Lessons from the Old Post Office
Abigail Roberts. Photo by NEA staff
No matter how old you are, when you return to your childhood home you feel like a child. Assuming this feeling never changes, I expect that when I am forty years old and make my way to Kensington, Maryland, from wherever I will be living then, I will revert to an eleven-year-old version of myself. That’s what happened when I came back from college this summer.
In Portland, Oregon, on the other side of the country, I was an actual person. I did well in my classes, I joined groups outside of the school, and I maintained relationships. I was successful, and I was happy that I could prove my intelligence, my worth. But when I came home in May, it was as if those accomplishments vanished. It wasn’t that my parents or friends from high school belittled them; it was just as if those achievements were stored in another world. They became anecdotes instead of actuality. I was a child, again; a kid who was living at home and spending her days napping.
But that became boring---quickly. I remembered why I hadn’t allowed myself to do those things. It was because it felt like wasted time. I learned that I would rather be working. I learned that I didn’t really want to be a child anymore.
When my internship with the National Endowment for the Arts began, I was eager to become a real person. I was eager to prove to my parents that I was a functioning adult who could be trusted with responsibilities greater than washing the dishes (which, to be honest, they still don’t completely trust me to do properly).
I got so much more than that out of this internship.
I thought that I would be doing intern tasks that you hear stories about---making coffee, returning phone calls, sorting files. On my first day here, one of my co-workers joked that she would make me stand in line for the cupcake food truck for them. As the rest of the staff laughed, I joined in, nervously. “And so it begins,” I thought to myself.
But that never happened. Instead, I found myself interviewing museum directors and writing about their backgrounds and collections for the Blue Star Museums blog. I found myself listening to all kinds of interviews with famed artists, from authors like Jennifer Egan to fashion designers like Yeohlee Teng, who refers to clothing as “intimate architecture.” I found myself researching the history of art and war for the NEA Arts magazine. I found myself sitting in panel discussions about the intersection between science and art, about literature, about dance, surrounded by intelligent and engaging people. And just like that, gone were my fears of being a serf---these people treated me as an equal.
There is a distinct sense of camaraderie in the NEA offices, and it’s because everyone is working toward the same goal---celebrating the power of art. From Design to Public Affairs, every person here cares for and believes in what they’re doing.
I came into this summer internship hoping to prove and to better myself, but am leaving hoping to better the world, using the skills and experiences I gained here. Because of the Arts Endowment I have a firmer understanding of how the government works, how interviews work, how editing works, and most importantly---how art works.
Abigail Roberts was an intern in the NEA Public Affairs office this summer. This fall she will be a sophomore at Kenyon College. She is studying creative writing and hopes to participate in choir, gamelan, and the Kenyon Review.