Arts Workforce Initiative Places Interns In Cultural Organizations

Maritza Quintuna studies graphic design at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, and she paints. She knows what it's like to be an artist. Until recently, however, she didn't know what went into running an art gallery.

"It's not just having events and sitting in the gallery waiting for people to come in," Quintuna, 21, said. "It's meeting people. It's working with portfolios and promotion. You don't do just one thing. You do lots of things. There is so much to learn."

Quintuna is one of 11 young people participating in Arts Workforce Initiative. The first-time summer program, administered by Connecticut Office of the Arts, was set up to give young people, especially members of underserved communities, paid internships in the arts and culture sector, with the hope that they will pursue arts and culture careers in Connecticut.

Among the arts entities getting interns this summer are TheaterWorks in Hartford, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in New Haven, Hartbeat Ensemble in Hartford and the Judy Dworin Performance Project in Hartford.

Quintuna was born in the Bronx and raised in Ecuador and now lives in Bridgeport. She is an intern at City Lights, an art gallery on Golden Hill Street in Bridgeport. City Lights also has a vintage shop on Main Street and shows art in vacant storefronts in the city. Quintuna helps gallerist Suzanne Kachmar with anything and everything.

"When we're having a meeting, my ears are up. I'm learning a lot and it's been fast, but I'm getting used to it," she said. "I'm young. I don't think right now that I could handle all that Suzanne does. Someday I will and I will help others handle things."

Quintuna's previous jobs were in retail, and as a student ambassador at Housatonic, helping new students get used to the school. Now, she is helping City Lights organize its annual "Same Sex" exhibit of LGBT-themed artworks, promoting events surrounding that exhibit and helping with other art installations spearheaded by Kachmar.

"With every exhibit, there are so many little fires that need to be put out," Kachmar said. "She helps me do that. She helps with press and social media. I teach her why the artworks were chosen." During one installation, she dropped an artwork and Quintuna caught it before it was damaged. "She earned her whole summer's pay right there," Kachmar said.

Kachmar said Quintuna's youth is an asset. "She's been a new set of eyes, ears, legs and brains to help me. A young brain, that remembers things I forget," Kachmar said. "I'm already trying to think of a way to keep her around after the internship."

Quintuna is in awe of all she is learning. She says the self-esteem boost is as important as the knowledge she is gaining. "I'm a shy person. This makes me feel so confident," she said. "I feel like I am growing. It's so different from retail, where people don't care about your thoughts."

Amistad Center, Twain House

Quintuna has never done an internship before. Collette Grimes has done three: one at the Wadsworth Atheneum, one at Real Art Ways and, now, her Arts Workforce Initiative internship at the Amistad Center for Arts & Culture. Grimes, 21, of Hartford, is going into her senior year at Trinity College, where she is majoring in philosophy and international studies.

Her majors have nothing to do with the arts, but she believes experience in the arts enhances her education, and vice versa. "Doing both helps me think in a global perspective," she said.

As part of her duties, Grimes leads educational tours of the center's recent exhibit. On a recent tour, involving youths in the city's summertime Neighborhood Studios program, she guided the conversation skillfully, demonstrating knowledge of each artwork and artifact: on the history of Africa and of American agriculture, the Declaration of Independence, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, how to judge photographic composition and how to read a work of art.

Grimes said she appreciates the "real-world experience" and hopes someday to work in a creative capacity at a museum, or work in branding. "I like helping to decide what direction a museum or brand goes in, conceptually and artistically," she said.

Like Quintuna, Leslie Hernandez of Manchester is studying graphic design. Hernandez, 28, is a student at Manchester Community College. Also like Quintuna, Hernandez's job experience is primarily retail; she works at Ulta Beauty in Manchester. So when she heard about Arts Workforce Initiative at MCC, she jumped at the chance.

"I wanted something out of the box," said Hernandez. "I wanted to get a feel for something that was more professional, not something in front of a cash register."

At the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Hernandez is spending the summer assisting curator Tracy Brindle in a cataloging project. "In the storage room, we haven't done inventory for many years," Brindle said. "She goes through the shelves, goes through each object, gives it a number and writes down a description, recording its location."

Hernandez said the project is educational and fun, and she has a favorite item in the collection: fire extinguisher grenades, round glass jars filled with liquid that were used in the 19th century to put out fires. She also likes the vases, with all their different designs, which may influence her graphic-design work.

"I get excited going in to work. I'm learning a little bit about everything, the history of the house, the history of the things, how to handle things, to treat everything like it was a baby," Hernandez said. "A lot of times, you hear about interns being told 'go grab this' and 'go grab that.' I'm glad this intership wasn't that."

'Massive Disconnect'

The internships are paid, $15 an hour, for 10 weeks, from June 5 to Aug. 11. Each organization that got an intern was granted $3,750 from the Connecticut Office of the Arts to cover the intern's wages.

For Kristina Newman Scott, the state's director of culture, Arts Workforce Initiative strikes a personal chord. Newman Scott, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, moved to the United States in 2005 and began working that year at Real Art Ways in Hartford.

"It was very very clear to me that I was the only one who looked like me and the only one who was an immigrant working in the cultural sector in Connecticut that I knew of. I felt this massive disconnect," she said. "This cannot be the future of our cultural sector in America. We know our demographics are shifting. All these other people do play a role. How are we creating a place for them?"

Newman Scott also was driven by a desire to keep motivated and talented millennials in the state. "We're losing a lot of young people. I wanted to create a legitimate pathway for them to get workforce experience and potentially create a job pathway," she said.

The interns had to apply to participate, and so did the organizations that wanted the interns. Newman Scott said she sought out organizations that would give the youths arts-related duties.

"We did not want organizations just looking for young people to answer phones and do a lot of filing and scanning," she said. "A lot of internships are just a lot of grunt work, and when they leave they say it wasn't as impactful as it could have been."

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