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Intern Office Hours: Alex Goodhouse on Confetti Cannons and Anchor Pins

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During their RISD Museum Mellon summer internships, which ran from June 4 to August 9, undergraduate and graduate students worked on a departmental project, learned about the Museum’s programs and activities, and talked theory over lunch. This response is from Alex Goodhouse (Tufts BA 2014).

The evening of July 18 was a kind of ceremony for me. I was welcoming the artists of Locally Made. Standing at a table and sweating in the summer heat, I had a checklist of names, a roll of drink tickets, and a bowl full of anchor pins.

No bigger than a quarter, the pins—printed with the state’s nautical symbol in black and white—were central to my experience of the night. In the first place, they served to identify the participants of the show, a subtle way for visitors and artists to spot one another. But there was more to it than that.

The event, the RISD Museum’s Design the Night block party and the opening of Locally Made, marked a turning point in my internship. Until then, I had been working mostly on a computer, communicating with the show’s artists over email. I had gotten to know them in a secondhand kind of way, like celebrities you follow on Twitter. Even so, from processing their paperwork and answering their questions, I knew a lot about them—where they are from, who their connections are, how they make their art (for instance, using chickens, carburetors, or ceramics). From that night forward, however, I would also spend time helping the artists, designers, and performers on the day of their events. I saw the anchor pins as a representation of this change in focus.

When opening night arrived, I was excited. This was about two things in particular: first, I was excited to meet these artists in person, in part to relieve some of the lingering creepiness I felt, but mostly to connect a face with a familiar name and to flesh out the person behind the online form. Second, I was excited to watch the confetti cannon go off during JR Uretsky’s show. Her performance was the evening’s headliner as well as the kick-off event for the whole show. It was important for symbolic reasons, but I also just wanted to see a tube of shredded paper explode in a gallery full of giant puppets, pom-poms, and tiny beach balls (go figure).

From my station at the check-in table, I could see the ticket line for JR’s show. It was big—and growing all the time. I soon realized that the performance would be sold-out. I also figured that even if I could manage to sneak a peek inside, I’d have to stay at my table to greet newly arrived artists. And so I stayed to sweat it out at the Benefit St. block party.

In the end, I got something close to what I wanted. I missed the big bang, but I came away with a lot of little bits of substance. At first I thought about how giving something up makes you consider what’s left. I realized that my internship, like my night and like the show Locally Made, was about process and preparation and build-up, not about finished products or showy spectacles. I had seen JR tweak and refine her idea, and I’d even seen her test out the confetti cannon. In other words, I got to see a uniquely personal and pure side of her work that this performance, for all of its emotional power, wouldn’t have.

And so it was in my encounters with Locally Made artists. In these meetings there were no handshakes, no formal introductions, usually just a moment of eye contact, a smile, and the hand-off of an anchor pin. Each pin I gave out created a connection with a real person, not a character or a performer.

Although I sweated through my shirt and I missed out on the night’s biggest spectacle, I found a lot of value in my bowl of anchor pins. You can’t form a personal connection with a confetti cannon, and you can’t smile over email.

Locally Made pins are available in the Lower Farago gallery until November 3. Pick one up and share a moment with someone!

Alex Goodhouse (Tufts BA 2014)