Lets talk about...
In this episode of Let's talk about...Annie, Sophie, Julie and Matilda discuss all things internships in the arts. From where to find them to how to make the most of them, we hope this episode gives you a helpful insight in how you can make such learning opportunities work for you.
Notes and links
Bold Tendencies look for Art Trainees every summer to help run their extensive art programme set in a disused car park building in Peckham.
Where: Peckham, London
Duration: 5 weeks
Pay: Travel and lunch expenses are covered
Hauser & Wirth often advertise internships on their website so check throughout the year.
Where: London, UK
Springboard is a free 12-month training and volunteering programme for early career artists.
Where: Tetley Gallery, Leeds, UK
Duration: 12 months (workshops and volunteering sessions spread across the year)
Pay: Travel expenses are covered
Simon Lee offers three six-month placements, ranging from Communications to Artist Liaison and a General internship.
Where: London, UK
Duration: 3 months
Unit 1 often advertise internships on their website. They run a programme for current students each year with applications in February / March.
Where: London, UK
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection recruits interns for a whole range of tasks. Interns are responsible for all the daily running of the museum and join a large international alumni network.
Where: Venice, Italy
Duration: 1-3 months
Pay: €800 per month (flights not covered, scholarships available)
Interpretation refers to the way a museum or a gallery addresses and connects with the public. Whether it is through written text panels on the walls, artwork labels or audioguides, interpretation enables museums to communicate stories and meaning to their public.
A Registrar manages incoming and outgoing objects of art for a museum or a gallery. They are responsible for keeping track with their institution’s inventory, preparing artworks for shipping and liaising with borrowing institutions. Other tasks include writing up condition reports and managing customs procedures.
In any business, a line manager is the person who is responsible for managing employees and achieving target goals. Typically, a your line manager would be the person to give you feedback on your professional performance.
Networking refers to the many ways to create and nurture relationships in a professional setting. It can be done through creating and updating a LinkedIn profile, attending alumni events at your university or simply reaching out to people whose careers you find inspiring.
A C.V is a written overview, typically in a digital format, of your education, your professional experience and skills. Nowadays, CVs can be more and more creative using design softwares like Photoshop or websites like Canva.
A commercial gallery is a for-profit gallery where art is exhibited for sale. Commercial galleries have what is called an artist roster which is a number of artists they represent and exhibit artworks for in exchange of a commission they’ll take on sales.
A museum invigilator is someone who is present in the exhibition space and is responsible for implementing security measures with the public. That can be ensuring that no flash pictures are taken if forbidden, maintaining distance with the artworks but also directing visitors to the toilets or exit when asked.
Sophie Ridsdale-Smith: Hi everyone, and welcome to our first ever audio recording for Hang it!
Matilda McEvedy: I’m Matilda.
Annie Birchenough: I’m Annie.
Julie Bléas: I’m Julie.
SRS: And Hang it is an online platform providing young people with the tools to understand what a career in the cultural sector might look like.
So, we’re a team of graduates, fresh out of uni, currently searching for work in the arts. We have all just finished our Masters at The Courtauld in London and since then have noticed a distinct lack of resources and knowledge for people like us and younger who are right at the beginning of careers, wanting to work within the cultural industry.
So, today we want to discuss all things internships, addressing everything from finding and applying to internships, to getting the most out of them, asking are they really necessary and ensuring you are not being taken advantage of as an intern - know your worth people!
*Intro music ends*
SRS: I think what would be great is to start by defining what an internship is, just so everyone is clear.
AB: I think the most important thing that we are going to come back around to when we are talking today, is that an internship is primarily a learning experience. It is a period of time for you to gain skills, inside experience in a situation where there is no long term commitment. I think the reason it is important to lay that out is that internships often come cheap or unpaid labour for companies who don't want to employ people. I think it is also worth mentioning that it is illegal for a company to take you on and not pay you if they are employing you on any kind of contacted basis.
SRS: i think that is really important, that we are actually getting something out of it.
