U-M recruiting students across campus to fill arts internships


The University of Michigan Culture Corps is flipping the script on the traditional arts internship by recruiting students historically excluded from arts careers.


The outreach program, administered by the U-M Arts Initiative, is seeking first-generation students, community-college transfers, and Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science candidates who are not arts majors to pursue paid arts internships as part of their academic experiences.

“Museums and other arts organizations are coming to terms with the lack of diversity and inclusion in leadership,” said Christina Olsen, director of the U-M Museum of Art. In fact, a 2018 Mellon Report noted that just 16 percent of museum curators are people of color, as were only 11 percent of conservators.

Michigan Culture Corps is targeting students across campus — from engineering to political science — to apply their unique talents in cultural organizations.

“We want to create access at U-M for a broader group of arts-minded undergraduates to engage in an arts internship and then move toward a career in that sector,” Olsen said.

Financial support is a game-changer

Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, with a gift of $250,000, recently established the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Michigan Culture Corps Internship Fund at U-M to address the financial obstacles that often deter non-traditional arts students and host organizations from participating in an arts internship. Lizzie Tisch is a U-M alumna.

Interns will be paid a stipend for their work and have access to additional support for transportation. Funds also will be used to support the program’s credit-bearing course based in the Department of American Culture, which will kick off the Michigan Culture Corps experience each winter.

Host organizations will receive support and contribute their expertise to the planning of the first year of the program.

“We are excited to support the bold vision of the Arts Initiative, especially its goal to fully integrate the arts into a Michigan education and encourage all students to deeply engage with the arts and art-making during their time on campus,” Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch said in a joint statement.

“Our support for Michigan Culture Corps will help to expose students who possibly haven’t yet considered a career in the arts to the broad opportunities available in our country’s cultural sector.”

Removing barriers

The Michigan Culture Corps evolved out of the Arts Initiative at U-M. Clare Croft, associate professor of American Culture, and Hanna Smotrich, associate professor at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, led the program’s design.

They worked with a research team comprising artists, students and administrators who conducted focus groups and interviews with nearly 400 U-M students and 50 arts organizations based in southeast Michigan.

Eighty percent of respondents to a survey administered by the Arts Initiative reported having an arts hobby, and 61 percent had taken art courses at the university. But many students had not pursued arts internships. Obstacles ranged from a lack of awareness to a need for a paid internship.

Researchers also identified strong interest among organizations in southeast Michigan, many led by people from historically excluded populations. Ninety-one percent agreed they would be better able to host students with financial support from U-M.

“Ideal partners include arts organizations, museums and cultural nonprofits seeking a sustained pipeline of diverse talent,” said Christopher Audain, managing director of the Arts Initiative at U-M.

To date, partners include:

  • Detroit Public Theatre.
  • InsideOut Literary Arts, Detroit.
  • Ann Arbor-based Creative Washtenaw.
  • Living Arts, Detroit.
  • The Wright Museum, Detroit.
  • Culture Source, Detroit.
  • Arab-American Museum, Dearborn.

Michigan Culture Corps

The program will launch its first cohort in March. The curriculum is built around a yearly cycle that guarantees a paid internship placement for each student and creates structures that guide them into and out from the experience.

The course provides peer support, as well as education regarding the role arts and culture organizations play in society. Students will develop workplace skills as they learn to collaborate in teams and communicate professionally.

“If students derive a sense of belonging from their internships — a sense that the arts and culture sector should and does include people like them — they are more likely to stay in the field,” Audain said.

Throughout spring and summer, Michigan Culture Corps students will embed at participating organizations, gaining exposure to the daily rigors and routines of the arts workplace — ethics, norms and a practical understanding of how organizations work.

Student presentations, as well as debriefing and reflection, will take place each fall.


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