For a quarter century, the Getty Foundation’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program has been building a diverse, culturally inclusive network of professionals in the arts. Since 1993, the Getty Foundation has supported over 3,200 internships for students from traditionally underrepresented cultural backgrounds through paid, full-time positions that often lead to a full-fledged career in the arts.
If you’re an aspiring artist, art historian, or culture worker, you might have just felt your eyes widen. Paid, full-time summer internships are scarce within any industry, and even harder to come by in museums and visual arts non-profits. Nevertheless, the Getty internships meet this demand each summer by supporting 100+ emerging arts professionals across Los Angeles County.
One key part of the internship program is Arts Summit—an intense, daylong program that brings together current interns and, through a rotation of 30-minute career sessions, introduces them to intern alumni and other professionals who work in the arts across LA County. A few days prior to Arts Summit, my supervisor at the Foundation described the event to me as “speed-dating for professionals in the visual arts workforce.” This proved to be accurate, because by the end of the day, I had learned about—and fallen in love with—more arts professions than I even knew existed! Among the presenters were arts writers, curators, museum educators, conservators, communications specialists, registrars, and even an intern alumnus who is currently the arts & culture deputy for the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
As the Foundation prepares to host a 25th-anniversary celebration for alumni of the Multicultural Undergraduate Internship program, I’ve been reflecting on my experience at Arts Summit. I keep returning to the words of intern alumna and current associate director of Self-Help Graphics, Betty Avila, who said the following while delivering the event’s keynote:
“The future leaders of the art world are all sitting in this auditorium. Right here. Right now.”
Upon hearing these words, I felt my stomach drop. The idea of being more than just an intern for the summer was terrifying and inspiring all at once. As a young womxn of color and aspiring visual arts professional, I’ve found the Los Angeles art world difficult to navigate. Before my internship at the Getty, I’d constantly found myself scrolling through hundreds of unpaid internships and working part-time, minimum-wage art jobs. At one point, I had even considered abandoning my pursuit of an arts career for a more “practical” one. But as I listened to the powerful words of Betty Avila, who, like me, was once a Getty intern in the audience, but now stood at the front of the Getty auditorium describing her own untraditional journey into the visual arts, I realized that this summer is more than an internship. In participating in the internship program, I have also been integrated into a continuum of passionate, like-minded scholars, artists, and students.
When Betty mentioned the fact that many, if not all, of the interns at this year’s Art Summit would likely spend their lives as the future makers, thinkers, and even leaders of the Los Angeles art world, I couldn’t help but smile. I had known that a Multicultural Undergraduate Internship with the Getty Foundation would provide me with new opportunities, but I had hardly imagined that it would launch me headfirst into one of the most expansive regional networks of arts professionals in the nation. After spending much of my undergraduate career scouting LA County for visual arts resources and career development opportunities, becoming part of this network feels as if I belong to a space within the art world of my home city, where I can relentlessly pursue my curiosities alongside innovative and influential arts scholars and professionals.
A couple of weeks after Arts Summit, one of my tasks as the Foundation intern was to select archival intern alumni photographs dating back to when the program first started for our upcoming 25th anniversary celebration. I had come across a number of beautiful black and white photographs of interns from the mid-’90s—mostly young womxn of color—doing similar work to the work we do today. A few of the interns in the photographs sit in the auditorium, focused and captivated by what I imagine might have been the keynote speaker for their year. In a different photograph, a group of four interns gather around a table to analyze a painting, with contemplative smiles stretching across their curious faces. And in the last one, an intern tenderly examines a textile in a conservation lab.
I was in awe of how intelligent, poised, curious, and determined the young womxn in the photographs looked. And yet, after Arts Summit, I came to the realization that I’m not so different from the womxn in the photographs, or even Betty herself.
So, as I reflect on Betty’s words that she spoke as an alumna ten years out from her internship, look back at these gorgeous photographs of interns from the program’s earliest years, and look forward to my own constantly unfolding journey, I recognize that my Multicultural Undergraduate Internship has made the Los Angeles art world feel a lot more like home.