New Haven Promise scholars gain skills and inspiration at Yale Art Gallery

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New Haven Promise intern Kendra Streater (right) works with senior museum technician Nancy Valley to remove the protective foam ring from an ancestral asen (memorial to the dead) from the Republic of Benin. (Photo by Jessica Smolinski)

Isaac Bloodworth has a unique summer job, one that puts him into direct contact with precious artwork and ancient artifacts every day.

A rising senior at the University of Connecticut, Bloodworth has an internship at the Yale University Art Gallery through the New Haven Promise program, which provides scholarships and career development support to graduates of the city’s public schools.  

Bloodworth, one of seven New Haven Promise interns working at the gallery this summer, is helping gallery staff to move about 40,000 collection objects from Yale’s Library Shelving Facility in Hamden to the Wurtele Collection Study Center, which will open at Yale’s West Campus in the fall of 2017.

Handling delicate artifacts from the ancient Syrian City of Dura Europos or fine china items from the gallery’s collection of Asian artwork is taxing work, Bloodworth notes.

“It can be nerve racking,” he said. “You’ve got to be vigilant and careful. Every object is different and calls for a different treatment — an object might look sturdy but is actually really fragile — so there’s always a learning curve, and you’ve got to be open to trying new things. After a while, you become more comfortable.”

This is Bloodworth’s third summer working at the gallery, which was a pioneering supporter of New Haven Promise’s paid internship program. The gallery recently received the organization’s inaugural “Champion Award,” an annual honor recognizing significant contributions to the growth of New Haven Promise.

“In our pilot year of the program, the Yale Art Gallery hosted a quarter of total scholar interns,” said Patricia Melton, president of the New Haven Promise program. “That truly laid the groundwork for other divisions, departments, and organizations to come aboard and open up important opportunities to our scholars. We will be forever thankful.”

Kendra Streater, a New Haven Promise intern in the exhibitions department, is helping to move the permanent collection gallery of African art from its current location on the second floor to a new space on the first floor.

New Haven Promise interns Kendra Streater and Isaac Bloodworth prepare a Nigerian sculpture of a female figure for mountmaking at Yale West Campus. (Photo by Jessica Smolinski)

Jeffrey Yoshimine, the gallery’s director of exhibitions, said Streater’s educational background and skills made a “perfect fit” for the complex project that requires a lot of data management — keeping track of the many objects involved — and working directly with the material to design and fabricate displays.

Streater, who earned an art history degree from Eastern Connecticut State University in May, enjoys the hands-on aspect of the job.

“I’m interested in working in the museum field, so this has been a great experience for me,” Streater said. “The gallery’s staff has been very welcoming, and I’ve learned a lot of new skills from them. I greatly value this experience.”

Both Streater and Bloodworth have learned to appreciate the many factors that must be considered when handling art objects, such as how to stabilize them in a display, how to securely hang them on a wall, or how to pack them for storage or shipping.  

Streater has been invited to fill in when a museum assistant in the African art department takes maternity leave this fall, giving her the opportunity to see the project through to the end.

Yoshimine said the internship program has gotten steadily more organized since the gallery and New Haven Promise first partnered on it three years ago.

“Isaac was among the first batch of interns that we hired,” said Yoshimine. “That first summer, we were excited and enthusiastic, but we didn’t have the organizational infrastructure in place to do as good a job as we might have. We always have high expectations.”

“You did a great job,” Bloodworth quipped.

The gallery has adjusted the program to expose each intern to every facet of the museum, Yoshimine said. Through individual and group enrichment sessions, interns learn about the work that occurs outside of the departmental assignments, giving them a better “big picture” understanding of the individual working parts of a large museum, he said.  

Bloodworth, who is majoring in puppetry, spent his first two summers working on installations for the exhibition department. This year, he expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the museum field. In response, the gallery paired him with the collections department to gain a wider range of job skills.

Bloodworth, who has also worked at UConn’s Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry and William Benton Museum of Art, said he derives more than good job skills from the internship. Working with the gallery’s diverse collections inspires him creatively, he said

“It’s exposed me to a wide range of art, which has inspired me when it comes to telling different cultural stories,” he said. “Whether it be Chinese folklore or the artifacts from Dura Europos, or even what I’ve seen in American decorative arts, the different designs have inspired me to consider different ideas and not be stuck in my own little bubble.”

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