Ellington School Trains Future Curators of museums.(METROPOLITAN)(COMMUNITY FORUM)

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Barnes, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

This series features the words and works of good people in our community. Their voices are seldom heard in the torrent of sensational news, their successes are seldom noticed publicly, but they contribute mightily to our quality of life. We present this forum at least twice a month to recognize and support their good deeds.

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Marta Reid Stewart, director of the museum studies department at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

Q: I understand Duke Ellington School of the Arts has the only museum studies department on the high school level in the country. How did the program come about?

A: In the early 1990s arts activist and co-founder of Duke Ellington Peggy Cooper Cafritz served as co-chairman of the Smithsonian Institution's Cultural Equity Committee. Mrs. Cafritz noticed a lack of diversity in the institution's ranks. And, while it was true of the Smithsonian's 6,000 employees - roughly 32 percent were African Amerrican, 3 percent Latino, 3 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian - minorities comprised a low percentage of the institutions' curators, designers, educators and directors.

The Smithsonian's human resource department determined there were not enough people of color applying for these positions. So, Mrs. Cafritz came up with the idea to include a museum studies program at Ellington to help increase the opportunities for minorities to become key players in the museum field.

Q: Washington, D.C., is a fertile ground for museum work. How is the museum studies program helping students break into the field?

A: For the past two years, our juniors and seniors have participated in the National Gallery of Art's "Odyssey into Museum Careers for High School Students." For eight days in June students get a bird's-eye view of what goes on behind the scenes in a museum. Students shadow museum professionals from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., and they document their experiences in journals and on videos. I'm proud to say students who have participated in "Odyssey" have excelled to the point where each year the coordinator of the program, Cheryl Foster, requests that I submit names of applicants.

Since 1993, we've offered internships for seniors at various Smithsonian museums. The internships begin in January and end in May. For two days each week students work on specific museum projects. To date we've had roughly 50 students participate in the internship program.

And I see the tremendous value of the internships because they're getting the hands-on experience they need. Students are required to keep a journal which documents their objectives, as well as subjective points of view of their experiences on a daily basis. Students are graded based on the their site supervisor's input and my observations of their journal entries.

Q: How do you know the museum studies program is stimulating interest in high school students to pursue the field on a college level?

A: Two years ago, I conducted a survey to determine how many students in the program were considering museum work as a career. Eighty percent said they were strongly considering this field of study. It's interesting because a program like this encompasses not only the arts, but gives them lessons in time management, teamwork and meeting their goals. They also learn to write - with any museum comes some type of publication. So, students get hands-on experience in creating the text for exhibitions, writing and designing a variety of brochures and tackling a full catalogue with biographies and checklists.

We offer a course called "Museum Communications I" that teaches students how to speak spontaneously and as a result they learn the art of public speaking. So, much of museum studies can translate into a variety of different fields. …