Graduate student Gina Utman, left, and Museum Conservation Program director Silvia Marinas-Feliner work to restore an antique retablo in the art conservation lab. | Photo by Darren Phillips

NMSU first to partner with Smithsonian Latino Center for museum conservation internships

Over the next five years, students in New Mexico State University’s Museum Conservation Program will have the opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian Latino Center thanks to a first-of-its-kind partnership.

Since 1997, the Smithsonian Latino Center has successfully ensured that the contributions of the Latino community are celebrated and represented throughout the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian Latino Center received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support four NMSU students per year over the next five years with internships for up to six months each, including transportation, housing and a stipend.

As the director of a highly-respected museum conservation program at a Hispanic-Serving Institution, NMSU’s Silvia Marinas-Feliner worked closely with the Smithsonian to open up a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her students to improve their expertise at the Smithsonian.

“The Smithsonian Latino Program and NMSU Museum Conservation Program created this internship to give our museum conservation students a unique opportunity to learn how one of the main institutions in the world applies preventive conservation, collections care and art conservation,” said Silvia Marinas-Feliner, program director.

“This is an absolutely unique experience and it will be a privilege for the museum conservation students to be able to go to the museums of the Smithsonian Institute to gain experience in the museum world.”

NMSU’s museum conservation program, which was started in 2005, is just one of only two universities nationwide that prepares students to be art conservators. Through this program, students gain practical experience while restoring bronze statues, religious retablos and other works of fine art.

“Museum conservation program students need to gain as much experience as possible in museums and collections to be accepted into graduate conservation programs or museum jobs,” Marinas-Feliner said.

Marinas-Feliner has worked with the Smithsonian in the past, placing approximately 10 NMSU students into other internships at the Smithsonian. Although many more students were interested in internships, they could not afford the cost. Now that this new program includes funding, more students will have the opportunity to attend the internship program.

Josie Maldonado, who graduated from NMSU’s conservation program in 2012, was a summer intern at the Smithsonian in 2014 and learned a variety of skills that she continues to use today.

During her time at the National Air and Space Museum, Maldonado worked under two conservators on objects such as small aircraft instruments for display, a pressure suit designed for the Apollo 11 exhibit and more.

“Other than learning about conservation treatments, I increased my skills in examination, documentation and analysis of modern materials,” Maldonado said. “It also taught me skills collaborating with curators, museum specialists and published literature related to spacesuits.”

After her successful Air and Space Museum internship, Maldonado worked as a contractor at the Air and Space Museum at their off-site storage facility in Maryland. Currently, Maldonado is applying the skills she learned from the conservation and internship to her job as a senior conservation technician with EverGreene Architectural Arts.

“The hands-on skills I learned through the studio art courses have really been of use to me, even past the internship,” Maldonado said. “The museum-specific coursework has put me ahead when I did apply to various other internships with historic homes and museums because I already had an understanding of collections management and how museums work.”

Similarly, Lyndy Bush, who graduated from NMSU’s program in 2013, was a summer intern at the Smithsonian while she was a student. “I feel this opportunity is a career changer for many students facing a highly competitive field after graduation,” Bush said.

“While working at the Smithsonian, I was able to get an experience that very few people receive,” Bush said. “I experienced behind the scenes tours into the collections storage facilities and the state-of-the-art conservation facilities. I learned directly from curators and conservators that managed the immense collections and worked to design and implement a comprehensive restoration plan on damaged botany specimens.”

Since graduating and moving to Colorado, Bush worked with programming and preventative restoration for local museums and local art restoration businesses. Currently, she works as an administrator for a research institute at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical campus.

“An internship at the Smithsonian makes you even more competitive for graduate programs and future job searches,” Bush said. “Silvia has worked diligently to create this partnership with the Smithsonian and I hope students take advantage of this fantastic opportunity.”

For more information about the museum conservation program contact Marinas-Feliner at [email protected] or click here to visit the program’s website.

Author: Amanda Adame – NMSU


For updates on all news from around Las Cruces and Southern New Mexico, please visit our news partners at Las Cruces Today