Beth Shook, 2012
Why did you decide to pursue an MA in Art History?
I was a latecomer to art history in undergrad, but as soon as I took my first course in modern art I was hooked. After interning in the curatorial department of a museum, I knew I wanted to explore a curatorial career. An MA is often a prerequisite even for the most entry-level curatorial jobs, so grad school was a given. I was also interested in moving beyond the rote memorization of names and dates that takes up so much time in undergrad art history courses. Graduate-level coursework seemed much more challenging and fulfilling (and it was!).
What was your most rewarding class? Why?
While I participated in some great seminars at Mason, the two most rewarding courses in terms of their application beyond the classroom were Methods in Art History and Creating History in New Media. The research methods course gave me a strong foundation for reading and looking at art critically. Those skills have informed much of the museum work I've done since graduation. The digital history course introduces art history students to a fantastic resource on campus, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. The class allowed me to develop and apply my web design skills to my own research and that of my adviser; the resulting website has been part of my portfolio ever since. I'm not sure any other art history MA program in the country can offer that.
So what are you up to now professionally?
I recently returned to Washington, DC after spending three years at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin -- first as education department coordinator and then as curatorial associate for Latin American art. My last big project at the Blanton was to manage a major loan exhibition from the Brooklyn Museum. I am now a research assistant at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where I am working with the Curator of Latino Art on an exhibition project for fall 2017.
How has the MA program helped you with your career or your personal interests?
One reason I chose Mason was the fact that it had a Latin Americanist on faculty, Dr. Michele Greet, who was working on the same period I was interested in. Being able to focus on modern Latin American art was an important factor for me when choosing a program, and I wouldn't have snagged my jobs in Latin American and Latino art departments were it not for the research experience in the field that I gained at Mason. The emphasis on practical skills, through writing assignments, new media projects, the museum studies course, and the final practicum, also helped prepare me for day-to-day curatorial work, like writing for museum publications and exhibitions.
Any career advice you would give to students in the program?
If your goal is a museum career, find an internship or an admin job, even if it's not in your dream department. Museums are big, complex institutions, and you can only benefit from getting a big-picture perspective on how they work. Aim for those hard-to-find paid internships, and if you end up in an unpaid internship, don't be afraid to ask about future funding possibilities. Also make sure you have research proficiency in one or more languages relevant to your field. This can set you apart from other candidates vying for the same research-oriented jobs.