A Summer Behind-the-Scenes at the Gibbes Museum

Interning at the Gibbes Museum of Art for the majority of this summer has been an absolute privilege and certainly an eye-opener towards discovering the elements that allow a museum to function successfully. Here, I have been exposed to almost every different department, a few being Development, Curatorial and Collections Management, and Education Programs. Given the opportunity to assist various staff-members in these departments, I have entered an incredibly determined, passionate, and efficient network of people. The museum staff have devoted an immeasurable amount of effort and enthusiasm towards interpreting and preserving the meanings of various art collections that derive from Charleston and the South. Throughout my time here, I have noticed that the Gibbes’s mission—to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—rings true within the museum as well as with local communities and visitors to the Lowcountry.

Gibbes Renovation Rendering

A cross-section of the building reveals plans for a renovation to the Gibbes Museum of Art.

In my first week, I was introduced to the more “executive” facet of the Gibbes, working with the Development team. I learned that the museum is not-for-profit and depends on funding from various sources including private trusts and foundation grants, as well as individual and corporate gifts, for its daily operations and to maintain its collection. Each fiscal year the Development team starts all over to identify funding sources that will help with the operations of the museum. I realized how much more work and fortitude is essential in order for a non-profit organization to function. During my time in the Development office, I also learned about plans for an extremely substantial and thoughtfully planned renovation that will commence in the summer of 2014. Throughout each meeting that I was attended, staff-members delivered innovative and fascinating ideas contributing to the plans of the redesign, and further emphasizing the importance of preserving the Gibbes’ mission statement. I am ecstatic to see the end result and to be able to watch everyone’s ideas blossom as they come to life in 2016!

After working with the Development group, my directors provided me with a complete change of scene. For the next week, I assisted with the summer art camp and my coworkers consisted of creative mini-Picassos. It was remarkable to see how eager and focused the children were when it came to organizing their ideas and then tactfully putting them onto paper. The end result was fantastic, expressive, and always original! As they discovered their artistic abilities, the enthusiastic teacher Kristen Solecki also enlightened the children about contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Mary Whyte. The children were interested to use the work of the artists that they learned about as models for their own pieces of art, incorporating characteristics of abstract and modern artwork into their own masterpieces.

Instructor Kristen Solecki with campers.

Camp Instructor, Kristen Solecki, teaches campers about color palettes.

For the next two weeks, I worked with the Collections Management and Curatorial departments. With Collections Management, I was always on my feet and was able to see each different part of the museum, and even took a thrilling adventure into “deep, dark storage” where sizeable amounts of artwork were carefully kept. I was so lucky to be able to see and even handle some of the artwork, including marvelous paintings, many delicate miniatures, and valuable sketches done by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. As I worked in these departments, I learned about numerous past exhibitions, even those that took place during the early 1900s. These departments provided me with an amazing view into the museum’s past and historical culture, as well as a wonderfully close look at the collection.

Receiving an inside look at the careful consideration of curating exhibitions, establishing connections to the community, promoting educational programs, and further projects that define the creative purpose of the Gibbes, I have seen the museum’s mission statement continue to speak louder and grow more meaningful each day. The Gibbes Museum of Art is built upon and held together by a thoughtful, strong, well connected, and ambitious group of people with whom I have had the absolute pleasure of being able to work.

Elizabeth McGehee, Porter-Gaud High School Intern and guest blogger

2013 is the second year of a partnership between Porter-Gaud School and the Gibbes Museum of Art. Made possible by the generous support of past Porter-Gaud parents Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Wendell, this internship is designed to enrich a student’s knowledge of art history and the museum profession.

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