Guest Post: Interning at a Rural Heritage Site

The Neely Mansion, photo courtesy of Theresa Ball, UW Museology.

Theresa Ball is a student in the University of Washington Museology graduate program, and one of the first participants in our new rural heritage internship program, part of our T.I.P.S. initiative. Here, she shares insight into her experience:

As with many students in the U.W. Museology program, I have relied heavily on the Museology Student Newsletter to stay informed of internship and networking opportunities. This past fall a particularly interesting opportunity caught my eye. 4Culture, the cultural funding agency for King County, was offering a six month internship with a small, mostly volunteer-run institution in the area. The rural internship is part of 4Culture’s T.I.P.S. program which was launched in 2018 to help provide technical assistance, inspiration, and professional development to cultural workers in King County.


My specific project of interest was based at the Neely Mansion in Auburn, Washington. Neely Mansion was built by the Neely family, a group of early settlers to the White River Valley, in the late 1800s. The Neely’s left the property in the early 20th century and over the next 75 years, they leased the property to a succession of families, most of which were immigrants to the US from Europe, Japan, and the Philippines. The proposed internship involved research and interpretive planning to highlight the stories of the immigrants who lived, worked, celebrated, and suffered at the site.

This was the exact type of project I was looking for, one that would allow me to utilize my previous experience in research and exhibit development while developing new skills in interpretive planning. I was also inspired by the institution’s commitment to spotlighting the experiences of PNW immigrant families and the fact that, even as interns, we were given some ownership and real creative input in the final goals and deliverables of the project. Even better, it was paid!

The project has more than lived up to my expectations. After a series of orientation meetings with the staff at 4Culture and the Neely Mansion, I and my partner intern—a Seattle University student receiving her M.F.A. in Arts Leadership—devised a plan for the research and potential reinterpretation of the site. At present, we are working on the first portion of this plan which involves in depth primary and secondary research into each of the families. I consider this the forensic work of the project; finding and piecing together the genealogical and contextual story of the families, discovering why and how they came to the US, what drew them to the White River Valley, and what their lives might have been like living at the Neely Mansion. The next step in this process, which will begin in the next couple weeks, involves compiling a narrative from this research. From here, we will discuss possibilities for interpretive changes at the site which will focus on the stories of the families and present a more complete and diverse narrative of the Neely Mansion. These changes may take a few different forms. First, a new docent script will be created to help guide site tours. We have also discussed updating the exhibits and displays themselves, writing new labels, and creating new programming which emphasizes the impact that immigrants have had on the Neely site specifically and in the White River Valley as a whole. Finally, we plan to conduct training with the site docents and implement an evaluation plan to determine the success of the project as well as areas for growth in the future.

I could not have asked for a better opportunity to round off my graduate school experience. I am personally committed to discovering and sharing the diverse stories which enrich the Neely Mansion and I know that the experience will help me to become a better museum professional overall. It will be an exciting six months!