MM: Yeah, i think also it is so problematic the industry relies on these unpaid internships to show that you have that experience. All it does is mean that the arts stay a very undiverse place and a lot of people can’t afford to do those things, so i think it is important that we acknowledge that at the beginning, that actually it is a problem of privilege to work for free, in order to work your way up the arts ladder.
SRS: Yeah definitely. I think also, it’s worth mentioning that we have all done the same masters at The Courtauld, and as part of that course, we have had the opportunity to do internships at big institutions that were unpaid but were part of our course. We are very lucky and privileged to have been able to do that.
So, we will start with the first question I have, and that’s I think it's worth listing the pros and cons of doing an internship. Julie, do you want to start?
JB: I’d say that definitely the pros are just internships are such a valuable learning space, that it gives you the opportunity to work with people and also maybe broaden your horizons because when I started uni, I had no idea how many roles there were in museums at all. I wanted to be a tour guide, and then I wanted to work in interpretation and then for about 2 weeks I wanted to be a registrar. If an internship is done right then it is where you can ask questions, learn first hand with the people who are doing those jobs.
SRS: I think also for me, it was an opportunity to make mistakes and get things wrong and try things out, without much at stake.
MM: But also get a little snippet of the working world, like how to send a proper email and how to turn up on your first day. These sound so stupid and small things.
SRS: For me, one of the first times when I was in a proper office environment, it was like ‘oo can i get up and go [home], it's 5:30 but i don't know if i need to be told to leave.
AB: I remember in my first internship, I always used to ask to go to the toilet. They were like ‘you don't have to ask Annie.’ *laughs*
JB: I think what's really very interesting about internships is that it gives you a snippet into what working relationships are. Knowing you don't have to be intimidated by your line manager. They might be intimidating but chances are they are just happy for you to be here and happy for you to ask questions as well.
MM: But also working with people of all ages.
AB: I think that takes us round to kind of what I alluded to in the beginning. I think we all hate this word but networking. There is something to be said for the fact that an internship introduces you to people and begin nurturing relationships with people. Internships provide you with that opportunity to make an impression. It is really worth spending the time being a helpful, proactive, happy, positive person in a working environment because that might well be exactly what they are looking for 2 years later when they are hiring into that organisation.
JB: it sounds like this massive thing that you have to do, literally networking is just having a chat with people. It's just making sure you ask questions and that you keep their email addresses.
SRS: I always thought that networking so that they can give you a job, but actually it's maybe advice they have for you, or they might have done something very similar to you when they were starting out. It's like ‘oh yeah well then i went on to do this and i would recommend XYZ rather than going into this. And especially, i am a massive introvert, and the idea of networking terrifies me, but i feel like sometimes you network without consciously realising you are networking if that makes sense, so just talking to people in the hallway.
MM: I think that a big one for me is being too polite, so I never end up reaching out to those people because I am too scared I'm being an imposition or I am bothering them. A lot of the time people want to help you as much as you want their help.
SRS: I think we should move onto the cons, if we have any.
MM: I think there is a lot of pressure that gets put on students, when you are leaving school even. I felt an enormous amount of pressure to create this perfect CV. i would really stress myself out about it, ‘oh i need to find experience this holiday and if i haven't done that then i am failing somehow. Other people have these really impressive things, for example I worked at a little commercial gallery and it actually turned out that the owner just wanted free labour basically. Picking roles that you know you will actually get something out of, rather than just filling up 3 lines of your CV is very important.
AB: A massive con of the internship/volunteer/work experience model is that it is catering to a very vulnerable group of people. So people who haven't had much experience in the working world therefore do not know what is good practice and bad practice, who havent had the experience to know their own worth. But I think it is always necessary to gain advice and insight from whoever you can, to have a level of understanding of the institution. An understanding of the number of hours you should be working or what you should be being paid, what you should and should not be doing. And that's not to say that you shouldn't be doing menial tasks if you are in an internship position, but gaining as much advice you can in order to not be exploited, if you are a vulnerable person, is a really important thing to say. And not to allow an internship to go on, unpaid, longer than it should. A lot of people that i know will enter on an internship basis with the promise of it turning into a job, and it never does, and they get kept on and on and on. I think that is a massive con of the internship model that it attracts vulnerable people and makes false promises. Not always, but sometimes.
