Works and Days

Summer Internship Award: Performing Arts Intern for Portland Institute for Contemporary Art

My Intern All Access pass and the ever-important walkie talkie used for calling the shows on opening weekend.

September 08, 2016: Opening night of PICA’s 14th Annual Time-Based Art Festival. 1 Opening Night Dinner. 2 Artists’ performances. 11 hours of work.

I was exhausted, but the countless hours throughout the summer that I had spent preparing for this moment were finally manifested into the premiere of the vibrant festival to come. TBA is a 10-day citywide arts festival taking place here in Portland with stage performances; visual installations; film screenings; dialogues, panels, and workshops with artists; and late-night dance parties. TBA features artists from a plethora of cultures, backgrounds, and mediums with an astounding 57 shows, 15 dialogues and panels, and 6 workshops throughout the 10-day festival. From dancers to jugglers to DJs, there really was something for everyone. Thirty-three artists and groups came to us from around the world even beyond the US, including Lebanon, South Korea, Bulgaria, and France. TBA took over Portland by taking place at venues ranging from the Portland Art Museum, to Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, to the Winningstad Theatre, and (for the first time ever) Reed College. Throughout the summer, my primary jobs included obtaining work visas for international artists, creating contracts for their performances, and creating endless spreadsheets and itineraries of all their travel and performance dates.

Staff meetings tripled in size by the end of the summer. I went from working with 10 other people at my own desk to sitting in a makeshift office in what used to be a 16,000-square-foot indoor skatepark. Several of my days throughout the summer felt the same: spending 5-6 hours researching an artist trying to prove they are world-renowned in order to obtain a work visa, consolidating 5 spreadsheets into one beautifully color-coded spreadsheet, researching flights for all of the artists, or confirming travel dates and browsing nearly every Airbnb in Portland. A LOT of work goes into planning a festival with hundreds of attendees per night, which I knew, but I guess I didn’t realize that actually getting to work with and communicate with artists didn’t come until they were actually on the ground in Portland. I was excited for this internship because I wanted to see what happened behind the scenes of all the excitement, and I definitely did get that chance.

In the weeks leading up to the festival, and especially once it began, things started to pick up. Instead of working at my computer, I started running errands. I was told a few hours before opening night that Juliana Huxtable, a DJ from New York, requested fresh ginger and honey for her tea. I walked to New Seasons, walked back, and stood in the kitchen grating ginger for her while soundchecks and setups in the venue were happening in the background. “Wow, I guess this is really what it feels like to be an intern,” I remember thinking to myself. Being an intern meant waiting at the airport with two of your friends for a Bulgarian only for him to walk past you because he was “looking for someone who looked like a driver.” Being an intern meant driving him to his hotel and helping him carry all of his bags to his room, then turning around to go back to the airport because another artist was arriving at 11:00pm that night.

The highlight of my entire internship was getting the opportunity to work with Narcissister, a Brooklyn-based feminist performance artist whose face is always obscured by a series of masks. She needed someone to help her with costumes and props during her performances, and that’s where I came in. I got to carry around my own walkie-talkie in order to communicate to the sound booth and to call the show, which is a really big deal for someone like me! After her first performance, she told me that she felt good knowing that I was on the side of the stage ready to help. I really proved myself after her second show when one of her masks, an integral part of her character’s identity, was stolen. As the person in charge of collecting the props after each performance, I felt like I’d let her down. I drove her to the airport that night and was given a huge hug and an enthusiastic conversation about working together in the future. I assured her I would keep looking for the mask and the very next day, I sent her a text telling her that I had found the person who had taken her mask and had driven to their house to retrieve it for her. I think this is when I earned my (self-proclaimed) status as #1 intern.

This internship provided me with opportunities and experiences that I don’t think are often given to 21-year-old undergrads. Whether or not this is a career I will pursue, I was assured that I could have a future in the field. I had the opportunity to see women running an unbelievable festival that gave me chills on multiple occasions. As an Art Major, I am very aware of the fact that the art world is male-dominated. It was incredibly inspiring to work with so many women out here getting it done. On my last day, I was given a tote bag screenprinted with the motto of my summer at PICA: “She does what she wants.”

Tags: summer internship award