For the past 10 years, the Berkshire Hills Internship Program -- better known as B-HIP -- has been creating cultural ambassadors for the county and fostering the next generation of young, creative leaders.
Notable alumni who have continued working in the Berkshires include current North Adams Director of Tourism and Community Events, Veronica Bosley; Julia Dixon, managing director of Berkshire Creative; and Creative Economy Industry Director of Massachusetts Helena Fruscio, among others.
Since its inception, more than 100 B-HIP interns have participated in programs organized and facilitated through the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Berkshire Cultural Resource Center. Graduates of the program now work in art hubs throughout the world -- including Rome, Tokyo and New York City.
Amelia Wood, 30, a North Adams native, was part of one of the first B-HIP cohorts. She interned with the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge during the summer of 2005. She said there she discovered her two passions: the education of young children and the creative arts.
She's gone on to work with a number of institutions in pursuit of combining the two: From the Children's Center at Williams College and the Williams College Museum of Art, to the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas, to her new role as the programming, communications and outreach coordinator for Recess, an urban recreation center for kids and families, located in San Francisco, Calif.
"When I first started out, I was a fine arts major at MCLA, going from my junior year into my senior year. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do after college," said Wood. "Looking back, B-HIP is at the beginning of that journey to get to where I am now."
B-HIP has a mission to offer an intensive arts management graduate-level internship experience that combines hands-on work opportunities with classes taught by arts administration faculty, signature "TalkBacks" with the area's leading arts professionals, and the chance to fully participate in the array of cultural events that happen in the summer throughout Berkshire County.
Berkshire Cultural Resource Center Director Jonathan Secor said that over the past 10 years and 13 sessions of B-HIP, the core components of the program remain the same, but the outreach and diversity among the B-HIP interns, partners and alumni has never been more expansive and dynamic.
"B-HIP is one of the true success stories in job placement and training, and in professional development, in that it has a visible success rate," said Secor. "They're the best ambassadors for the Berkshires than anyone, and probably all leave the program more well-versed in the Berkshires than most of us."
Secor said that one noticeable outcome is the increase in the number of students who are attracted to be in the Berkshires over the summer. B-HIP has intentionally marketed the program in recent years via websites and social media to international art and arts management schools, institutions and career centers.
"Ten years ago, when I first started teaching at MCLA, nobody stayed after the summer. That dynamic is much more changing. We have a much more vibrant visual arts season and a growing year-round arts community in the county. So now for students, it's a no-brainer to stay here in the summer," he said.
He said about 20 percent of B-HIP interns come from MCLA, but the rest are students and young adults from other states, schools and countries.
There are 13 students participating in the current B-HIP cohort. In addition to their site-based internship, they're also working on a community development project based on a proposal for a teen center in North Adams.
Yudelka "Yuki" Tavera, 33, is a B-HIP communications intern this summer with the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Originally from the Dominican Republic, the SUNY-Albany graduate has also taught school in Miami, Fla. She found out about the program through the New York Foundation for the Arts website, as she was looking for a career change.
"For me taking the risk of quitting my art education job of 12 years was a big leap," Tavera said. "Coming here, and essentially restarting from an almost bare canvas has been mentally and emotionally challenging; since I am older than everyone else I feel I have more at stake with my expectations when it comes to an end."
Over the past 11 weeks of the 12-week program, she said she's learned about things she never knew existed, from different aspects of arts management to discovering various cultural sites in the Berkshires.
"I have learned so much, regarding grant-writing, programing, marketing, but found that my true love was creating and sharing the experience with others first-hand," Tavera said.
She said she plans on applying for a doctorate degree program in art history with intentions for enrollment next fall; her ultimate goal is to be involved with curatorial, collections and/or research.
Another outcome of the B-HIP program is retention.
"More than 30 percent of B-HIP graduates stay in the Berkshires, working in culture and the arts," Secor said.
For example, 2007 B-HIP intern Valeria Federici of Rome, Italy, went on to become the program coordinator for Berkshire Cultural Resource Center for several years and still maintains ties with the area. Katherine DiPierro, a 2012 B-HIP intern, now works as B-HIP's program coordinator.
As the program continues on, DiPierro, Secor and other stakeholders are working to maintain the program's diversity and outreach by keeping it affordable and accessible.
Once funded as a free program through a $500,000 economic development grant, the program has become a credited offering, which charges tuition and has some continuing support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Tuition is currently $2,650 to take B-HIP as a certificate course, and $3,600 to take it for graduate or undergraduate credit. All students may apply for tuition reduction and graduating students of MCLA may apply for the Fitzpatrick Family Scholarship. A $100 weekly stipend and housing is provided.
Secor said he still has four times the amount of applicants to B-HIP now than when it was free, but the costs may marginalize some prospective candidates, particularly students of color. He also said transportation is another challenge. Students live in dorms at MCLA, but partner sites stretch south to include venues like The Mount and Tanglewood in Lenox.
But he said B-HIP continues to provide students with world-class cultural experiences and professional connections that one could expect to find in a major city, but in a smaller, bucolic setting, offering more intimate small-group and one-on-one attention.
Takashi Kusaka from Soka University in Japan is interning with the North Adams Office of Tourism and Community Events, and is learning how management skills as learned through a creative approach can change society. He said wherever he goes, "experience in B-HIP will be my strength in any company."