Chynna DeSimone: Interning at the Burchfield Penney Art Center Archives
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
As I was finishing up my junior year as a BFA in Illustration, the realities of graduation started setting in. Not only all of the work I would have to put in the following year but the fact that I had yet to take advantage of certain opportunities that I had as a student. One of which was student discounts I hadn't known about yet, but also interning somewhere relevant to one's studies. As an artist myself, I figured that working with a gallery would give me experience that I could use in the future. So, I applied to various galleries around Buffalo and got a near-immediate response from the Burchfield-Penney Arts Center.
Over the summer, I interviewed with archivist Heather Gring and discussed the kind of work I would be doing in the archives. I knew next to nothing about archival processing then, but having Gring explain the department’s ongoing projects to me piqued my interest. Even though I knew I had to learn an entirely new type of discipline, Gring answered any concerns I had. She reassured me that she and the department are very accommodating to whatever my schedule would be. Throughout my time interning, they’ve certainly kept that promise.
The first project I was put on was transcribing the audio interviews of the Living Legacy Project. This project is intended to curate artwork and collect various information on notable Buffalo artists. Starting in 2012, each year has a "class" of 15-20 living artists and upon being selected, each artist is interviewed. It's a very long process to type up a one hour long (or more) conversation, but doing this work has been valuable. I got to familiarize myself with a couple of local artists I haven’t known about before. I transcribed the interviews of Julian Montague, Sara Hornbacher, and John Opera. It was fascinating to hear them talk about their own work, their life, their beliefs, the artists who influenced them and worked with, and Buffalo. Getting a glimpse into these artists and their perspectives have had me think about both this city and my own art in a different way. Also, I was enthusiastic about transcribing audio because it can improve the accessibility of this information. Issues of accessibility are very important to me and I'm glad I could be a part of improving it.
Next, I was to begin learning about archival processing by inventorying some recently-acquired material on Buffalo artist Adele Cohen. Gring taught me the specifics on it, mainly how to label folders, inventory, and not to mess with the original order. The information in the documents she shared was somewhat overwhelming, but I resolved to give it my best shot. Actually putting it into practice made more sense, though. I went through each box, first replacing a labeling the folders and then recording the contents onto a digital document. They were filled with not only materials regarding her artistic career, but personal photographs, cards, and countless letters. I became more familiarized with not only her art but a little bit of her life. I continued to assist other interns in various collections they were doing, including cleaning, scanning, and organizing slides for the Jennifer Regan collection.
Because I was now familiar with archival processing, I was to assist Artpark researcher Jennifer Cook with the massive Artpark archives. Again, I was very unfamiliar with Artpark. But going through the materials and discussions with Cook helped foster an interest in the history of the park, namely the visual art residency program. I think it’s so fascinating to me because it was extremely significant in the development of emergent media and artists in the late 20th century, but I’ve never truly learned about it until now. Even the various programs in music and theatre and the special events seemed to have never existed to me. It’s like a whole world opened up that I could never integrate myself in, but I could only observe. Along with that, I helped out at the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon that took place. There I researched more in-depth on a couple of female Artpark artists and made sure their work and accomplishments were documented for the world to see.
We never seem to learn about Buffalo's own art history and contemporary art scene. For most people, it seems to begin and end with Charles Burchfield. Being about to learn about a few artists I would never have otherwise have inspired me to learn more about local artists. I’m also paying attention to local artists, gallery openings, and calls for work in the area. I feel I'm more appreciative of this region and the work that goes into archival processing. I learned that there's a whole trove of information on people and places that I never knew even existed and a whole discipline of making sure these things don't get forgotten. Working with both Gring and Cook and getting to know them was enjoyable and I’m appreciative of their help and guidance. I don’t know where my life will take me, but continuing to work with the Burchfield Penney Arts Center would definitely be an option for me.
Chynna DeSimone, April 2018