Q&A: Jessica Bailey '19, Museum Voices intern

Thursday, Aug 15, 2019

Jessica Bailey '19

Jessica Bailey '19 spent the summer after graduation exploring creative careers by interning at the Princeton University Art Museum. 

Jessica Bailey '19, a sociology major with certificates in African American Students and Music Theater, spent her summer after graduation interning at the Princeton University Art Museum. In this interview, Jessica describes the projects she worked on, the skills she developed and how her experience is helping her figure out what she wants out of a career. 

What are your job responsibilities?

I came into the internship having several projects I needed to complete by the end of the summer. 

The first was to create the content for the Artbot, which is a scavenger hunt activity used during Nassau Street Sampler. The theme this year for the activity was women, so with suggestions from the curators, I was able to go through the galleries and choose all the objects for the scavenger hunt, write questions about them, as well as write reward text that highlighted interesting facts about the objects and how each related to women. 

I also worked on a research project where I compiled a list of university museums that had been closed for renovations and called them to conduct interviews about how they engaged students during their closures. From all the data I collected, I made a PowerPoint that highlighted important things to consider for the PUAM closure and proposed different programs, events and partnerships that would keep students engaged with the museum even while the new building is being built.

Besides those two major projects, I crafted a few smaller activities and games for future events and made a self-guided tour for the THRIVE: Empowering and Celebrating Princeton’s Black Alumni conference. 

Additionally, I worked on an independent research project where I was able to learn more about repatriation and then create a list of programming ideas that would hold museums accountable for building relationships with indigenous groups and assuring indigenous voices are amplified, not just preserved in cases. 

How did you find your position?

I did a lot of research on summer internships in museums during January once my finals were over. PUAM was an obvious place to look, seeing as I was a Princeton student and already affiliated with the University. Some of the best opportunities are right in your own backyard!

What skills do you use in your work? 

I have been using my research skills quite a bit this summer, which was a surprise to me. It just goes to show you that research is something that is happening in so many different capacities outside of academia and is still just as important and necessary. 

Being a student, sometimes we can get very caught up in conducting research for the sake of academic advancement, losing site of the original purpose, which is simply to be an aid in problem-solving. Not only was I able to do research, which I always enjoyed in school, but I was also able to take what I found and make practical, implementable programs that addressed the problem I had hoped to solve and I didn't have to write a paper to do it (I made a presentation instead)!

What from your Princeton experience (i.e. classes, co-curriculars, leadership, etc.) do you find yourself drawing on most in your career?

This internship is very unique because it focuses on an experience that I was just part of three months ago as a student. I would say that every aspect of my student experience was important for this internship because it required an intimate knowledge of student social culture and work-life culture in order to make suggestions and activities that would actually be useful to the campus community. Whether it was my experience with taking winter finals, being in a dance company, or weekends on the street, every experience was important for refining student engagement to fit the exact needs of Princeton students. 

How is your internship providing you clarity on your career in the arts? 

The internship is clarifying lots of things for me that are not necessarily about a career in the arts specifically, but more about my work style. For example, I realized that it's easier for me to think of work in terms of tasks as opposed to hours. I organize my days in terms of what I have to do, not necessarily the time I have to spend working. 

I also realized that I like workplace flexibility, meaning that I prefer being able to change the location where I work, which very much aligns with my task-oriented process. I discovered that I prefer to work in a very collaborative environment where people acknowledge the connectedness of their positions and can come together and craft ideas. In this way, I've realized that careers in the arts are very accommodating towards alternative work styles and desire an eclectic mix of people who work in different ways to enhance the environment. 

How have you become more comfortable with ambiguity in your career path?

Working in an artistic organization, you have to approach everything from a creative standpoint where your goal is to find loopholes and make openings for the benefit of your project. Recently, I was in We Were Everywhere, the Program in Theater's spring show, and our director, Shariffa Ali, emphasized the importance of acting with bold proposals. Putting forth bold proposals is something that is necessary for a career in the arts no matter what artistic discipline you're working in. 

For my internship, this meant consistently asking questions of museum staff and special guests brought in to talk to us during our Wednesday brown bag lunch sessions. Knowing that I do not have a background in art history and am unfamiliar with the museum field, I made sure that I kept a running list of questions and wrote down my impressions of everything during the first few weeks. 

This internship threw me into an artistic field that I didn't know anything about and taught me that no matter what a career in the arts looks like, you have to be open to asking questions and willing to soak up the generous offerings from your peers and supervisors. It's not important to know everything or be the best at one specific thing. In fact, having ambiguity in your career path is an important way to build adaptability and enhance your versatility, causing you to stand out as someone who is both open to listen and open to share.