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Beckton woman hails 'once-in-a-lifetime' experience after Smithsonian museums internship

PUBLISHED: 10:00 17 July 2019

Chess Charles, centre, in New York during her trip to the US. Picture: Amber Terranova

Chess Charles, centre, in New York during her trip to the US. Picture: Amber Terranova

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A part-time shop assistant has kickstarted her career during a three-week adventure with "the largest museum in the world".

A tour of the Smithsonian's Postal Museum with curator Daniel Piazza. L-R: Abondance Matanda, Mohammed  Rahman, Chess Charles, Daniel Piazza. Picture: Laura Turner-BlakeA tour of the Smithsonian's Postal Museum with curator Daniel Piazza. L-R: Abondance Matanda, Mohammed Rahman, Chess Charles, Daniel Piazza. Picture: Laura Turner-Blake

Chess Charles from Beckton has just come back from three "incredible" weeks studying at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

The 23-year-old said: "It was a wild and intense adventure. It was an unforgettable experience."

During the trip, the former Kingsford Community School pupil met staff from across the Smithsonian's 20 museums including a "cool" insect expert who wowed his audience by telling them scorpions glow in the dark.

"There was that kind of fun stuff as well as tours, trips and meeting collection managers," Chess said.

Exploring personal narratives of D-Day scrapbooks with reference specialist, Megan Harris. L to R: Megan Harris, Iguette Tcheko, Mohammed Z. Rahman, Abondance Matanda. Picture: Laura Turner-BlakeExploring personal narratives of D-Day scrapbooks with reference specialist, Megan Harris. L to R: Megan Harris, Iguette Tcheko, Mohammed Z. Rahman, Abondance Matanda. Picture: Laura Turner-Blake

But Chess reckoned she only covered about half of the Smithsonian's galleries and museums which contain a vast collection of the United States' national treasures.

She explained that learning about efforts to take care of exhibits was especially interesting with some Native American artefacts not shown out of respect for tribes.

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This included a medicine pack which can't be exhibited because tribal rules mean no one can look at it.

Initial introductions with the head of internships and fellowships, Eileen Graham, at the Smithsonian Castle. 
L to R: Eileen Graham, Abondance Matanda, Chess Charles, Mohammed Z. Rahman, Iguette Tcheko. Picturet: Laura Turner BlakeInitial introductions with the head of internships and fellowships, Eileen Graham, at the Smithsonian Castle. L to R: Eileen Graham, Abondance Matanda, Chess Charles, Mohammed Z. Rahman, Iguette Tcheko. Picturet: Laura Turner Blake

Among the highlights for Chess was Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History which she described as similar to London's Science Museum.

"It's super-fun," she said before explaining that visiting helped her decide to pursue a career in museum education.

In a packed three weeks, Chess joined fellow interns on a trip to New York enjoying a visit to the headquarters of Magnum Photos an international photography cooperative.

While on her US adventure, she stayed in an apartment opposite the Library of Congress in Capitol Hill owned by the Smithsonian - which is due to set up a UK outpost at the East Bank cultural quarter at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

On the future, Chess - who doesn't have a degree - said: "It was interesting to see what you can still do without one.

"There's hope there in terms of pathways into the museum industry and people being open-minded about where you come from.

"I felt more hopeful coming back. I would one hundred percent recommend it."

The London Legacy Development Corporation, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, along with the Foundation for Future London and Create Jobs, teamed up with the Smithsonian to fund the experience to boost the prospects of youngsters from the area.

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