Art Works Blog

Inside the NEA: Intern's Perspective

As I look back on the past year, I can’t help but think of what a whirlwind it’s been. A constant balancing act between friends, school papers, work commitments, and internship deadlines, it’s hard to believe I’ve only been in DC since August---and even harder to believe my time with the NEA is coming to a close.

Interning with the public affairs office has helped me rediscover my first love: reading. Arts education initiatives The Big Read and Poetry Out Loud pulled me back to this passion, reminding me of the value of a rich piece of literature. I’ve discovered a new favorite author: Jhumpa Lahiri. Curious to investigate our newest Big Read book, I picked up her novel The Namesake. I couldn’t put it down. There’s something about Lahiri’s writing that resonates with me in a core, profound way. Her characters, their struggles, the haunting messages she weaves through her words---all of these things push me to question the world around me, and myself as a part of that world.

While I am definitely taking away a renewed love for literature, the deeper value of this internship lies in the incredible amount of knowledge I’ve gained. I have learned the inner workings of a professional public affairs department and how my skills and interests fit into the needs of the office. I am certainly walking away with a detailed understanding of how the agency functions. Most of all, though, I have learned just how inspiring and powerful art can be in people’s lives.

Through the interviews I’ve conducted and transcribed, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in some startlingly profound conversations. While everyone talks about something different, each conversation is connected through a common strain: the transformative power of the arts. For an article for the upcoming issue of NEA Arts, I spoke with artist, educator, and storyteller Monte Yellow Bird. Yellow Bird is an artist-in-residence at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana, and works with the Cultural Crossroads Program, an initiative that exposes school groups to multi-cultural arts experiences. As we spoke, Yellow Bird recounted stories from working with Cultural Crossroads, giving me a sense for the power arts education really holds. His passion and commitment to his work is inspiring, and reminded me of why I work in and advocate for the arts.

Innovative projects like the Cultural Crossroads Program are happening all over the country, many of which are supported by NEA grants. Yellow Bird showed me how these initiatives reach into people’s lives, offering change and hope in communities where there was no opportunity before. I’ve learned the vital role the NEA plays in funding these initiatives, and am honored to have been able to support this role, in my own small way.

As I move forward with my career, I know I will bring the knowledge, skills, and inspiration I’ve acquired at the NEA with me. I will truly miss the supportive and kind people I’ve worked with and the creative community I’ve found with them. It’s always hard moving on from something good, but I think it’s important to remember that your friendships and experiences are never lost; they stay with you and become a part of who you are. I couldn’t be more grateful I get to carry my time here with me.

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