MCLA-IAH interns help drive programming, mission

A video created by MCLA-IAH Graphic Designer Drew Thomas '21. 

A team of six interns is helping the MCLA Institute for Arts and Humanities meet its goals this year, driving everything from programming to graphic design to community engagement.

A grant-funded initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, MCLA-IAH works to strategically promote equity-centered change on campus and in the community by expanding access to area arts and humanities resources, catalyzing opportunities for interdisciplinary engagements, and advancing experiential teaching and learning practices in higher education.

Since the Institute was founded, it has held community events and virtual panels, created a media resource library, and developed a series of workshops and events for students, managed and developed entirely by the student interns and chronicled by student interns managing the Sm(ART) Commons Blog, which explores arts and culture in the Berkshires.

MCLA-IAH flierMCLA students Declan McDermott ’21, Drew Thomas ’21, and Brianna Christie ’22 make up the IAH team; Brittany Lutz ’21 and Comfort Acheampong ’23 are working on the SM(ART) Commons Blog. Destiny Rivera ’21 is working actively in both internships.

Though each of these students plays a different role in IAH programming, they all have developed individual projects that relate back to the Institute’s mission, which is important to them as new professionals.

“My goals are to work in the nonprofit arts sector as an arts manager and advocate for those who don't feel like they have a voice,” said McDermott, who is serving as MCLA-IAH’s communications manager. “When you are an emerging artist, or even an artist that is not traditionally represented in the industry, speaking up is intimidating. I can imagine myself working in leadership positions in arts organizations, such as artistic direction, or even in arts unions where my advocacy could be the focus of my everyday occupation.”

McDermott has been working on IAH communications since last year. He’s responsible for developing communications strategies to help the IAH reach its audiences and serving as the point of contact for IAH’s various community partnerships, from other MCLA departments to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which is collaborating with IAH on the resume and portfolio series. Last fall, he developed the “Unlikely Conversations” speaker series, which brought arts management professionals and artists together for virtual events discussing issues like unpaid internships and using art as a catalyst for social change. 

Other projects include Rivera’s Empowered Voices Collective, which offers an online platform for creative work from BIPOC students, featuring poetry, short stories, freewrites, photography, and artwork; and Thomas’ launch of an IAH YouTube channel. “People can have easy access to our webinars, online events, and more,” said Thomas. “I'll also be producing recurring video content with the goal of giving a platform to minorities who want to share their experience.”

A design major, Thomas has worked with the IAH for several semesters, creating graphics and videos that help market IAH events and projects. “As someone with goals geared toward graphic design and marketing, this internship has been everything,” he said. “Not only has the size of my portfolio increased substantially, but the connections and industry experience I've gained is nothing short of priceless.”

Christie, an English and communications major with concentrations in writing and public relations, is IAH’s public relations and social media assistant. “My job is to find ways for IAH to have a bigger media presence on various platforms, so faculty, staff, and students are able to understand what the institute does and has to offer,” she said. 

Christie had worked with the IAH in other ways before serving in this internship, but wanted the opportunity to get some PR experience before graduation. She’s now managing IAH’s robust social media presence, getting the word out about events—and using content developed by other IAH interns to do so. 

Meanwhile, these experiences are chronicled by the SM(ART) Commons Blog staff. Lutz, an arts management major who is minoring in art history, has spent three semesters working on the blog, and is now its senior editor. She’s been working closely with the MCLA Alumni Association, creating content that showcases the paths of arts management alumni. “Another project I am focusing on is adding videos and workshops designed by students to the platform. As a team, we’re working together to build a solid bridge between IAH and Sm(ART). There is so much overlap in goals and objectives that a solid relationship between the two makes sense,” she said.

“My future career goal is to be a director of an arts and culture foundation,” Lutz said. “This internship has given me experience with web design, networking, independent working and now managing a team.”

As they build skills and are empowered through work on independent and team projects, the students continue to prioritize MCLA-IAH’s mission—which is important to them personally as well as professionally. “Although I don't know exactly what I would like to do, I know advocacy and mentorship will always have a part in my life,” said McDermott.