I didn’t hear anything for months), so don’t expect an immediate response.

    Anyway, good luck and let me know how it goes!

    JT

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