Exploring art and design in Australia

After switching majors from mechanical engineering to product design, Kendal Burkins, ’19, spent the summer exploring art and design as an intern at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, an opportunity offered through the Stanford Global Studies Internship Program.

Last spring, mechanical engineering major Kendal Burkins, ’19, began rethinking his academic and professional trajectory. Wanting to pursue a more creative path while merging his interests and skills, he switched his major to product design and applied for a summer internship at the Art Galley of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, the country’s premier public museum. He hoped the opportunity – offered by the Stanford Global Studies Internship Program and the Office of the Vice President for the Arts – would give him the experience and mentorship he needed to pursue a career in design.

“I had never worked on a formal design team,” said Burkins. “When I saw the opportunity to go to Australia and work in a design department in a cultural institution, I thought that would be a great way to get experience working with other designers, and getting feedback and experience outside of Stanford.”

When spring quarter ended, Burkins headed to Australia. The Art Gallery is located near the Sydney Opera house in the city’s Botanical Gardens. The complex is centrally located and overlooks Sydney Harbor. Burkins lived a few blocks from the museum and walked to work every day.

Kendal Burkins, ’19, stands with an artwork called Atomic: full of love, full of wonder by Nike Savvas. (Image credit: Indya McGuffin)

For 10 weeks, he worked closely with curators, designers and other museum staff to help plan art exhibitions and shows. He saw firsthand how they collaborate and implement design concepts to find the best ways of assembling artwork in a given space. The process, he said, begins with the curators, whose job is to research artwork and decide how to present it.

“Once they know what show they want to present, then they’ll bring it to the design team and they’ll work together to put it together,” he said.

Burkins was tasked with helping build foamcore models of the gallery’s exhibition spaces that curators would use to plan shows. He also helped install two works of art for an exhibition called “Space Makers & Room Shakers.” One of the pieces he worked on is called Atomic: full of love, full of wonder. Created by the artist Nike Savvas, the artwork is a display comprised of thousands of vibrating colored balls suspended in the air.

In addition to art installation, Burkins and a fellow intern conducted a user experience research project to understand how visitors interact with the physical spaces inside the museum, such as the entrance courts and the vestibule.

“During this project, we created and conducted surveys, documented trends in guest activities through observation and the production of heat maps, created renderings and produced a final presentation containing the results of our research and our recommendations,” he said.

The feedback he received from museum staff was overwhelmingly positive, and by the end of Burkins’ internship, they were considering implementing his recommendations, which included new seating arrangements.

“I’ll definitely have to go back and see how that space looks,” he said.

Burkins’ internship was offered by the Stanford Global Studies Internship Program. Every summer, dozens of Stanford students extend their classroom experiences to immersive, cultural and professional experiences abroad through the program. Internships are open to students of all majors and come with a base stipend of $6,000 per student. Opportunities span numerous fields, including media, technology, business, law, policy, public service, engineering, medicine and human rights, and take place in more than 23 locations across the globe.

The arts internships are some of the program’s newest opportunities, as well as the most popular. A list of all opportunities for summer 2019 will be announced in December, and applications will be open in January.

For more information about the program, visit the Global Studies Internship Program webpage.