A Smithsonian Young Ambassador Reflects on SAMA Internship

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Jorge Palacios. ATM Photography.

Jorge Palacios works with children at SAMA. Photo courtesy of ATM Photography.

Art has always been a passion of mine. As a five-year-old witnessing Diego Rivera’s murals at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, I became profoundly inspired to create my own art. I remember continually begging my sisters to take me to First Friday art walks at the Blue Star Arts Complex.

Regardless of my family’s best wishes for me to go into a more “practical” career field, I knew I wanted to be an artist. In high school, I joined the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum’s MOSAIC program where I was mentored by the artist Alex Rubio. I worked as a contractor for the “Vortex” mural, I was an interviewee and installer for the “Art in the Garden” installation by the artist Kim Beck, and I participated in various art exhibitions as well.

Now I work as an intern for the Smithsonian at the San Antonio Museum of Art, and I feel even more immersed in the art community of San Antonio.

This summer, I had the privilege of being selected as a young ambassador for the Young Ambassadors Program (YAP) 2015 cohort. The Young Ambassadors Program is a summer program created by the Smithsonian Latino Center and sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund. It was built to foster the next generation of Latino leaders in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Upon acceptance into the program, the cohort of up to 24 students from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico receive a Washington Week trip to Washington D.C. and a four-week paid internship at a participating museum.

The Smithsonian Institution Building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jorge Palacios

The Smithsonian Institution Building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Jorge Palacios

Never having been to D.C. in my life, I was nervous and excited for the voyage. We toured various Smithsonian museums and institutions including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. There was never any time to waste during the trip. When we weren’t watching a pregnant panda receive an ultrasound or seeing how museums store Native American artifacts behind the scenes, we met with Latinos in a variety of professional fields spanning from poets to museum curators to nanotechnologists.

It was deeply inspiring to see such accomplished Latinos and to relate to the struggles they have faced in their life and career. A common theme occurred throughout every lecture: countless career fields are lacking in Latinos in the United States and it was our responsibility to step up as the next generation of Latino leaders. The week drew to a close with a celebration of the program’s ten-year anniversary. Talking to the alumni there and seeing what they had accomplished was moving. Even after completing the program years ago, many said their lives wouldn’t have been the same without YAP.

Once the week was over and everyone said their goodbyes, I boarded my plane to San Antonio with a newfound pride and perspective for my Latino community. When I arrived back home, I began my internship at the San Antonio Museum of Art. My advisor, the Family and Community Programs manager, Bella Merriam, assigned me to assist summer art camps that the museum held this summer. I helped lead three camps: the Clay Crazy camp, the Animation camp, and the Ancient Worlds camp. Each of the camps lasted for five days, and the age groups varied from camp to camp.

I found it interesting to observe how children reacted to seeing the museum’s artwork. Some had never been exposed to an ancient Greek vase or a Pre-Columbian sculpture, but they were still able to take what they saw and utilize these new experiences in their art projects.

The San Antonio Museum of Art offers scholarships to low-income students in San Antonio to participate in the summer art camps. Many Latino and minority children grow up in poverty, unable to afford the cost of an art summer camp. It’s beneficial that these kinds of opportunities exist because they diversify the audience that the museum caters to. I came from a low-income household myself, and I always loved art. However, I was taught that art was a luxury and that I should never aspire to become an artist myself. Scholarships like these help children see that art can be accessible regardless of one’s socioeconomic background. It allows for lower-income students to have the potential to succeed in the arts.

Elyse, an art student, sets up her stop-motion animation in the museum's art studio. Photo by Steven Starnes.

Elyse, an art student, sets up her stop-motion animation in the museum’s art studio. Photo by Steven Starnes.

I also had the opportunity to contribute to programming for the First Sundays for Families program for the upcoming art exhibition, “28 Chinese.” I first assisted with the July First Sundays for Families program which featured realism painter, Jamie Wyeth. I used this experience to get an idea on how to design art activities, a scavenger hunt, and workshops for the First Sundays for Families program, “China – Then and Now,” which will take place on Sept. 6.  The “28 Chinese” exhibition showcases Chinese contemporary art spanning from Ai Weiwei’s conceptual installations to Shang Yixin’s abstract vision-skewing paintings. I worked on linking the museum’s vast collection of Chinese art to the “28 Chinese” exhibition so that event participants can compare Chinese art from the past and see how it has changed over the centuries.

I was fascinated by the role metaphors play in Chinese art and analyzed the aesthetic preferences and artistic mediums that were used. In the past, Chinese art often used animal and nature symbolism to describe abstract ideas. Art making was mostly reserved for artisans and scholar-gentry bureaucrats. Contemporary artists from the “28 Chinese” exhibition often use metaphors to describe their concepts as well, though their personal backgrounds and methods of execution vary greatly. I hope to have the participants draw out these connections through workshops and the scavenger hunt that will take them throughout both the museum’s Chinese gallery and the “28 Chinese” exhibition.

I have immensely enjoyed my internship so far, and I am grateful for the amazing week and opportunities that the Young Ambassadors Program provided for me, and for the incredible month-long internship experience at the San Antonio Museum of Art. I will hold on to the skills and lessons that I’ve learned throughout this past month as I go on to college in Providence, Rhode Island as a dual degree student at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design.

The Young Ambassadors Program instilled in me the courage to aspire to greatness and to represent Latinos in the U.S. with pride, and the San Antonio Museum of Art reminded me what a pleasure it is to work in the arts. I will never forget this amazing experience, and I recommend any high-achieving young Latino to apply to this life-changing program or for an internship position at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

 

*Featured/top image: Jorge Palacios works with children at SAMA. Photo courtesy of ATM Photography.

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