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1000 Years in 1000 Miles

January 10, 2019

Emily Rohan’s “North Star” is to become a museum curator. During her undergraduate career, she had the opportunity to work as a curatorial intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). That experience made it clear what path she wanted to pursue out of college.

She is well on her way and is currently participating in an advanced-level program at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Seeing History Through Art & Literature

Rohan earned a BA in art history from the University of Minnesota in 2015. As a self-proclaimed history fanatic, she eagerly signed up for history classes her first semester at the U. But it was her introduction to art history course that captured her attention, opening a whole new world to her. "I discovered that art was an incredible means of exploring and understanding history,” she explains.

Strong writing is an integral part of studying art history, and Rohan kept her writing muscles toned with an English minor. She found it interesting that the literature she read for her English classes often paralleled the movements she discussed in her art history classes. Having multiple lenses to view a particular era or movement helped her see the larger picture of what was happening at that time in history.

Building Bridges

The Department of Art History has many connections in the local art community, especially with museums. One of Rohan’s professors connected her with the opportunity to be a curatorial intern at Mia. “That was the coolest experience in the world; I lucked out,” she gushes. "I had always loved to visit museums, and suddenly I found myself behind the scenes having first-hand contact with objects."

Rohan worked under Eike Schmidt, former James Ford Bell Curator of Decorative Arts & Sculpture and head of Mia’s Department of Decorative Arts, Textiles & Sculpture. “He was really generous with me,” she says. “I wasn’t fetching coffee and making photocopies; I was at his side learning what a curator does.” Rohan helped him research and write the exhibition catalog and the labels for the exhibition The Hours of Night and Day: A Rediscovered Cycle of Bronze Reliefs by Giovanni Casini and Pietro Cipriani.

“These objects hadn’t been exhibited before, so it was like we were presenting them to the world, which is exciting and rare in art history,” she explains. "Working on that exhibition was when the clouds parted and I realized that museum work offers the best of both worlds: research, writing, the academic side of things, and public engagement. You’re making something that a lot of people will enjoy and learn from."

Art History Immersion

Rohan discovered the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and Renwick Gallery Advanced Level Program and accepted an internship there starting in September 2018.

The exhibition Rohan is currently working on at SAAM, entitled Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War: 1967-1975, traveled to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and on view from September 28th, 2019 to January 5th, 2020.

Throughout her undergraduate career Rohan was studying medieval art, and at SAAM she has jumped a thousand years through art history and is currently working on contemporary art. While the work is different, Rohan credits her time in the art history department and at Mia for preparing her for the current internship at SAAM. Washington, DC is the perfect place for Rohan to immerse herself into art history, and at SAAM she connects with professionals in her desired field. “The Smithsonian is amazing,” she says. “I can’t recommend it enough.” When she is not working she spends her time visiting the hundreds of museums that the city has to offer.

“I am so happy to have majored in art history,” Rohan reflects. "In addition to my academic training, I got an introduction to museum work, and now I know the path I want to pursue."


This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.