Design students step into the profession as summer Smithsonian interns

SUNY New Paltz designers pose with Josué Castilleja, art director at the
Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

SUNY New Paltz Graphic design students Dulcia Halliday ’17, Kelly McInerney ’17, Megan LaCognata ’17 and Victoria Falco ’18 became the first to represent the College as Smithsonian Institute Folklife Festival design interns this summer.

As part of an intensive, on-site internship working alongside professional designers, curators and administrators at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH), these four students contributed graphic design, writing and photography to the promotion of the 2016 Folklife Festival, an annual two-week exposition of cultural heritage produced on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

We caught up with Falco, Halliday, McInerney and LaCognata to ask them about their Smithsonian internship experience this summer.

Compared to other graphic design work you’ve done, what made the experience of interning at the Folklife Festival unique?

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Dulcia Halliday

“I think the one thing that really stood out was the difference between doing work in the classroom and doing work for a company,” said Falco. “There’s a lot more people involved who need to approve your work, and many edits before anything is finalized. For the Smithsonian center, we had to have many curators approve our work based on the text they provided, so we just had to remain very flexible.”

“At school we are given assignments, but we have a lot of liberty in what directions we can go in,” Halliday said. “At the Smithsonian, the curators have an identity and a very specific look they are building to achieve. This requires constant communication between the designer and curators, which does not happen as directly in the classroom. Being at the Smithsonian, you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself. This internship gave me confidence in knowing that there are rewarding jobs out there where I could feel I am making a lasting impact on the world.”

What skills did you develop through this internship?

“I had the opportunity to work with the Art Director and Senior Designer at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, who both gave me great advice that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” LaCognata said. “I gained a lot of good experience, from technicalities in InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, to learning about being a designer in the real world, but I think the most significant thing I learned through my internship is effective communication. To pull off a successful festival, communication among designers, between designer and curator, with participants from other states/countries, and with the general public is imperative, because the participants want to feel that their traditions, way of living and history are being sustained and exhibited correctly. Interning at the Smithsonian made me realize that there is so much more to being a designer that you just won’t experience in the classroom.”

How did your Smithsonian experience relate to what you’d like to do professionally after graduation?

“Interning as a graphic designer for the Smithsonian aligned very well with my career goals, as I’m hoping to work as a designer who gives back to the community,” McInerney said. “It was interesting to get to see how the various departments at the CFCH worked together each day to finish projects for the Folklife Festival with the common goal of teaching the public about the different cultures being presented. I am so happy and grateful to have had the opportunity to be in the middle of it all and experience what it is like working for such a prestigious institution.”

Kelly McInerney

The website of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival includes information about its mission and examples of exhibitions and events included in the 2016 program.

The 2016 Festival blog includes entries about Basque dancing traditions that feature original illustrations by Dulcia Halliday.

More information about the SUNY New Paltz Graphic Design program is available online.