Curatorial Work as Storytelling: An Arts Intern’s Experience

As a curatorial intern at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts earlier this year, Vanessa Leroy had the unparalleled opportunity to work alongside the center’s acclaimed assistant and head curators. She spent her stint at MIT primarily on one project: facilitating seamless public access to List’s archived exhibition materials. Specifically, she consolidated hundreds of List’s exhibition materials into a comprehensive archive for the Contemporary Art Library; these collections were later to be formally published on Contemporary Art Daily’s website.

Vanessa Leroy,
Curatorial Intern, 2021

Founded by the List Visual Arts Center, Contemporary Art Daily is an indispensable resource for members of Cambridge’s artistic community, as it compiles dozens of museum archives for public viewing on their website.

Provided with a hard drive of dozens of past and present List Arts Center shows, Vanessa pored diligently through these files in order to select the highest quality images and video footage captured by List. Additionally, she was tasked with compiling PDFs featuring registrar information about the artworks and details about each exhibition.

Aside from her main archival project, Vanessa conducted some sleuthing in the area of image copyrighting. MIT Press was working on a publication for Matthew Angelo Harrison, a renowned artist from Detroit. Vanessa played a pivotal role in streamlining its publication process.

In order to obtain permissions for the photos that MIT would use in the publication, she had to first identify the sources for the images, correspond with these sources, and negotiate contracts delineating the period of time over which the images could be used, and the price, if any, of buying the rights to these images.

Vanessa reflected, “I really enjoyed the image permission work that I did, because I had to do a lot of sleuthing to get the origins of all of these images. That was definitely the most interesting part for me, because it involved a lot of research.” In terms of Vanessa’s relationship with her supervisors, she fondly recalled her acquaintance with the assistant curator, Selby Nimrod, with whom she worked very closely.

“We would check-in with each other almost every shift that I had, so that we could easily talk about what needed to be done that day, or about any meetings that I was going to attend. Selby and Natalie, the head curator, were both amazing to work with, super supportive, and super kind,” she said.

While she enjoyed a sense of autonomy throughout her previous arts internships,Vanessa remarked that her work at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center was “more solo-oriented” than anything she had experienced before. She had almost full discretion over her work schedule and timelines.

Moreover, Vanessa’s internship at List whetted her appetite for future work in the curatorial and photojournalism realms, potentially cementing her interest in these fields as a future career trajectory.

“I definitely wanted to continue doing work in the realm  of storytelling, because, in a way, with curatorial work you’re helping with the storytelling of other artists,” she said.

Now, several months after her internship at List, she is pursuing a photojournalism project in Atlanta, Georgia on a travel grant from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, from which she recently graduated.