Art Historian and Museum Educator Caroline Sillars ’24 Lands Smithsonian Internship

a young white woman wearing a collared shirt and jacket smiles

Whether she’s answering questions on the gallery floor or organizing workshops in the Davidson Arts and Creative Engagement (DACE) studio, Caroline Sillars ’24 loves bringing art to the people around her. As a virtual intern for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), she finds creative and engaging ways to educate museum-goers about contemporary indigenous art.

Encouraged to explore art from a young age, Sillars arrived at Davidson College with years of painting and ceramics classes under her belt. She convinced herself that she’d choose a major outside of the arts — that is, until she took a basic sculpture course her first semester and decided she couldn’t do anything else. The rest is (art) history. 

That year, she began working in the Van Every/Smith Galleries, got involved with DACE and took as many art history classes as she could. While studying in Vienna last fall, she took a museum history course that sharpened her interest in becoming a museum educator after graduating.

“Meeting educators at the Smithsonian, I’ve learned that there are so many different ways you can teach at a museum,” Sillars said. “The work is never monotonous, and you never know what questions people will ask. Everyone sees and reacts to art differently, which is something I’ve always loved about studying art history.”

At the end of March, Sillars traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet her colleagues and see NMAI in person. During her internship this spring, she will research and compose educational resources on contemporary indigenous artist Jeffrey Gibson, a painter and sculptor who often uses traditional mediums like beadwork, leatherwork and quilting in his art. 

For Sillars, the research portion of her role is just as fascinating as interacting with museum-goers. 

“There aren’t as many educational resources on present-day indigenous artists,” she said. “I especially love finding sources where the artist talks about their own art. External critiques are important, but themes in artwork are often very personal. Jeffrey is queer and indigenous, and his art reflects his experience.”

Her internship ends in May, but Sillars plans to continue researching Gibson’s work and stay connected with the Smithsonian as she pursues a career in museum education.

Looking back on her four years at Davidson, she’s grateful for the mentors who showed her different facets of the arts. Gallery Director Lia Newman exposed her to a variety of responsibilities as an underclassman, and DACE Director Sherry Nelson encouraged her to collaborate on building and organizing events. 

a young man and woman stand next to a piece of art smiling

Art by Alumni exhibition curated by Caroline Sillars ’24 and Brown Payne ’24, who both work in the Galleries.

Of all the programs and events she’s helped lead, Sillars especially loves directing campus sculpture tours. For students and by students, the tours bring classmates and friends together to interact with Davidson’s sculpture collection in a casual and personal setting. 

“It’s never too late to get involved with the arts,” Sillars said. “Some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had on campus have been hosting classes for non-art majors and watching them make and appreciate art.”