From January to April 2017, President Lincoln’s Cottage was lucky to have Juliana Venegas on board as the Programs Department Intern. We sat down with Juliana, a graduate student at the George Washington University in the Museum Education program, where she explained her role in the new orientation experience, her take on historic house museums (spoiler: she doesn’t necessarily like them) and oh, she’s a mean tap dancer as well:
How did you first hear about President Lincoln’s Cottage?
I was in an interpretation of historic house museums class last semester and we came here. We went to a different house each week, and this was one of the last ones.
Full disclosure, and slightly controversial: I don’t necessarily like historic houses that much. I come from Connecticut where there’s a historic house on every block practically, and I don’t really understand what’s so special about them. So I took the historic house class semester to figure out why I don’t like historic houses. What’s cool about President Lincoln’s Cottage is that it’s not a typical historic house; it has no furniture, it doesn’t focus on a random white dude who you have one record of and you create a whole story around. The Cottage does a really good job of helping visitors connect with Lincoln.
In your experience, what makes President Lincoln’s Cottage different from other historic house museums?
I know relevant is a super buzz word at the moment, but the Cottage is actually doing something active today, with human trafficking. Whereas most historic houses are stuck in that period and there’s no takeaway.
Tell me more about your background. What are you studying?
I completed my undergrad at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Ancient Studies and English Communications and Technologies. I’m currently at GW for grad school in a 14 month Museum Education program.
Explain your role here as the Programs Intern. What were the major projects you worked on?
So I started in mid January, and my last day [was] April 13. I didn’t have one major project, instead I had a part in many. Mainly I researched outreach for SOS (schools and organizations to reach out to for the SOS International Summit), I helped create a map of where participants come from, and organized applications as they came in. I also was involved in the new orientation experience, collecting the answers from thought bubbles and putting them into a word cloud. I worked closely with [Associate Director for Programs] Callie Hawkins helping review drafts for the orientation experience and she asked for my input; particularly we would brainstorm about the process and flow. I helped brainstorm would MPAs (Museum Program Associates) be asking questions? What type of questions? We talked through all of that.
What’s your favorite aspect of the new orientation experience?
I feel like a lot of people who are coming here want to just listen, and be passive, so I think it’s cool that they’re shaking them up right from the start. I like how the thought bubbles come off the wall — they’re magnetic– because it gives you a more personal space to reflect. Whereas if they had to stay up on the wall, you’re more on display like you’re standing up in front of the class. Everyone gets their own bubble. They can take it off the wall, take it back to their personal space to reflect, then stick it back on the wall. There’s more anonymity that way.
During your internship, was there anything that surprised you about working at a historic house museum?
I spent a lot of time in the back office right off the Museum Store, so I overheard the Museum Store Manager talking to patrons often. One thing that surprised me about working here was I never thought of the store as a way to promote the institution’s mission. Even if I go into other museum stores, there’s a lot of trinkets, but in our store there’s a reason behind each and every item that is related to our mission.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Working at a museum that is actively promoting change in the world.
What’s your biggest takeaway from this experience?
Learning that it is possible to work for an organization that is working as a change agent.
In your own words, why should someone come to the Cottage? Sell me.
It’s a very different experience than other places in DC. You should come here because the special exhibit on immigration is super powerful, but not in a political way. It’s a really good reflection spot. You can “break the rules” which is appealing; you can sit on the furniture, etc. I sell people on the idea that it’s a home for brave ideas and big questions. It’s a great place to come and ask questions, but not in a frustrating way, but in a way where you leave and are like, “hmm, I have a lot to think about.”
Before we go, a fun fact about yourself?
Not many people know that I’m a tap dancer. I’ve been tap dancing since I was two.