Erica Smythe ’17 Is Latest Rhodes Student Helping Brooks Museum Strengthen Community Ties

a young woman standing outside of a museum
Erica Smythe ’17

Over the past 15 years, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has looked to Rhodes students to assist in various departments with community education programming, leading tours, research support, event planning, and so much more. This semester, Erica Smythe ’17 is working as a curatorial intern executing gallery openings as well as archiving the museum’s impressive exhibition history.
Recently, the art history major assisted in the opening of the “Red Grooms: Traveling Correspondent” exhibition, which runs through January 2017 and is part of the museum’s centennial celebration. Her duties have included corresponding with the opening attendees as well as individuals and groups who have loaned works to the museum.

Although Smythe’s days vary depending on how close the museum is to an upcoming exhibit, she often is involved in exploring the archives, which date back to the museum’s opening in 1916. “I get a look at what goes on behind the scenes,” Smythe says. This experience also has helped her better understand the extent to which a curator plans exhibits, which can sometimes be five years in advance.

Smythe credits her Rhodes art history background for establishing the critical thinking and creativity needed for analyzing art and conducting the research involved as part of her internship. “Working for a nonprofit, you have to find ways to appeal to the community, but also keep the vision of the museum in mind as well as the benefactors. I think the intersection of those skills is very appealing to me.”

Smythe works under the direction of Marina Pacini, chief curator at the Brooks Museum, who says she is a great example of why the museum looks to Rhodes for interns, in every department ranging from curation to marketing. Smythe will be continuing her internship this spring where she hopes to learn more about the intricacies of running a museum. “It’s a fine-tuned machine the way a museum works. Everyone has their own specific job that they’re experts at and it’s something I’ve only scratched the surface of.”

By Lizzie Choy ’17