National National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) intern Mallory Fellows Bower completed the Smithsonian Intern Challenge during her time in DC when she visited all sixteen Smithsonian museums and galleries. Fellows Bower details her journey around the Smithsonian below:
Not one to turn down a challenge, I thought visiting sixteen museums in four months seemed like something important enough to strive for when I began my conservation internship last October. I discovered the Intern Challenge early on in my internship, and my plans already included so many of the cultural and historical sites of the area that it made sense to spend time learning what each Smithsonian Museum could teach me. As an emerging museum professional, I was not interested solely in the facts, objects, and stories, but in learning how the Smithsonian presented this information to the public. How did each museum engage their visitors in the exhibits? What ideas and inspiration can I take with me when I leave my internship?
These questions and more swirled around my head during each visit. While excited to dive into the collection at the NMAAHC–the museum I worked with during my internship, this challenge encouraged me to experience the unique “personalities” of all of the Smithsonian museums in the metro area. With each museum checked off my list, I began to truly understand the depth and breadth of the collections and research stewarded by the Smithsonian Institute. It is amazing to know how many historical and cultural resources the Smithsonian preserves and saves for the future.
Many of the photographs I chose to take during my challenge reflected my interest in the different architectural styles used for each museum. I enjoyed seeing the “personalities” embodied in the structures that housed the collections. The architectural details and symbolism added to the Smithsonian experience. Additionally, I was fortunate to be in D.C. for the installation of Secretary Skorton in October, taking the opportunity to see the interior of the Art and Industry building–the second structure built specifically to house the Smithsonian collections. I was also in town to see the Renwick Gallery reopened in November with nine incredible art installations.
During my visits, I saw such a wide range of objects, from the Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery (FSGA) to the Gunboat Philadelphia at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) to the river otters playing at the National Zoological Park (NZP). These objects on their own produced a sense of connection to the world around me and the interpretive materials that accompanied them asked me as the visitor to think about what I was looking at. My journey around the mall became a journey through the human experience, and I looked forward to checking each museum off my list after visiting.
My four-month internship with the Smithsonian Institute was a busy and enriching time for me. I spent all week engaged in the work of my conservation internship and spent the weekends experiencing the Smithsonian museums. It seems strange to think back over the past four months while I write this blog from my couch in Michigan ready to embark on my next professional endeavor because the time spent with the Smithsonian meant so much to me but went by so quickly. All I can end with is that I cannot wait to return in the fall to celebrate the opening of the NMAAHC on September 24th!
Explore Fellows Bower’s picture gallery from the challenge here!