SRS: Mm, i think that is particularly relevant for our industry or the arts as well because there is so much pressure on people to have internships and work experience to get a job.
JB: Personally i definitely felt the pressure when i started this MA, saying that during my interview i basically didn't really have anything to say. Well i was a tourist guide, a tour guide sorry, very briefly and that was it. It just never ends because you need experience to get a job.
SRS: So i think we should talk about how we got our internships and the application process and interview process, i guess in some cases. But the way I got most of my internships was through the weekly opportunities email my school at uni sent out. I would really recommend if anyone is at uni that they check that their school doesn't already offer that or that the careers centre does not offer something similar because it is a great way of finding internships for students.
I think I also felt pressure to have experience already for my internships which makes no sense at all. So i think it's finding, you know, when you are writing your applications, have you got the skills or some skills from uni or from A-levels or whatever, or from your hobbies, maybe you volunteer at an old people's home or whatever you do, that's transferable skills that are really useful.
AB: A really useful piece of information that I was given in one of my first ever work experience jobs was that my boss who I was working for said the first thing they look for, this was the educational department of a commercial gallery. The first thing they look for on a CV is whether you have had hospitality or retail experience because they want to see if you can pick up a phone, you can talk to a customer, you can greet someone at the door, and i think a lot of people will be reluctant to put that on an application because they think it's not relevant when actually it's so relevant.
SRS: Actually when i went for my interview for the educational, its called Springboard Programme at The Tetley [Leeds], the guy was like ‘oh it's really great that you put you work at a supermarket, it's really great that you work there’, he literally ‘oh you can talk to customers’ . I dunno, it's your first job, it's a bit embarrassing really but obviously it's not and i think it is really valuable that you can pick out the skills you have got from those places that seem quite menial to you but actually are really transferable.
AB: So I have kind of had a range of different ways in which this has come about, a couple of them have been through word of mouth, another way is through some of the more established programmes, we haven't really talked about this, but some of the big museums or some big commercial galleries, do have established yearly annual intake internship programmes that are really worth knowing about and looking out for. So one of these is the Peggy Guggenheim internship in Venice which is an incredible international experience opportunity, which i applied for. Then there are a couple of other ones, some of the big commercial galleries in London, so for example Simon Lee Gallery, Hauser and Wirth, they all have internship programmes. I know that Unit 1, which is a commercial gallery I was looking into today, they have an internship programme running at the moment specifically for school and university students. So i do think increasingly it's worth knowing about these opportunities because they’re becoming more and more prevalent. I would also say that Instagram is also massively your friend in this regard. Follow the institutions and galleries and the organisations you are interested in because they often post internship opportunities, work experience opportunities, so it's worth finding stuff on there.
SRS: Off the back of that, another one that i did was a 5-week programme, it's called Bold Tendencies. It's in Peckham (London). They have interns all through summer, they are open from, i think, May to September/October time, so that's another one to check out as well.
Another way to find internships or see what's on offer is to look on LinkedIn and see what either students at various places, what they have got on their LinkedIn profile or even early career people, see what they are doing and what they have done. Also seeing a career path as well. I did that quite often to see what they had done after a masters or what they had done straight after uni, what kind of roles are available.
So shall we go around and say what your biggest learning take-away from an internship or work experience that you have had.
