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Exploring Creative Careers with the Bloomberg Arts Internship: 5 Questions with Intern Rachel K. McCain

Photo Courtesy of Rachel K. McCain

For high school students planning for their futures, summers can be an exciting time filled by exploring potential career paths through internships, saving money from summer jobs, and preparing to apply for college. The Bloomberg Arts Internship (BAI) aims to support this planning process by connecting young people from diverse backgrounds with paid internships at cultural organizations along with intensive college readiness and professional development training. Harnessing the power of the arts as a means of workforce development, BAI helps students build essential skills for any professional field they may choose while encouraging awareness of culture as a civic resource.

Since 2012, BAI has placed 945 students at 155 cultural organizations in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston. This year, due to ongoing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, BAI connected 110 rising high school seniors with virtual internships and remote-learning training sessions.

We recently spoke with Rachel K. McCain, a rising senior at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, New York, and member of the 2020 BAI intern cohort, to learn more about her experience.

Where are you interning this summer?

BAI connected me with an internship at Park Avenue Armory, a non-profit dedicated to supporting unconventional works in the visual and performing arts space. I’m very involved in the theater program at my school, and the Armory has been a wonderful place for me to broaden my perspective on the performing arts and work behind the scenes at a cultural institution.

My specific internship is in the Armory’s Development Department working with the Individual Giving team. I draft stewardship and solicitation letters to donors in addition to researching various other cultural institutions and their virtual programming. This is an especially interesting time to work in fundraising, given the circumstances brought on by COVID-19. I have learned about all the work that goes into cultivating relationships with donors so that artists have a place to produce their art.

How has working remotely and the pandemic impacted your experience?

Although I originally imagined the internship being in-person, I feel like I’m making the most out of the virtual format. The staff at the Armory has been incredible in teaching me everything I need to know to have a successful internship. My direct supervisor, Katie Burke, is a BAI alumna, and she always encourages me to ask questions and have an open line of communication. She’s given me interesting projects to work on that allow me to learn more about the arts and culture that the city has to offer. I think it is important for young people like me, who are born and raised in New York City, to be fully immersed in the arts and culture that is all around us.

How has your involvement with the BAI program impacted the way that you see and relate to your community?

Typically, interns would document our experiences by taking photos at our workplaces. Working remotely this summer, we have pivoted to taking photos of our communities and neighborhoods to share on the BAI Instagram page. My neighborhood, Crown Heights, is usually quite busy, but it has been very quiet since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking photos for this project has helped me get back outdoors and encouraged me to further explore my surroundings. A few weeks ago, I went out at 5:00 a.m. just so I could capture the neighborhood when it is most quiet – something I wouldn’t have thought to do before the internship.

I took my favorite photo when I was walking by an elementary school just a few blocks from my house and noticed a fence covered in Black Lives Matter-related signs. One of them particularly caught my attention. It reads, “I Am An Educator. I Teach Black Students. I Can’t Remain Silent. #BLM.” As a Black student, I can’t articulate how important it is to have educators who advocate for their BIPOC students. Stumbling upon that sign made me smile and gave me hope for the students that come after me. I’m glad I got to share it on BAI’s platform.

Sign reading “I Am An Educator. I Teach Black Students. I Can’t Remain Silent. #BlackLivesMatter” in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Photo Courtesy of Rachel K. McCain.

What has been the most surprising part of your internship so far?

We participated in arts engagement classes that introduced us to some wonderful contemporary artists, particularly visual artists of color. I’ve really enjoyed learning about artists who don’t necessarily get mainstream attention. These artists include Jordan Casteel, a portraitist from Harlem, Nick Cave, a contemporary artist who has partnered with the Armory for some of his projects, Martin Puryear, a sculptor, and Maya Lin, an acclaimed architectural designer.

Starting this internship, I didn’t know what kind of work to expect. With Katie’s help, I’ve developed new digital skills and learned to complete tasks like mail merges and updating customer service profiles. She also taught me how to use Tessitura, a customer relationship management software that many arts non-profits use for ticket pricing and donor information. Through an online program called Bring Your Own Laptop, I’ve also taken free Excel courses outside of work. I believe that these new skills will give me a leg up when I enter the workforce.

How has this experience impacted your plans for the future?

I definitely think about my future differently since starting this internship. Conversations with my mentors and various guest speakers have been really helpful during these unusual and unprecedented times. I’ve realized that my college major won’t define me and that there is more than just one path to pursuing a career that you’re passionate about. In the past, I’ve struggled with the idea of what success looks like. I know now that I should study what I’m passionate about, and that everything else will come in time.

I am grateful that the BAI internship has taught me that there are many ways to stay involved with the arts beyond performing

I’ve also been inspired by many people who work at the Armory because I can see that they love the work that they do, and I know that is something I want in the career I choose. Most importantly, this internship has given me the confidence to adapt, try new things, and develop new skills. I’m thinking about my future a lot these days, and as I try to decide the path I want to take, I am grateful that the BAI internship has taught me that there are many ways to stay involved with the arts beyond performing and beyond high school.