Frankie Conti is the Morgan's 2019 Arts Intern. Arts Intern is a paid internship program that provides opportunities for college undergrads to learn about nonprofit arts professions by placing them in cultural organizations. She spent the summer evaluating and restructuring our membership program.
Frankie is an Art History major at Case Western Reserve University and was also a Winter Intern at the Morgan. We sat down in the Bindery to talk about her non-traditional educational background, her interest in community-based art, and why a regular practice of creativity is an essential part of the human experience.
MB: Let’s start from the beginning. Are you from Cleveland?
FC: Yes. I was born and raised in Seven Hills, which is next to Independence and Parma. I was unschooled up until college, meaning I didn’t go to any school, which isn’t common in the area.
MB: What!? I’ve never heard of that...How did you get past the...government?
FC: [Laughs] No! It’s totally legitimate. It’s a subcategory of homeschooling, but it’s totally student-directed. As long as I was meeting certain requirements, like in math, the rest of the curriculum was up to me. Growing up, I was super interested in writing, art, ceramics...all the crafts.
MB: What happened after you were finished with unschooling?
FC: I started at Tri-C and said: “I’m going to be a biology major” for some reason. But then I took a ceramics class my second semester, and I thought, “oh okay, this could be the thing that I do.” And with art history, which was something I studied a lot growing up, I realized that people do art history as a profession. Then I got accepted into this program and transferred to Case.
MB: Hold up, when you said you were learning in a self-guided way growing up, does that mean you taught yourself art history?
FC: To an extent. What often happens with unschooling is the parent—my mom, in this case, would see that I was really interested in something, and then she’d find me a tutor. So, I took a lot of studio art and art history classes at the Art Museum. There were a lot of outside classes that facilitated my individual learning.
MB: So, what are you specializing in at Case?
FC: I’m in the art history general program right now. I’m hoping to get more knowledge on public outreach, education in the arts. Sort of what the Morgan does...how they’re trying to promote classes to facilitate learning of the crafts.
MB: It’s the community-based learning that interests you?
FC: Yeah. Right now my focus is American art because I’m interested in teaching people from the US and within Cleveland. I thought it would be good to be versed in the art that’s been happening now. The Harlem Renaissance is something I’m really interested in. I’ve been taking an industrial design class right now that’s really interesting. Like the stuff that’s in everybody’s house that a designer created, but you don’t even realize it. It’s sort of like the language of visuals that everyone pretty much understands, but not consciously. Does that make sense?
MB: Totally, like why does a pitcher look the way it does? Well, because someone designed it that way, for a myriad of reasons that we take for granted.
FC: Exactly. When people are coming in to learn the arts, that would be the stuff that they know. If you’re from a little suburb, you don’t necessarily know the names and works of prominent artists, but you do know a plate that your grandmother has.
MB: And then you can start to appreciate that art is all around you even if you’re not consciously aware of it.
MB: So, this is a deep question, but you’re in school, so bear with me...What is it about art that you found so much more valuable that biology?
FC: I think about this a lot. There was a moment. I was taking a bio course on Human Evolution. The professor was talking about how everyone likes to explore what makes humans different. There are so many animals that can do all the same things that we can do. Some say that it’s our language that makes us special or our tool usage. But then she pointed out—and this was just her opinion—that there are no other animals that decorate things as elebarotately as people do. There are animals that decorate. But embellishment is a very human trait. And I’d never thought about that. If you look throughout history, there’s this inclination to decorate beyond what is necessary, beyond utility.
MB: Part of your desire to work with the community...is it to give people the opportunity to tap into that primal artistic aspect of themselves? Especially people who might not have that opportunity otherwise?
FC: Yes. I have this belief that art is an extremely human thing that we do. Even when you’re little, at some point, you’re out making mud pies. It’s a necessary part of everybody’s life. Even if not everybody wants to be an “Artist,” an art-making practice is good for people. I hope to make it something that people just do as part of their ritual.
MB: And how does the Morgan tie into all of this?
FC: Well, on one hand, I have this interest in art forms and crafts that aren’t really practiced as much anymore. And on the other hand, I was interested in the Morgan’s mission of being a public art center. I want to know how the community center runs. That’s the goal: to figure out how they make something like this work.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison Bennett is a born-and-raised Clevelander, who conducts interviews with artists-in-residence and interns at the Morgan. This fall, she will begin her MFA in Book Arts at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book.