Smithsonian Young Ambassador: My Summer at SAMA

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Lone Star Brewing Company, Oil on tin. Image courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

Lone Star Brewing Company, Oil on tin. Image courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

There are key moments in our lives that drastically change everything we’ve known thus far. While these moments may be alike in nature and come at similar times – the first day of school, getting married, or the birth of a child – they will shape each of us differently. I experienced one of those moments as an adult when I transitioned from high school to college. I already know that my time with the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Young Ambassador Program (YAP) and my internship at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) will have a profound influence on who I will be in the next phase of my life.

Alexander Chunda tells SAMA visitors about the museum's architecture. Photo by Paola Longoria.

Alexander Chunda tells SAMA visitors about the museum’s architecture. Photo by Paola Longoria.

YAP is geared toward Hispanic teenagers transitioning from high school to college and provides an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. for a development week and a month-long internship at a Smithsonian Partner Museum, regardless of which degree they are pursuing. My internship has been more helpful in my development as a person than I could have imagined, especially since I didn’t expect to find a connection to my passion in architecture through a museum program. I remember the quote of one of the speakers during Washington week that many people repeated afterward: “Always say ‘yes.’” While I think the importance of choosing what not to do is underrated, I do agree with the spirit of this message, which is something I heard again during my internship.

Once my application to SAMA was accepted, my fellow interns and I had the opportunity to sit down with Latin American Art Curator Marion Oettinger. When we asked him how he became a curator Oettinger’s answer led to a little bit of his life story. He said he went to college without knowing what he wanted to do – two years in, he decided to take a break and figure that out. He ended up going on a trip to Mexico and fell so deeply in love with the culture that he decided to pursue a career path that would let him spend the most time there. He pursued a degree in anthropology and later on became a Latin American art curator for SAMA. The lesson he wanted us to take away from his story was that we often make decisions without knowing that they could change our lives. Oftentimes things have a larger impact on our lives than we ever could have known when we started.

My experience as a young ambassador has shown me ways to achieve my dreams. When I first applied, I had no idea what impact it would have on me. I barely even knew what the program was. It did, however, seem like the most productive thing I could do with my summer and sounded a whole lot better than working in retail for three months. Because of the program, I have a new found vision and direction for the next part of my life.

Something about big cities with their great buildings and the hustle and bustle of so many people in one place has always appealed to me. I love being able to look around and be surrounded by beautiful architecture everywhere I turn. This has inspired me to want to go into real estate development. It is my dream to someday help construct the buildings that have captured my imagination for so long. Education interns at SAMA are asked to research a work of art and give a presentation on it. Because of my interest in architecture, I chose the museum building itself.

The Lone Star Brewing Company emblem. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

The Lone Star Brewing Company emblem. Photo courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

I began the process of going through all the information on the museum building. The amount of information I found was astounding. Through my research, I found that there is often quite a story behind the design and building of a museum. In SAMA’s case, the building was once a brewery. Adolphus Busch, a co-founder of the Anheuser-Busch corporation, bought the Lone Star Brewing Company in 1895 and demolished the old wooden brewery to build a larger brick one in its place. He employed the architect who designed the Budweiser brewery and many other Anheuser-Busch company breweries to design the building that is today the San Antonio Museum of Art. The architecture of the building itself was part of the branding for the beer and often appeared on Lone Star Beer advertisements.

After Prohibition, the Lone Star Brewing Company went out of business. The building became a cotton mill but eventually closed and the building went into disrepair. When SAMA acquired the building in the hopes of turning it into a museum in 1971, many repairs and a redesign of the building were necessary. While investigating the redesign process, I reached out to the architects who worked on the museum. I learned that if you’re ever curious about something, sending a simple, heartfelt email can go a long way. I took this lesson further and reached out to people outside of the scope of my internship, people I wished to contact in hopes of pursuing my dream.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend my first YAP alumni event. We ate Tex-Mex at Trudy’s and I got to meet some more awesome members of my new YAP familia. Leaving the event I felt nostalgic about Washington week and wished I could see all my fellow 2016 cohort members again. I’ve met incredible people this summer and learned so much. All of the education interns, including myself, gave presentations on our respective topics of research at the end of the program.

For my presentation, I took all of the people working in the education department on a tour of the architectural features of the museum. I am extremely proud to say that some of the materials I created for the tour may actually end up being used to inform future visitors of the museum. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to give the presentation. Because I am so passionate about the topic, I found information naturally and easily pouring out of my mouth. I can assure you that the majority of my presentation experiences were not easy. Ending my internship is bittersweet. Although I am sad that such a great experience had to end, my experiences at SAMA have made me excited for college and for my future.

 

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Top image: Lone Star Brewing Company, oil on tin. Image courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art. 

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