MM: I obviously had learnt a lot about working with people whilst invigilating in galleries, communicating with the public was a big one. I would say the placement I had this year, even though it was a big institution, I actually learnt a massive amount while being there. Some of the biggest takeaways from that were, like i said before about being far too polite, sometimes I would be doing a task and not know what this document would end up being used for. I didn't want to trouble the curators who were very overworked. So I just wouldn't ask as many questions as I probably ought to, because it is at the end of the day a learning experience for you. I also think observing the office around you is quite important, so looking at curators and seeing what their work habits are. There were some curators who would spend time in the gallery looking at how the public interacted with the art that they had put on the wall. I thought that was really great to see. Often not going outside for lunch because everyone else would eat their lunch at their desk.
SRS: I think that's a really important thing, making sure you take a lunch break because when i was doing one of my internships everyone would eat, like you said Tilda, at their desks and actually when i started noone has explicitly said ‘you can take an hour lunch break’, it was like ‘take lunch when you want’, to do what you want which actually i think is harder because your like well no one else is, you follow whats around you, no one else is taking a lunch break, you know, some people might go out and buy lunch but they come back straight away and you're like ‘oh I should do that too’ and actually for me, if i didn't go out for even a walk and get some fresh air at lunch time, i would be falling asleep at my desk in the afternoons. So even for just your health, get those steps in! Go for a walk around the park or whatever!
AB: But that's where it's also worth remembering you are an intern, that's where you are in a beneficial position that you are not a full paid member of staff who has maybe got a workload that they need to get through. You are an intern who's there to learn.
MM: Yeah definitely. And also because you are there to learn, asking to get experience in areas that you are interested in.
JB: That's definitely what I really learnt through my placement during the course is that there is so much more than a curator in a museum, so having this opportunity to chat with curators but also to chat with registrars or conservators, then you’ll be able to really get an insight into the variety and diversity of the roles within institutions. You should definitely ask if you can ask to assist on hangs, so make the most of your internship by asking to not just do research.
AB: My biggest takeaway comes from having had the experience of interning long term in both big organisations and also very small commercial galleries, that actually in a smaller organisation you often get given far more responsibility. The other thing i would also just say is, which is a more general point, is always make notes and keep some kind of diary while you are doing an internship or a placement of any sort, because you won't be able to remember a year down the line, i tell you that.
SRS: So, I think, a final question is what's your view on unpaid internships. I think we have all done [unpaid internships], i don't think i have ever been paid for an internship.
AB: I would say only accept an unpaid internship if firstly, you are able to do so because of your set up. I think one thing would be to only accept those opportunities whilst you are still in education, if possible, if you are able to balance it alongside education. And also only if you are getting enough out of it to warrant not being paid.
SRS: It's such a tricky one because i think the majority of internships in the arts are unpaid or even just travel expenses are covered to a certain extent. Even, like a lot of travel expenses would be up to £10, well that doesn’t cover even a single ticket into London from where I am living, and so i would still be at a loss.
AB: I think also, limit how many you do because once you have done 1 or even 2 voluntary positions, you are qualified enough to be paid for what you are doing.
SRS: Okay, so do we want to just sum up as a final note with, out of all of what we have mentioned, one tip that has stood out to you and that you want to mention now.
JB: Well, I would say make sure you get the most out of your time, most likely you won't be there for more than a couple of months or a few months, so make sure that the time you have got you use it well and that you ask questions. Never be afraid of saying something dumb.
AB: I would say be open minded and can-do and embrace every opportunity that is given to you, and if you are able to do multiple internships, try and get a variety of different set-ups in size of scale, and type of organisation you are working at because you never know where you are going to end up and what you are going to learn.
MM: I would say spend a little time thinking about what you might like to go into and then be quite selective and picking internships and placements or work experience that might fit those areas so that it really is a learning experience where you find out where you want to be. Don’t worry about what other people are doing but try and get the experience that will help you decide what kind of area you want to work in.
SRS: And I think for me, it's quite simple, but just make sure you take your lunch breaks and dont be afraid of going to the loo or leaving on time. Yeah, I just think make sure you know your rights and that you are treated well.
SRS: So I hope this has been useful in some way to you. We will leave any websites or resources that we have mentioned in the transcript so go check them out and thanks so much for listening!
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