Jaiha Lee ’24

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Washington, D.C.

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage for the 2022 Folklife Festival. The center specifically conducts research to preserve and educate the public about global cultures. Much like its motto “culture of, by, and for the people,” it takes pride in increasing accessibility to cultural practices and highlighting underrepresented communities. The Folklife Festival takes place for two weeks and brings hundreds of thousands of people to D.C. each year. The festival hosts participants from around the world and arranges performances, presentations, cooking demonstrations, storytelling, arts and crafts opportunities, and more to engage the public with diverse cultures. This year’s theme centered on the United Arab Emirates and Earth optimism, combining environmental issues with how the UAE and its traditions support a sustainable future.

Jaiha Lee getting henna.Along with a pair of curators, I worked with the UAE program team to facilitate communication with participants and presenters, creating schedules, and helping coordinate supply management along with other logistical tasks. I was also tasked with writing a blog post about the Lumiere Collective—an artist duo from India based in the UAE whom I interviewed and communicated with virtually. I looked through their video installations, delved into their creative process and learned about expat culture in the UAE. I enjoyed doing research for the article and received great feedback from my supervisors.

This was my first in-person internship since the pandemic started, so I was excited to interact directly with people. I enjoyed getting to know the other interns and some of the UAE participants, many of whom were friendly and open to conversation. I wasn’t very familiar with the United Arab Emirates before this internship, so I enjoyed learning more about the culture, such as falconry and traditional coffee brewing methods. Although the festival was stressful and physically demanding, I acquired a wide variety of new skills after having to execute unfamiliar and challenging tasks. Everyone I met at the center was extremely nice and welcoming, especially when we needed help during the festival itself.

The Folklife Festival was the perfect opportunity to explore my double major in art history and American studies in a professional setting. I was interested in gaining museum experience to interact with artwork and cultural artifacts but also learn how cross-cultural studies apply to society and its people. Talking with professionals in the field inspired me to look into graduate or Ph.D. programs in art history or museum studies. Although I’m unsure of what I want to specialize in, I would like to further explore what it takes to create equitable spaces for art. The connections I made during the internship reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career that embraces diverse cultures, expressions and experiences.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the Class of 1972 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration.