Benjamin Xu ’23

By the Way Berkshires, Williamstown, MA

This summer, I worked as an arts journalism intern for By the Way Berkshires, a Williamstown-based digital magazine founded by Katherine Abbott ’00. Stories promoting the creative economy of the Berkshires are found on the website and cover a wide range of subject matter, ranging from arts to food to local history to the outdoors; but the stories I worked on were focused on the arts, broadly defined. Some were based on interviews, while others were reviews of performances and exhibitions that I attended.

My internship was bookended by a pair of reviews. The first was a review of ABCD—a new play by May Treuhaft-Ali that assesses the structural causes of cheating in American schools—which premiered at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield this summer. My last story was a review of violinist Leonidas Kavakos in Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto at Tanglewood.

Between these two reviews, I conducted interviews. For my second story, I spoke to Ann Hobson Pilot, the former principal harpist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and to Valerie Coleman, an acclaimed composer of contemporary classical music. The interview culminated in a story about Pilot’s musical legacy and about racial disparities in the orchestral world. I also interviewed Noah Yoo of the alternative rock/indie pop band Cafuné, which was embarking on its first national tour. This interview was formatted as a Q&A and published before the band’s concert at MASS MoCA.

I also had the opportunity to interview Horace Ballard, curator of the new Mary Ann Unger exhibition at WCMA, To Shape a Moon from Bone. Ultimately, I used this interview to write a story that focused on Unger’s use of grids, both as visual forms and as tools within her sculptural process.

Working for By the Way Berkshires made for an impactful summer experience. Professionally, I now see arts journalism as a possible career path. Arts journalism/criticism seems to preserve, to some extent, the rigorous question-asking and argumentation that makes academic/research-oriented work enjoyable, even if there is the additional impetus for the former (particularly at small publications) to perform a certain promotional/public relations function.

Academically, this internship has deepened my interest in theories of cultural criticism. I now feel more confident in my previously vague notion that good arts criticism doesn’t shy away from political questions, and I look forward to exploring this theory, as well as competing ones, in the rest of my undergraduate coursework (and potentially graduate school). Additionally, I’ve also developed a greater interest in learning more about contemporary arts institutions—their societal role and how they operate.

I would like to thank the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Kraft Family. This internship experience gave me better interview skills, more confidence as a writer and a deeper appreciation for the Berkshires as a cultural region. I’m confident that the career insights and tangible skills that I’ve gained this summer will prove invaluable in the future.