Friends of Art award leads to VCCA dream internship for Sweet Briar grad

Alexa Dahlin
Alexa Dahlin ’18 at the VCCA

Thanks to the Friends of Art, recent Sweet Briar grad Alexa Dahlin ’18 didn’t have to look far to find her dream internship. Dahlin is the first recipient of the organization’s graduate internship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an international artists’ colony adjacent to campus.

A $5,000 stipend allowed the former business major with an Arts Management Certificate to spend 10 weeks this summer working on a number of projects with VCCA staff. One of them: developing a plan and strategy for the VCCA’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2021. A big chunk of her time has been spent compiling the center’s history.

“Being able to do some archival work is great because that has always been an interest of mine,” Dahlin says. “I’m super happy that I’m getting hands-on experience with that.”

Alexa Dahlin VCCA
Sorting through old photographs that document the VCCA’s history is a fun part of Dahlin’s internship.

She’s also worked with Kirsten McKinney, the VCCA’s director of communications, on several other projects, including, as McKinney put it, “magically” organizing a “tremendous backlog of processed applications,” posting fliers around town, helping out with the VCCA’s Open Studios in July and with day-to-day operations such as greeting fellows in the office, sitting in on staff meetings and keeping track of entries to the VCCA’s annual Instagram contest.

“Much of what Alexa has done, to us, is a Herculean achievement,” McKinney admits. “Given our small staff and demanding mission of providing creative space to 24 fellows at any given time, certain tasks can fall by the wayside as we respond to more immediate needs. We are so appreciative to the Friends of Art for establishing this internship and for Alexa and the time she has given to us this summer.”

Dahlin loves the variety, but that’s not the only thing: “One of the most exciting parts about my internship is being able to be a part of a women-led arts organization,” she says. “With all my work experience I’ve had over the past four years, I have never worked for a practically all-female staff. The open communication and leadership that exist are truly refreshing and remind me a lot of the atmosphere at Sweet Briar.”

Alexa Dahlin On Aug. 10, Dahlin will wrap up what is internship number five since she started — and finished — her undergraduate career. Among them: an accounting firm, a children’s museum, a nonprofit arts organization and a fashion merchandising firm.

It’s no surprise the judges for the Friends of Art Graduate Internship award were impressed, and they felt Dahlin deserved to be rewarded for her dedication.

“Alexa demonstrated an impressive track record throughout her undergraduate career of commitment to arts organizations,” wrote Carrie Brown, professor of English and creative writing and director of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts at Sweet Briar. Also on the jury were Barb Watts, director of career services, and FOA board member Celeste Wackenhut ’08, who also interned at the VCCA after graduating from Sweet Briar.

A former VCCA fellow herself, Brown has cultivated strong ties between the VCCA and the College during her two decades at Sweet Briar. Under her leadership of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts — and as part of the College’s new academic calendar — there will be even more opportunities for collaboration between the neighbors, including monthly evening salons held in the Reheard Gallery of Mary Helen Cochran Library, when VCCA fellows share their work with the Sweet Briar community. And next spring, one section of one of Sweet Briar’s core classes — Expression and the Arts — will be co-taught by a cross-genre team of VCCA fellows working across artistic disciplines. Brown expects some very exciting applications to emerge from that call for proposals.

Alexa DahlinFor Dahlin, focusing on the arts has meant a steady buildup of skills, and she’s learned that she’s on the right track. “All of these experiences have given me a well-rounded foundation that I’ve been able to use for my internship here at the VCCA,” she explains. “Being at the VCCA this summer has made me confident in my passion of being an arts advocate, as well as working for a nonprofit organization. I’ve learned new data and research methods, as well as the inner workings of how an artist residency functions.”

The VCCA’s peaceful setting has also helped Dahlin slow down after a hectic senior year at Sweet Briar, she says. “I became very sick and was eventually diagnosed with achalasia, a rare esophageal disorder that made it impossible for me to eat any solid foods. Dealing with major health issues and trying to balance a 20-credit course load, varsity soccer, two clubs and an internship for my entire senior year of college became super overwhelming.”

Just four days after graduation, Dahlin flew to Minnesota to undergo invasive thoracic surgery at the Mayo Clinic. She’s recovered well since then, but has had to put life on hold — for a little while.

“After I complete my internship at the VCCA, I am looking to move south — either Birmingham or Atlanta — and work in development or marketing in the nonprofit sector,” she says.

With a résumé like hers, that next step should be easy.

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