Inside the NEA: Intern’s Perspective
One of my many tasks here at the NEA is to transcribe interviews so that they can be turned into blog posts, articles, or archived for reference. It seems tedious when you explain the process, but I always enjoy listening to artists share words of wisdom or tell their life story. I’ve been working on a transcription of an interview with George Lucas (Yes, THE George Lucas), and he said something that really stuck with me: “Failure is just another word for experience.”
We’re often told that we should learn from our failures, but I guess I’ve never thought about them in terms of definable experience. Our failures and our shortcomings teach us more about life than our successes do. They provide us with the foundation and the preparation to do better next time, to improve and to grow. One of the things that I’ve loved about my time at the NEA is how I’ve been given the opportunity to fail. I can see you raising an eyebrow. What I mean is that the staff in public affairs trusts me with things like interviewing museum directors and artists, writing articles for printed publications, contributing to nationwide press releases, knowing that it may not be perfect. I might mess up. I could make a mistake that could set them back a day or two. But here there is an understandin,—and one that I think is essential to a good internship—that while I am here to contribute to the work of the agency, I am primarily here to learn and grow as an individual, failures and all.
I had only been here a week when one of the writers asked me if I wanted to work on an article for NEA Arts magazine. The only thing I could think was, “Why on earth would you trust me to do that?” I’m so used to hearing tragic intern tales of coffee making and errand running that I just could not accept the fact that I would be able to contribute something tangible to the agency. But they gave me a chance, and it was the perfect opportunity for me to learn about arts journalism, hone my interviewing skills, and understand how a publication is put together. It wasn’t a perfect process by any means. I was nervous to contact my interviewee, street artist, Lady Pink. I sent my questions to be reviewed probably a dozen times. I stuttered during the interview and learned, only after the fact, that you never say, “I’m not an expert in this.” I came to understand the difference between the academic writing that I’m so familiar with, and the journalistic writing that I most certainly am not. I researched Lady Pink and her art form endlessly, developing a new passion for the culture and style of street art along the way.
I just saw the proof for the magazine, my article polished and ready for print. There’s something very exciting about seeing your name in print for the first time, and I reflected on the month-long process of getting to that point. It started off as an outline, not much there, just a few questions and some research notes. There were footfalls and backtracking as I started to develop it, but now it’s a great story that I look forward to sharing with friends and family back home. My experience working on that one piece is actually pretty reflective of my time at the NEA. When I came to the agency, all I had was some research about it, a few questions to ask, and not a lot of experience. I had to keep asking questions, request feedback, and revise, revise, revise. Now, I feel confident in my work, proud of what I’ve accomplished, and prepared to take what I’ve learned forward into my career. I’ll never stop making mistakes; I mean, it’s bound to happen, but now I have the experience and know-how to learn from them.
If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to fail, to miss the mark but keep trying, all I would have learned here is how to make coffee, and while that’s a very useful skill, I’m glad I have a bit more than that under my belt.
Jennifer Kreizman was an intern with the NEA Public Affairs office this summer. This fall she will be a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation she hopes to continue working in the arts.