Melanie Vera ’19, preparing to enter the world of museums

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Monday, July 6th, 2020

Fulfilling an internship wasn’t just a checkoff on the graduation list for Melanie Vera.

In her case, working at Franklin & Marshall College’s Phillips Museum in Lancaster during her junior year launched Vera into the pursuit of her own career in museums.  Now Vera ’19, Fine Art, is a student at Johns Hopkins University’s Museum Studies master’s degree program and building the connections for a career in that field.

Read on to learn what other influences have directed Vera’s career path and what advice she has for making the most of your time at PCA&D:

What drew you to art and design school? 

MV: Ever since the first grade I wanted to be an artist or art teacher. It wasn’t really until I met my high school art teacher that inspired and encouraged me to attend an art school. 

What factors helped you decide on your Fine Art major?

MV: The way I’ve come to explain fire arts to other people is that fine arts is “everything else.” It’s not graphic design, it’s not storytelling illustration, it isn’t motion graphics — it’s about creating work to express yourself as an artist. I was not so sure about what medium I liked best, let alone was good at using, but I knew that I wanted viewers to feel a certain way when they looked at my work.

Can you tell us what you’re doing now?

MV: I am currently in my second semester at Johns Hopkins University, where I will earn a Master of Arts in Museum Studies come August 2021. I definitely recommend looking into the program if anyone is interested in entering the museum world — it is a great way to stay involved in the arts, though it is a very competitive field. I have a part-time job in Bel Air and seasonally work as an Art Handler at (Franklin & Marshall College’s) Phillips Museum in Lancaster, where I first began as an intern in 2018!

Was there anything at PCA&D that you feel specifically helped you with this next step? 

MV: I knew I wanted my education to be in the arts before attending PCA&D, but I wasn’t sure what I could do professionally with a Fine Arts bachelor’s degree. Make art, yes, but I wanted something more stable, something I was certain about. It wasn’t until my junior year internship that I found my admiration and love for museums and collections management. Everything immediately fell into place, and I knew that this was where my future was heading.

How did the internship experience at PCA&D help you?

MV: As I mentioned, my first internship was at the Phillips Museum in Lancaster. It is only about a 20-minute walk from PCA&D, for which I am VERY grateful. I wasn’t completely sure which profession in the museum world I wanted to join, so the staff members graciously gave me an all-around experience. Most of my duties involved installing exhibitions and cataloging artworks — I fell in love with the latter, which led me to look at graduate schools. Two of the staff members actually attended the same museum program at (Johns Hopkins) and encouraged me to apply.

What advice do you have for students who are considering PCA&D, or who are in the midst of their time here?

MV: For those considering joining PCA&D, know two things: The staff and students are lovely, but YOU have to want success in order to make it. Art school isn’t like other programs, where you answer yes or no questions and take some tests to pass; it’s about theory, practice, and self-motivation. Your professors can ask questions and push you to experiment day in and day out, but at the end of the day, it is up to you to want to improve.

For everyone: Listen to critiques! Critiques are not negative! The idea is to hear new perspectives and step out of your comfort zone. Your professors are there to challenge you and develop your skills, so listen! 

And, finally: Network. Social media is your best friend — get your name out there! Find internships, volunteer, make connections. Use the digital age to your advantage and grow as an artist. Your classmates are friends you will have for life, so give each other a boost — the art world is tough, but it sure is worth it.

To see more of Vera’s work, follow her on Instagram at @melaniebrigidavera_fineart or visit melanievera.com.

(Top photo: “Amalgamation,” photo courtesy Melanie Vera)