At the helm

‘I wasn’t going to say no’

‘I learned skills in a lot of areas that I’ll definitely be able to use, especially in working with people and the public’

An extended internship in addition to classes meant hard work for senior Emma Converse of Fort Wayne, Indiana. But it’s paying off in more ways than one.

With help from her Gallery Studies instructor, Mark Ruschman (a longtime gallery owner and a leader on Indianapolis’s visual arts scene), Emma began work last fall at the Harrison Center for the Arts, a nonprofit studio and gallery complex. After the studio art major proved her worth, the Harrison Center staff came to her with an exciting but daunting offer: to serve as coordinator for the Independent Music & Art Festival—the largest event on the center’s yearly schedule. This year’s 11th annual IMAF, which took place June 9, featured multiple art exhibitions, more than 100 craft vendors, 12 musical acts on two stages, a gaggle of food trucks, and approximately 7,000 visitors. Emma was the coordinator for  one big festival.

Class connection

As her Gallery Studies class last fall helped curate the gallery shows in the University’s Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, Emma expressed interest in an internship. Ruschman, head curator for the Indiana State Museum, connected Emma with the Harrison Arts Center.

Naturally, Emma is very grateful for her professor’s recommendation.
Ruschman, she says, “was very helpful. He knows everybody!”

Just a few weeks into her internship at Harrison Arts Center, Emma was asked if she would be interested in serving as coordinator for the festival. After thinking about the intimidating request, Emma decided to take the leap.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” Emma says. “I wasn’t going to say no to it. Not everyone gets to organize a festival.”

One step at a time

With the IMAF approaching in June 2012, Emma started in November 2011 by researching past festivals. She also pored over a binder that offered tips and advice on how to prepare for the festival. Emma headed an advisory board that met monthly to help her plan and tackle the tasks that needed to be completed. She also turned to the Harrison Art Center staff and Google to learn more about how to put on a successful festival.

In the beginning months of planning, Emma spent a lot of time researching and emailing. She found the bands to play at the festival and worked on the contracts with the bands all the way through April. She also had to do “vendor talks” and get all the permits needed for the big day. And in the days leading up to the festival, Emma found herself running errands all around Indianapolis.

“There’s so many things that go into this that I wouldn’t have even imagined went into a festival,” she says.

Festival day

Emma started the big day on site at 8 a.m., overseeing the preparations and helping volunteers and vendors get to their locations as tents went up, food and drinks were concocted, and the crafts were lined up. The first band went on at noon, and the music didn’t stop till 8 p.m. Neither did Emma. The best way that she could describe the experience was as being “surreal. It doesn’t feel like it’s really happening. It’s awesome!

“And even with all the work I was doing the day of, I was still enjoying it. Having fun and seeing the bands and everything, I was thinking, ‘Wow, I kind of put this all together.’”

After the guests headed home and the streets were cleared, Emma could finally stop and reflect on what she’d accomplished over her eight months of preparations.

“It was so much work,” she says, “but I’m glad I did it.”

Her art’s selling, too

Walk on the Canal by Emma Converse

The icing on the cake was an invitation to display her own paintings in one of the galleries during the festival and beyond. Her cityscapes featuring Indianapolis landmarks were a hit with visitors, who bought five of the seven works on display.Since then, Emma has received two private commissions for new paintings, and a local advertising and PR agency has commissioned seven pieces for its offices, including renditions of Monument Circle, the Central Canal, and other local sites.

And now Emma has scored another internship, this time at the Wheeler Arts Center in Fountain Square, near campus. “I’ll be helping out with the curatorial process for their First Friday events,” she says.

Emma credits UIndy with helping her become more confident and outgoing. Thanks to the University’s small classes, she found herself speaking up more often. She also learned time management skills. With many classes on her plate, she learned how to multitask and organize her time.

In fact, her best advice for student interns is to stay on task and organize. “If you’re not keeping yourself organized, you’ll go crazy!”

So what’s next?

With her studio art major concentrated in print-making and painting, Emma plans to pursue a master’s degree in museum studies with the dream of working behind the scenes of a museum or gallery. With the Independent Music and Art Festival under her belt and now a series of First Friday events to collaborate on, her real-world experience will make her stand out among other graduates when job-search time comes along.

—Jenn Meadows ’14