Lydia Barnes, ’16, has been familiar with the name Telfair Museums for most of her life. She remembers high school field trips to the Museums’ site for contemporary art, the Jepson Center for the Arts, as part of the reason she developed an interest in art.
“Our wonderful teacher took us on several field trips to the Jepson Center, and I learned what an amazing space it was—I still have pictures of myself in a high school uniform, posing in prop clothes from the Jepson Center ArtZeum for kids,” recalled Barnes.
When Barnes, who is double majoring in leadership studies and rhetoric and communications at the University of Richmond, began exploring internship and career options, art museums were a natural fit.
“Telfair Museums was an obvious choice for me,” said Barnes, a native of Savannah, Georgia. “They actually didn’t offer a PR and marketing internship for the summer on their website, so I gave them a call. At first I was told no, but I was persistent about wanting to apply, and a few weeks later, I received an email from Kayla, their public relations assistant. Now here I am!”
In her internship at Telfair Museums, Barnes draws upon her leadership studies coursework to think more deeply about the artwork museums display and how museums market their messages.
“Art, art history, and art scholarship are historically dominated by white, male elites. The Paris Salon serves as a primary example of this. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it controlled the production and sale of art in the Western world, dictating what style-wise was considered art and who—based on gender, place of education, and skill level—was considered an artist,” explained Barnes.
Barnes noted how Telfair Museums is working to subvert the remnants of the field’s elitist past. She cited a recent exhibition at the Jepson Center that includes a work by Fred Wilson called “Portrait of S.A.M. (Europeans)” as representative of the Museums’ efforts.
“In this piece, Wilson juxtaposes photographs of non-Europeans as represented in European art,” said Barnes. She described how this piece critically acknowledges the hegemonic past of art and art history.
Barnes discovered that Telfair Museums had a greater power to lead change than she initially thought. She now thinks about who has access to art and art scholarship and who receives messaging about opportunities at the Museums. Barnes described how Telfair Museums has initiatives in place designed to make its sites accessible to everyone, regardless of socio-economic status. She also fit her specific role in the Museums’ larger mission. For Barnes, contributing to this goal means conducting media and market research and writing content for event flyers, media pitches, and press releases.
“The marketing team works to promote all of Telfair Museums’ great programs and services to the public, but we strive to reflect the organization’s efforts toward greater diversity and inclusivity in our marketing strategies and outreach. For example, we advertise in minority papers and editorials like La Voz Latina in addition to Savannah’s big name media outlets,” said Barnes.
While Barnes has not settled on a particular career path, she found her work at Telfair Museums to be most valuable in determining what she finds meaningful in her career.
“Most importantly, I think it’s helped me sort out and prioritize what matters most to me career and workplace-wise,” said Barnes.