Art & Culture

  • Hillary Halter

Ready for Post-Penn: Hillary Halter Reports on her Penn Fellowships in Philadelphia Museums

  • Hillary Halter
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Ready for Post-Penn: Hillary Halter Reports on her Penn Fellowships in Philadelphia Museums

By Hillary Halter

Entering Penn, I was confident that I wanted to major in something in the humanities and fairly certain I would choose History of Art. Of course, employability inevitably popped into my mind. Putting my worries aside and chanting a mantra of “What is the point of learning if I don't care about what I'm learning?” I decided upon my major. Though I am a senior now and feeling a bit bewildered about my post-Penn life, I can say wholeheartedly that Penn has provided me with an amazing array of experiences from which I’ve gained confidence and real world knowledge. 

Spring of my sophomore year, the History of Art department emailed out information about curatorial fellowships, graciously funded internships with different cultural institutions in Philadelphia. I couldn’t believe the department was providing these opportunities to solely their undergraduate and graduate students. Moreover, I couldn’t believe one of them was going to be at the relocated Barnes Foundation, the most buzzed about museum at the time. Without second-guessing, I earnestly applied for The Barnes Foundation fellowship and was stunned when I found out I had received the fellowship and would be working with Chief Curator Judith Dolkart in the upcoming fall. Judith was an amazing mentor. She was personable, communicative, appreciative, and welcoming. I worked closely with her researching the collection and upcoming exhibiting artists – a new initiative for The Barnes Foundation. I was able to see all of the roles of a head curator in a hands-on way while also honing my independent research skills with some guidance from Judith. Being in a museum undergoing great changes provided insight into the inner workings of a non-profit, cultural institution. In many ways, The Barnes was not only relocating, but recreating their programming, education, and curatorial departments, all of which Judith oversees. Working in the office and meeting her colleagues, I gained an understanding of what managing a large and unique collection of art work entails and the efforts that go along with engaging the public in constructive and educational ways. 

Beyond these History of Art Curatorial Fellowships, Penn offers other funded internship opportunities at cultural institutions across Philadelphia. This past summer, I received another funded internship through Penn, this time through the University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF). Again, I gained knowledge and experience, this time at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) on Penn’s campus. During my time at Penn, I have always been involved with ICA in some capacity, mostly as a student board member. A dynamic force within the contemporary art world, ICA hosts rotating exhibitions that are challenging and forward-thinking. My time as an intern with the Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber (CHE'60) Program Curator Alex Klein introduced me to far more than I had ever been exposed to as a student board member. I worked closely with Alex, as well as recent Penn grad and Spiegel Fellow Grace Ambrose, planning for the year ahead, which includes ICA’s current exhibition Jason Rhoades, Four Roads and the institution’s 50th anniversary. One of my biggest tasks was helping to curate the programming section of the institute’s new website being released this fall. Creating an archive of programs from the last 2 years, I decided upon content, associated pages, and media, all with the goal of creating an accurate, exciting, and inviting portrait of ICA. Besides my work in the office, I accompanied Alex and Grace for offsite research at Penn’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and at galleries in Philadelphia and New York City. Because ICA is an institution that does a lot of work with a small staff, I interacted with every department and staff member at some point during my internship, if not on a daily basis. As the ICA is such aa different institution from The Barnes Foundation, I was given a look from a new angle into the art world, a different skill set, and a better idea of what I could picture myself doing in the future.

These two amazing opportunities would not have been possible without the funding I was provided through Penn— and these are just two examples of fellowship opportunities in the arts funded by the University. There are opportunities all over the country in cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, and there are even some internationally. With their connection to the University, you can be sure that these experiences will be worthwhile. 

I know that as I apply for jobs and interview with different companies and organizations I will confidently draw upon my internships awarded through Penn and their applicability to a wide array of industries. These internships have also deepened my passion for art history and contemporary art in particular, driving me to pursue a career path in the arts which I am confident I can obtain with the connections and skills I’ve gained. My future is still a mystery, but I’m excited to move forward and thanks to Penn, I feel eager and self-assured about pursuing my post-undergraduate life. 


Hillary Halter is a BA candidate in Art History at the University of Pennsylvania. On campus, she is a member of the ICA Student Board and the History of Art Undergraduate Advisory Board. She studied abroad at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London where she enjoyed travelling and visiting many museums and galleries. In her free time, Hillary loves baking, painting, and the occasional day trip to New York.  

Edited by Naomi Shavin.