Interns find home in Columbia community

Tucked away on the banks of the Scuppernong River just off the Albemarle Sound, Columbia, N.C., is a little less well known than its South Carolina counterpart.

That anonymity hasn’t been a problem for East Carolina University interns Aleix Murphy and Liz Garrett, who’ve spent their summer at the Pocosin Arts Center as part of the SECU Public Service Fellows internship program. The center has operated a teaching studio and gallery in Columbia since 1995, providing the community with art programs, workshops, summer camps and festivals over the past 20 years.

While the draw to work in a big city may be alluring for some, Murphy and Garrett have discovered the benefits of living and working in a small, rural setting. Columbia is home to just 900 people, but the center brings a vibrant arts culture to the region.

“I was a little hesitant at first,” Murphy said. “It’s really a small town. However, living here has forced me to slow down and think about where I came from. Just the other day we went out to eat and I noticed little kids were playing outside, on their own, by themselves while their parents attended a fitness class. Where else can you find that kind of quality of life and that level of trust?”

While the interns spend their days in different settings – Murphy is developing the center’s  new digital fabrication lab and Garrett helps run the center’s annual fundraising auction – at the end of the day, the pair reunite at the center’s Lodge. The Lodge houses interns, like Murphy and Garrett, but also serves as the home for some of the center’s resident artists.

The Lodge has provided the interns an opportunity to not only get to know their coworkers on a deeper level, but the Columbia community as well.

“You’re missing out on these smaller communities if you don’t give them a chance,” Garret said. “If you go to a big company you can do some good, but do you really get to know your boss that well? Do you really get to know the people and community around you?

“In a smaller community, you get to dive in and work with so many people and get to know them on a more personal level,” she said. “They get to know you better as well. It’s a wonderful opportunity that you don’t get anywhere else.”

Ready to work

Murphy’s time spent in the fabrication lab has opened her up to new creative ideas. It’s also forced her to tackle and research problems she never expected to encounter.

The Pocosin Arts Center has operated a teaching studio and gallery in Columbia since 1995, providing the community with art programs, workshops, summer camps and festivals over the past 20 years.

“We’re working with a lot of 3-D printing equipment, technology and programs to help Pocosin build a new curriculum,” Murphy said. “Pocosin plans to hold workshops and help bridge the gap between the community and how it can use this technology. We’re trying to figure out where this new digital equipment falls into place with traditional art mediums.”

Murphy said one of the toughest challenges she faced was determining why the 3-D printer failed to complete jobs when she first setup the lab. Despite following directions and protocols, the printer continued to leave tasks unfinished. Murphy scoured the internet, joined 3-D printing message boards and, through extensive research, found the culprit – humidity.

“We were getting ready to pack up the printer and send it back to the manufacturer because it just wouldn’t work,” Murphy said. “We were frustrated. Early in the process, printers we met online mentioned that humidity may play a factor. We eventually purchased a dehumidifier for the filament and the printer now works perfectly. It was a lot of work and research, but we figured out the solution.”

The center plans to allow the community to use the fabrication lab, including local industries and manufacturers. Pocosin has already linked up with local boat makers to create 3-D models of boat hulls.

Garrett has also made her mark during her tenure at Pocosin, helping the center plan its annual auction. The auction is the center’s largest fundraiser and helps fund community workshops and summer camps for area children.

“Liz is doing a lot of leg work for the fundraising auction,” Pocosin Arts Center Executive Director Marlene True said. “She’s handling a lot of the communication with artists and potential sponsors. She’s been invaluable because it frees me up to do more fundraising and outreach in other areas that I wouldn’t normally have time to do. That is huge for us. Thanks to Liz, I can continue to cultivate new relationships and let people know what we’re doing in the community and beyond.”

Continued relationship

This year marks the third summer that the center has partnered with ECU and SECU as part of the Public Service Fellows internship program. True said she has seen the program build each year and is cognizant of the impact past interns have made on the local arts community.

Former intern Elizabeth McAlister has volunteered for the center’s annual auction and Carrie Brickhouse, who interned last summer, teaches art in nearby Hertford County.

“It’s a real thrill that our past interns want to come back,” True said. “That is impressive to me. Again, I think that builds into the community we have here. I’d love if they all wind up somewhere around here and stay engaged at that level.”

With just a few weeks left in Columbia, Murphy provided advice for students looking to find the perfect internship community.

“Taking classes and getting good grades aren’t enough anymore,” Murphy said. “Employers want someone who is well-rounded and has experience. This is a great way to get your hands into something that you’re not used to. Why not spend your summer in a great community that allows you to explore new ideas? Take advantage of what all ECU has to offer. Don’t let those opportunities pass you by.”

The SECU Public Service Fellows internship program is hosted by ECU’s Office of Community Engagement and Research. Visit the office online to learn more about the program. The Pocosin Arts Center is located at 201 Main Street in Columbia, N.C.