Exploring the Arts Through My Internship

From Beth Varley, Arts Intern –

During my undergraduate career studying Human & Organizational Development (HOD) and Political Science at Vanderbilt University, I have at times baffled my professors and peers with my insistence on defending the importance of the arts in classes ranging from Democratic Theory & Practice to Philanthropy for Social Problem Solving. The Theater Department, however, brought workshops with Tim Miller of the NEA Four and class discussions of Hallie Flanagan and the Federal Theatre Project, exposing me to the concept of public funding for the arts. When it came time to find an internship for my HOD Capstone, I knew that the Tennessee Arts Commission would be at the top of my list as an opportunity to explore this intersection of my academic interests.  It has been a privilege to spend a semester working alongside the dedicated staff of the Commission.

My first day at the Commission, the work they do was described as “being a utility for the arts.” Having spent a few summers working for an electric utility in my home state, this comparison stuck with me throughout my short months at the agency. Utilities are largely infrastructure, reaching into every nook and cranny of a state or region. As an arts utility, the Commission can bring the arts to communities throughout the entire state, extending this excitement and creativity beyond the city limits of Nashville or Memphis. This commitment to reaching people in every town from Shelby County to Johnson County and everywhere in between has been apparent in every meeting I have attended and project I have worked on. It has been rewarding to play even a small role in extending access to arts experiences to communities and individuals throughout Tennessee.

During my time at the Commission, I was given the opportunity to oversee the Tennessee Stages Project, which is an effort to catalog all of Tennessee’s community-purposed stages for an eventual database on the Commission’s website. My work on the project began as a research endeavor, and I spent weeks combing through existing resources and searching online for every venue and performing arts organization across the state. My favorite part was finding local institutions akin to the ones I grew up in and adding them to my mailing list alongside the Ryman and the Bijou. I was also given the opportunity to attend grants workshops in Cookeville and Nashville and Commission meetings in Townsend and Columbia during my internship, which allowed me to interact with both our constituents as well as members of the Commission itself. From day one, I was given every opportunity to experience working at the Commission and to witness the impact of that work. With the deepest sincerity, thank you to the staff for allowing me to work alongside and learn from you this semester. Tennesseans are incredibly lucky to have the Commission and this staff working on their behalf.