How Practical is a Practicum? – April 3, 2013

Leona photoYou’ve heard people talk about it and maybe even though about doing it yourself, but what exactly is a practicum? According to Carleton’s Art History Department, a practicum is “a unique opportunity to work on-site in one of the capital’s major art museums or cultural institutions.” But what does that mean for you? Will you just end up running errands and bringing lattes to a self-important curator? Will these institutions even take you seriously as a student? Will you have challenging responsibilities? Will you benefit from the experience?

I can’t tell you exactly what you would be doing with a practicum, but I can tell you that my experience with the Art History Practicum Programme has been a positive one. This past semester, I have been working with the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada, an organisation committed to bringing awareness to Canada’s national architectural identity through historical research. My task was a rather big one – to go through years of archival material in order to develop an acute understanding of the formative years of the society, about which I would eventually write a paper. While using archives for research originally seemed daunting, I quickly became comfortable with the process. It was like opening a time capsule which no one had looked at before. All this information was there for me to discover – like an academic treasure hunt. What fascinated me the most about using primary sources – the archives – for my research was that I was in control of developing a historical narrative. Earlier this year, in my History and Methods of Art History class, we had discussed the ways in which history is produced. While the past is an infinite web of elapsed events, history is only a subjective interpretation of this past. So, because history is written by people with their own agendas and opinions, an objective history cannot exist. For the first time in my academic career, I was on the other side of history. I was not reading a historical account of the society, I was writing my own.

I can’t imagine gaining this sort of experience anywhere else. In many ways, doing a practicum really made everything I have been studying for the past three years come together. And more than that, it allowed me a glimpse inside the professional world of archival work. While every practicum placement differs in responsibilities and tasks, it is a great way to put your future professional goals into perspective.

Classes are almost over but there’s always a lot going on in Ottawa:

April 2nd-June 2nd – Dorset Seen and Dawson Gold Exhibitions at Carleton University Art Gallery. Facebook event:

Thursday, April 4th – Vernissage for Rosalie Favell Art.i.fact exhibition at Cube Gallery. Website:

Friday, April 5th – Vernissage for Francois Escalmel exhibition Underpopulated at La Petite Mort Gallery. Facebook event:

Monday, April 8th – Double Major at CUAG with Ming Tiampo and Bear Witness. Facebook event:

Friday, April 26th – Northern Exposures/Visions du Nord at Galerie SAW Gallery. Facebook event: