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Lessons From My Summer Internship

By Asher Hawkins, Summer Intern –

Asher HawkinsThe dream of inspiring and uplifting communities of people through the arts is not an easy desire to fulfill. Art is invaluable to the people it impacts, healing and creating hope through so many different avenues. In order to create something meaningful, organizations that present programs, foundations, and communities of creative people require funding and people who can make that happen. As an intern for the Tennessee Arts Commission, I got a taste of just how many lives the people who work here can reach and influence for the better. When I applied for the internship, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wondered what the job environment would be like. Regardless of my initial uncertainty, the experience turned out to be extremely positive and fulfilling.

I didn’t know what my job entailed aside from “intern.” The only way I could try and get a sense for the Commission was to look at the staff page. My first impressions were exceeded after being interviewed by the Associate Director of Grants, Hal Partlow, and Associate Director of Operations, Carol White. I instantly felt welcomed and accepted and the interview was actually a pleasant experience. That first week, I was able to crack a smile and joke while learning all about how the organization works. The welcome I received was one of the most refreshing job experiences I’ve had. Typically you imagine a state office job as only cubicles and bureaucracy, but it was very open and everyone I met strives to do the best that they can.

I learned that my job for the summer was simple enough. My main task was to scan the files of organizations that had applied for grants before the digital system was put in place. I had thousands of files to go through. I had no idea how long the Commission had been in operation, and I wondered what I would discover poring over a large filing cabinet with thousands of old folders. I went through each one, picking out the necessary documents to sort, scan, and organize. I saw newspaper clippings, old photos, and event flyers among the charters and IRS letters. It became evident that the work here is important and has been for decades.

I was ignorant of the behind the scenes group that reinforced the importance of creativity in Tennessee. I was able to see how many lives were touched through the historic papertrail I sifted through. What I realized in doing this was that the arts community is larger than I thought, and there’s always something happening. The work I was doing felt important. I was preserving the history of different organizations that each, somehow, impacted others through the arts. I archived a total of 1,322 folders. I was also asked to help staff the 2018 Statewide Arts Conference held at my own university, Austin Peay State University. I had been to conferences before, but never had the chance to be a part of the team hosting one. The conference was attended by a variety of people from all branches of the arts who wanted to learn more and do more. I was definitely inspired.

The impression that I get as an arts major in college is that jobs in the arts are something akin to fairytales and are only bestowed upon the lucky. Despite how disheartening the idea is, it’s generally accepted as truth by college graduates. However, the internship broadened my perspective on what a job in the arts could be. Living as a starving artist with a job at Starbucks despite a degree wasn’t my destiny. Through this job, I saw new avenues for the future. I could still create and inspire while also having a job that engaged me in my own community. My experience with the Commission is a wholly positive one which gave me an entirely new perspective on the scope of the Tennessee arts community and how I can approach my own future. I owe a huge “thank you” to the staff here at the Commission and look forward to seeing them continue to do great things.

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