Intern Benin Marshall of P.S. Arts (center) smiles as Clement Hanami (left) shares his experience working at the Japanese American National Museum

Mondays at the Getty Center tend to be still, quiet, and relatively empty without the hustle and bustle of visitors coming up the tram. But on June 30th there was a change of pace in the routine as 110 Getty Multicultural Undergraduate interns poured on site. Working at 66 museums and visual arts organizations across Los Angeles County, these interns, including myself, came together for Arts Summit–a daylong event featuring a keynote speaker, career development sessions, and behind-the-scenes tours.

Through my work as the summer intern for the Getty Foundation, I saw firsthand the preparation leading up to Arts Summit. Compiling the speaker biographies, reading career session descriptions, and learning about the different organizations served by the internship program gave me insight into the event. Nothing, however, could compare to the excitement I felt on the actual day. From my seat in the Museum Lecture Hall, I felt inspired and motivated knowing that I was among such talented, intelligent, and passionate people, both on stage and around me in the audience. Despite the morning’s June gloom (and with the help of a cup of coffee), I felt invigorated and ready for the opportunities Arts Summit had to offer.

All expectations I had for the day were immediately met and surpassed when Traci Kato-Kiriyama, the 2014 Arts Summit keynote speaker, took the stage. With blue-green streaks in her hair and a smile that lit up the entire auditorium, Kato-Kiriyama shared anecdotes of her own experience as a Getty intern at the Japanese American National Museum. Below is an excerpt of her inspiring talk. Hear the full talk here.

Kato-Kiriyama explained how her time in “J-Town” influenced the work she does now as a writer, artist, educator, and activist. She was honest, down-to-earth, and heartfelt, telling stories while genuinely relating to her audience. I was captivated by her youthful energy and her two messages: that “every interaction is an opportunity,” and that “extraordinary ordinary” people shape art and history. Abstract at first, these themes resonated throughout the day.

Every Interaction an Opportunity

Kato-Kiriyama’s message that every interaction is an opportunity spoke to us in the audience, most of whom were strangers to one another. Arts Summit was designed to get us to interact and strategically reach out – with one another as peers, and with professionals in the arts community. Bringing everyone together for one day created an opportunity to share stories, engage with one another, and make new friends.

Later in the day, during the career sessions, we interacted directly with men and women in the visual arts who told us about their careers and answered our countless questions. I attended four sessions, facilitated by exhibition designer Clement Hanami (Japanese American National Museum), art historian Saloni Mathur (UCLA), cultural affairs supervisor Malina Moore (City of Santa Monica), and cultural resources planner Flora Chou (Page & Tumbull). These four session leaders represented very different backgrounds and professions, and listening to them expanded my vision of the future possibilities. They showed me that professions in the visual arts extend beyond working at museums. I hadn’t thought about it before, but the field of visual arts has great potential for people looking to engage with the community, such as myself. These conversations and interactions at Arts Summit became opportunities for self-growth and for career possibilities.

Interns listen attentively to arts professionals during the career session portion of the 2014 Arts Summit.

Interns listen attentively to arts professionals during the career session portion of the 2014 Arts Summit.

On Being “Extraordinary Ordinary”

The second message I took from Kato-Kiriyama’s talk was the importance of “extraordinary ordinary” people in our communities. Kato-Kiriyama shared this through stories of the people in her life that inspired her, primarily Yuri Kochiyama, who passed away in early June. A Japanese-American woman who was relocated to an internment camp during World War II, Kochiyama went on to forge a friendship with Malcolm X and eventually become a civil rights activist herself.

As Kato-Kiriyama reminisced about the life of Kochiyama – whom she explicitly described as being an “extraordinary ordinary” person – tears came to her eyes. Because of the many similar “extraordinary ordinary” people in the community whose stories often go untold, Kato-Kiriyama stressed the importance of art. Art allows individuals to express themselves and therefore empowers communities and promotes mutual understanding among different groups.

This idea carried over later in the day, when I learned about new ways in which exhibitions are being designed at Clement Hanami’s session, titled “Exhibition Design in the 21st Century.” Hanami explained how exhibition design has shifted towards directly engaging the audience and the community. No longer just arrangements of glass cases, exhibits are becoming more interactive.

One example, the Remembrance Project, invites the audience to share their personal stories about the Japanese American experience during World War II. In hearing about this new interactive approach, I realized the truth in Kato-Kiriyama’s words – that the visual arts gives voice to the “extraordinary ordinary” person.

Seeing the relationship between art and the community gave me a new perspective on potential career possibilities and instilled in me a further sense of curiosity. Arts Summit opened my eyes to more possibilities for my own future and that of my peers and I intend to make the most of what I learned.