Heights Arts launches internship for CHHS students

Heights High students ShaDonnah Miller (left) and Ava Collyer (right) with art teacher Laura Skehan (center), who helped develop and launch the Heights Arts internship. [NOTE this version sharpened, brightened]

As executive director of Heights Arts—and as a Cleveland Heights High School (CHHS) parent—Rachel Bernstein was in a unique position to cultivate a partnership between Heights Arts and the high school. “Heights Arts was long searching for an authentic way to connect with CHHS,” she said, noting that the organization’s strategic plan includes a goal of increasing audience diversity and engagement. 

Last spring, an idea took shape that would allow this collaboration to flower: adding student interns to the organization's longstanding exhibitions committee. The students would gain valuable experience about developing and presenting art exhibitions, and Heights Arts would tap the students’ perspectives.

Heights High art teacher Laura Skehan quickly identified about a dozen students who would be good candidates. Heights Arts narrowed the field to a half-dozen and conducted individual interviews with the finalists in the summer and early fall. The inaugural Heights Arts Exhibition Committee interns, who officially began in October, are junior Ava Collyer and senior ShaDonnah (Mia) Miller. Designed to accept one high school junior each year, the two-year internship allows the prior year’s junior to serve as a mentor for the new intern.

Greg Donley is a former Heights Arts board member and current chair of the Exhibitions Committee, which selects, plans, and installs five group and five spotlight exhibitions a year. “The applicants were all eloquent, committed and talented,” he recalled. “It was tough to pick just two. We hope that we not only get new ideas from the students, but that over the future years of doing this, we help produce a bunch of people who are savvy about the arts. It’s a good experience for any artist to objectively evaluate other artists’ work,” he said, noting that the students will also learn how to lay out and hang exhibitions, and often meet the artists. A show called VIEW-points, opening Jan. 18, will be the students’ first opportunity to participate in an exhibition installation.

Collyer said that she was most intrigued by the behind-the-scenes experiences of how the committee works to create what ultimately is viewed in-gallery. Miller feels she will gain critique skills through sitting on the committee and said that she is building her resume with real-world work experience. 

Upon hearing about the internship, artist Andy Curlowe donated the proceeds from the sale of his artwork during the gallery’s summer show, Sticks and Stones, to pioneer the inclusion of an internship stipend. The students appreciate the stipend. “It feels like it’s in my name,” reflected Miller, “that I worked hard to receive it.” 

Even at this early stage, the experience has been impactful for the interns. Both felt included as equals on the 12-person committee, having reviewed art submissions independently before the meeting and coming to the table ready to share comments. Committee members “noticed things that I didn’t,” said Collyer, which she found interesting and exciting. Miller liked the perspective-taking, as well, and said she felt energized that seasoned artists noticed some of the same aspects that she did.

This internship, Bernstein said, “is a great first step of our relationship development.” Collyer likes being part of the first year. “The program itself is new and we are new to it,” she said.

Bernstein hopes this is just the beginning of a rich partnership with CHHS, envisioning opportunities for cross-disciplinary field trips to the gallery, just a short walk from the high school.

She noted that Heights Arts is looking for people to sustainably fund the partnership initiative so that the stipend can continue to be offered in future years. This ability to put vision into action matters. As Donley noted, “We are preparing a future generation of people who are invested in the arts as part of this community.”

Shari Nacson

Mostly a mom, Shari Nacson, is a freelance editor, social worker, and nonprofit consultant who makes her home in Cleveland Heights. More than anything, Nacson is inspired by kids and adults who build connection through kindness.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 12:46 PM, 01.03.2019