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Ina Descartes at the National Portrait Gallery surrounded by paintings

Mason Arts Management graduate student Ina Descartes got an internship at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., where she worked in the Department of Exhibits.

Internship Lets Her Work Among Works of Art

When Ina Descartes finished her undergraduate degree in art history in her native Germany, she didn’t know what she wanted to do with it. Graduate studies in Arts Management at George Mason University helped her find a passion for museum work.

While at Mason, Descartes land a highly competitive internship at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. She worked in the Department of Exhibits, where she researched copyrights and licenses, and helped promote exhibitions.

“Many of the pieces are borrowed or loaned out, and that requires considerable paperwork. I also learned about digital filing,” says Descartes, who assisted the gallery’s audiovisual archivist in cataloging audio and video files from the 1970s to present.

One unique experience was attendance at the unveiling of a portrait of Francis J. Underwood, the fictional president played by actor Kevin Spacey on the Netflix series House of Cards. Spacey appeared at the press conference. “It was really interesting to watch that whole press conference unfold as part of the internal Smithsonian ‘family,’ ” says Descartes.

“The Washington, D.C., region is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of arts organizations, and internship possibilities are plentiful.”

— Nicole Springer, assistant director of the program

The art management master’s degree program requires internships; students, who earn 3 credits, are expected to spend at least 126 hours on site. Mason’s Art Management Program assists students in finding opportunities and preparing their applications, says Nicole Springer, assistant director of the program.

Descartes now manages the historic art and antiques collection and archives at the Woman's National Democratic Club, which has its own art museum. She also handles the communications work, including newsletters, promotional materials, and some social media.

“My academic advisor Claire Huschle and my internship contacts helped tremendously [in the job hunt],” she says. “I gained valuable knowledge and skills through my internships that I definitely use at work now.”