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Open access: U-M recruits students across campus to fill arts internships

By Deborah Holdship

Michigan Men's Glee Club

ANN ARBOR—The arts touch every academic discipline, from engineering and political science to nursing and the law. And yet, arts-minded college students in those majors rarely bring their unique talents to arts careers—talents that would enrich individual organizations and the culture at large. 

Lizzie (LSA ‘94) and Jonathan Tisch.

Lizzie (LSA ‘94) and Jonathan Tisch hope to diversify and enliven the cultural landscape with a recent gift of $250,000 to establish the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Michigan Culture Corps Internship Fund at the University of Michigan. The program is administered by U-M’s Art’s Initiative.

“We are excited to support the bold vision of the Arts Initiative, especially its goal to fully integrate the arts into a Michigan education and encourage all students to deeply engage with the arts and art-making during their time on campus,” said Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch in a joint statement. 

“Our support for Michigan Culture Corps will help to expose students who possibly haven’t yet considered a career in the arts to the broad opportunities available in our country’s cultural sector.”

Michigan Culture Corps

The fund will support the Michigan Culture Corps in recruiting BA and BS degree students—who are not necessarily arts majors—to pursue internship opportunities and careers in arts and culture organizations. The focus will be on first-generation students, community college transfer students, and other populations historically excluded from arts careers. 

“Museums and other arts organizations are coming to terms with the lack of diversity and inclusion in leadership,” said Christina Olsen, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art. “We want to create access at U-M for a broader group of arts-minded undergraduates to engage in an arts internship and then move toward a career in that sector.”

A 2018 Mellon Report notes just 16% of museum curators are people of color; only 11% of conservators are. 

Financial support is key

The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Michigan Culture Corps Internship Fund will address the financial obstacles that often deter students—and organizations—from participating in an arts internship. Students will be paid a stipend for their work and have access to additional support for transportation. 

Christopher Audain, managing director of the Arts Initiative at U-M. Photo by Colleen Durkin.

Funds also will be used to support the program’s credit-bearing course based in the Department of American Culture, which will kick off the Michigan Culture Corps experience each winter. Host organizations will receive support and contribute their expertise to the planning of the first year of the program. 

“Ideal partners include arts organizations, museums and cultural nonprofits seeking a sustained pipeline of diverse talent,” said Christopher Audain, managing director of the Arts Initiative at U-M. 

To date, partners include 

  • Detroit Public Theatre
  • InsideOut Literary Arts, Detroit
  • Ann Arbor-based Creative Washtenaw
  • Living Arts, Detroit
  • The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit
  • Culture Source, Detroit
  • Arab American National Museum, Dearborn

Michigan Culture Corps

The program will launch its first cohort in March 2022. Curriculum is built around a yearly cycle that guarantees an internship placement for each student and creates structures that guide them into and out from the experience. The course provides peer support, as well as education regarding the role arts and culture organizations play in society. Students will develop workplace skills as they learn to collaborate in teams and communicate professionally.

“If students derive a sense of belonging from their internships—a sense that the arts and culture sector should and does include people like them—they are more likely to stay in the field,” Audain said.

Throughout spring and summer 2022, Michigan Culture Corps students will embed at participating organizations, gaining exposure to the daily rigors and routines of the arts workplace—ethics, norms and a practical understanding of how organizations work.

Student presentations, as well as debrief and reflection, will take place each fall. 

Removing Barriers 

Michigan Culture Corps evolved out of the Arts Initiative at U-M. Clare Croft, associate professor of American culture, and Hanna Smotrich, associate professor at the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design led the program’s design. They worked with a research team comprising artists, students and administrators who conducted focus groups and interviews with nearly 400 U-M students and 50 arts organizations based in southeast Michigan.  

Some 80% of student respondents reported an arts hobby and 61% had taken art courses at U-M. But many students had not pursued arts internships as part of their academic experience. Obstacles ranged from a lack of awareness to a need for a paid internship. Researchers also identified strong interest among organizations in southeast Michigan, many led by people from historically excluded populations. Some 91% agreed they would be better able to host students with financial support from U-M.  

The Tisch Family

At U-M, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch have supported internships at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; student scholarships at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance; exhibitions and programs at the U-M Museum of Art; and the football performance center in Athletics, among other areas. Their philanthropic contributions to Michigan total more than $9 million. 

The Tisch family’s multigenerational support for Michigan began with Jonathan’s parents, the late Preston Robert Tisch and the late Joan Tisch, who, as U-M students, met on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library. Lizzie Tisch is also a U-M alumna, graduating from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts in 1994.