Benefits for interns
For arts graduates entering the jobs market, the highly competitive nature of the sector can come as a bit of a shock. Many graduates find themselves in the ‘Catch 22’ situation of not being able to secure their first job in the sector until they have relevant experience – the kind of experience gained through having a job.
Internships can provide a useful tool for bridging that experience gap. Aimed at those new to the sector, internships can provide a mutually beneficial experience for both interns and arts organisations; where both do their part to make it a success.
A good internship will help you to gain insight into how an arts organisation works, as well as how the sector operates more widely. For those completely new to the ‘world of work’, it can help you to understand the nuances of working in an office environment which can be quite different to being at university or college. An internship can be a great way to develop ‘soft’ skills like communication, teamwork and self-awareness. On a practical level, internships are useful for building on existing ‘hard’ skills and developing new ones – this may be anything from learning to use a piece of software, to writing copy for a website, to helping to put together a funding bid.
Arts organisations come in all shapes and sizes, and not all will suit everyone. Internships can be a useful tool for finding out which you prefer and may end up influencing the path you take in your career. The people you meet through undertaking an internship are also likely to impact on your direction; many interns say that the networks they built while interning turned out to be one of the most valuable aspects of the experience. While the idea of ‘networking’ might be intimidating, it needn’t be; networking can be as simple as introducing yourself to someone and asking them a few questions about what they do.
There is fierce competition for jobs in the sector, and realistically most internships in the arts will not flow directly into a full-time position with the same organisation. However (while it is never a given), many interns do end up working for their host organisation again in some capacity, whether it be freelance work or through being invited to apply for a position when it becomes vacant. In addition, an internship will help to put that all-important experience on your CV and, if you show willing and commitment during your time with them, the majority organisations will be happy to supply you with a reference for use in future job applications.
Below are a series of interviews by art world professionals who talk about their own experiences of internships. Their reasons for doing them, how it benefited their careers and what made their internship placements worthwhile or otherwise.
Interview with Sarah Rowles
Sarah Rowles is founder and director of Q-Art. Q-Art was established whilst Rowles was a BA Fine Art student as a result of questions and obstacles she faced entering higher-level art education and the contemporary art world. She is interested the different models of art education that exist and the art contexts in which they operate.
Interview with Kirsteen McSwein
Kirsteen McSwein is Interpretation Curator at the Tate. She talks about her experiences interning and how they impacted on her career path.
Internship case study interviews
Below there are a series of downloadable interview / case studies of interns and their experiences at different kinds of art organisations.
- Intern case study – multi-arts organisation
- Intern case study – circus organisation
- Intern case study – performance art organisation