Earlier this summer, I spent six weeks interning in the Department of Public Programs at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, which has been one of my favorite museums ever since I was a kid. I love the AMNH because it has something to offer everyone, from small children making their first museum visit, to seasoned world travelers looking for their next discovery. With its breathtaking collections spanning the natural world and human cultures, the AMNH isn’t just for science students, but will entice art lovers, stargazers, and anyone in between.
Getting a behind-the-scenes look at the meticulous research and planning that goes into every detail gave me an even deeper appreciation for the effort and talent behind large-scale exhibitions. In this vein, I was especially excited to help organize an exhibition featuring Asian American artists for the Margaret Mead Film Festival, which will take place in the fall. I had the opportunity to work directly with two fascinating multimedia artists who are based in New York, and was amazed by the powerful stories that they brought to life through their complex creations. My favorite piece was a beautiful costume which one of the artists created for his young son, and which was inspired by the T. rex at the AMNH. I highly recommend this exhibition to anyone who plans to visit New York City in October!
Another one of my tasks at the AMNH involved collecting data for a future exhibit via surveying visitors. It was not so much the content of the surveys, but rather how visitors responded that was eye opening to me. The most striking revelation was that about a third of the visitors whom I surveyed were foreigners. As someone with an international background myself, I was glad to see that so many other people from around the world were drawn to this museum just like I always was. It seems that much of the art, culture, and natural wonders on display have a universal appeal.
This summer I also pursued my passion for ancient coins by visiting the American Numismatic Society in New York, and taking a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., where I spent a day at Dumbarton Oaks, which is known for its vast collections of Byzantine coins and seals. I met with several experts who talked to me about how best to develop an engaging coin exhibit at a place such as the PUAM.
Ancient Byzantine Coin and Seal at Dumbarton Oaks
Photo Credit: museum.doaks.org
I became more strongly aware of the unique appeal that coins have as works of art that allow for an immersive experience, since they are meant to be held and handled. This can make coins more accessible than some other types of art: they even enable people with visual impairments to experience art, which is less true of conventional paintings. For these reasons, ancient coins lend themselves well to an exhibition with a target audience that is very diverse. New technologies have even opened up the possibility of 3D-printing over-sized versions of coins so that – especially if the originals are deemed too valuable and fragile for the public to touch – the tactile experience can remain intact. By learning more about numismatics this summer, I came to better understand how collections of coins tell stories about history and humanity; and by physically grasping a piece of art from the distant past, museumgoers can truly feel that connection.