An internship is a junior level job. It should include hands-on training while you work and earn money.

What is an internship?

There is no legal definition of an internship.

An internship is a type of low-level job that helps someone get experience in a sector. It is also a job that teaches you about how to work in a sector.

In 2012 we set up AWP Internships to show a better way of working. The programme is open to new graduates from UAL from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It offers:

  • A paid role for 48 days over 6 months
  • Flexibility on working hours in negotiation with the employer. Interns with caring responsibilities or other work can still take part.
  • Pay above the London Living Wage
  • A set job description with varied, interesting work.
  • Induction from the host organisation
  • Support from a mentor
  • Regular meetings with a manager to discuss your progress
  • A training programme developed from what interns tell us they need.
  • Five days of paid annual leave
  • A review of progress halfway through the internship
  • An exit interview
  • A written reference for future job applications

We made the programme from research we did into what makes a high quality internship. You can read this report, Intern Culture. Any good internship should offer things like these.

Another major arts internship programme is the Jerwood Weston Creative Bursaries.

The benefits of an internship

A good internship will give you:

  • Experience to use when you apply for other jobs
  • New networks of people who work in the arts
  • Insight into how arts organisations work
  • Understanding how to work in an office environment
  • Valuable skills like communication, teamwork and self-awareness
  • What you are not interested in doing.

Listen to Sarah Rowles reflect on what internships have given her. Sarah is an artist and director of Q-Art.

Listen to this interview with Kirsteen McSwein on how being an intern helped her career path. Kirsten is Interpretation Curator at the Tate.

You can read this series of interviews with interns. They have worked at different kinds of art organisations.

Setting goals

Take some time to think about your goals for the internship. This will make sure you get what you need out of your internship.

To make your goals, think about what skills you want to improve. Think about:

  • What you would like to know
  • What experience you want to gain
  • What assumptions you want to test about the roles that interest you

A goal is something you are aiming to learn or do. A goal should be SMART:

  • Specific. Research the employer and find the people and activities you are most interested in. Prioritise them so you can approach people in order. Be ready to explain your interest in what they do.
  • Measurable. Think about how you will know if you reach your goals. It might be that you have a meeting with someone. Or you might want to get training in a particular area.
  • Attainable. Goals have to be realistic. If you set very ambitious goals you may not be able to meet them. Keep your goals specific to what you are doing now.
  • Relevant. You can only acheive your goals at the place you are working now. If you are working in a gallery you might not learn much about commissioning, for example.
  • Time bound. Set a loose deadline for meeting your goals.

Remember that your goals might change after you start. Be flexible and find out what you want to gain when you know more about the employer.

Share you goals with your line manager when you start an internship. Hearing about your goals means they can set you tasks that help you achieve them.

Your goals are a tool to get what you want from an internship. They cannot measure your achievement. If you don’t reach a goal you will still achieve something else.

Take time to reflect on your goals and write about them. This will help you identify other things you have learned. You can use this information in job applications and on your CV.

Before an internship

Before you begin any internship, ask yourself what you want it to get out of it. You should talk to your employer before you begin to tell them what you expect to get.

There are two ways to get an internship:

  1. Applying to an existing internship programme. An employer will explain the conditions and their expectations.
  2. Approaching an employer to suggest they take you on as an intern. Remember that the employer might not have any experience in having interns. You will have to negotiate your own conditions.

If you apply to an existing internship programme there should be a description of the job. You can still negotiate anything that is not clear or that you want to add. You can start this conversation before you apply, at an interview, or once you have started. It will depend on what you want to talk about.

It is normal to negotiate work with an employer. It’s better to be clear about your expectations from the beginning. You will show your employer that you are professional and are serious about the work.

Some common things to talk about before you apply or at interview include:

  • How much you will get paid.
  • How long you will be an intern.
  • What hours and days you will work. An internship might be full time or part time.
  • The work you will do.
  • The experience and skills you can expect to get.
  • If they will pay your expenses. Expenses might be travel or lunch.
  • Who is the person responsible for you while you are on the internship? What happens if this person leaves or is ill during your internship?

Make sure you get this agreement in writing. An email listing what you have agreed is fine.

During an internship

When working as an intern you should have regular meetings with your line manger. Your line manager is the person you report to who gives you work. This will be your main contact if you need to talk about anything.

Some things to talk about once you begin the internship might be:

  • Getting mentoring with a specific person.
  • Changing some of your tasks if you are not learning from them.
  • Changing your working days if you are part-time

Depending on your employer you might be able to get extra value from your internship:

  • They may produce books that you could get for free or a discount, or they might put on events that you can attend.
  • Some larger employers might have staff training you can take part in. This will add to your skills and make getting your next job easier.
  • There might be someone at the employer who could give you some advice or mentoring.
  • You could try different roles or tasks outside of your internship to get more experience.

You can also suggest your own project during an internship.  Think about an idea and present this to your line manager. Say what you want to do, why you think it would be important to the employer, how it will enhance your internship, and what you need to make it happen. If they reject your idea, try to find a compromise to make something else happen instead.

The employer has to work to make sure an internship is a good. You also have to work to get the most out of the internship.

Be prepared. Do some research about the employer to show your interest and enthusiasm. Find out about:

  • The history of the organisation
  • Its mission and values
  • Its current projects

Be independent. Don’t ask your line manager for help all the time. Take some time to reflect on a solution. Bring possible solutions to your line manager when you have questions. Ask questions when you can’t think of a solution yourself. Your colleagues will understand you are not as experienced as they are. Remember that they are busy too. Showing initiative will save their time for when you need help.

Be friendly. People prefer working with people who are generally pleasant. Everyone experiences stress and has good days and bad days. If you are having difficulty with your work, tell your line manager. Introduce yourself to people and ask them about what they do.

Be an asset. See if you can identify work that would benefit the employer. Having fresh eyes means you might see solutions to problems that could benefit everyone. Is there a better way to do something? If you have some free time during work, offer to help your colleagues. Do your work as best you can and ask for help when you need it. Always arrive at work on time. Some administration might be boring, but all jobs some have boring parts.


One of the most important things you can get from an internship is contacts with more people who work in the arts. Your network will let you:

  • Get more job opportunities.
  • Hear about what’s happening in the arts.
  • Understand from other artists how to work.

Much of your networking will happen as you build working relationships. Try to contribute to things inside and outside the workplace, if you are able. If you are not able to, explain why. If your employer is a small organisation you might be able to talk with the director. If it is large, you could talk with curators or department heads instead. Everyone you work with can be a useful contact. Junior staff will one day run organisatons and major projects.

Networking is about support. But is is also about learning and exchange. Listen to the suggestions your colleagues make. Follow up contacts at other organisations that they suggest. Respect confidential processes and decisions. People will remember both good and bad contributions. A good network will bring new people into your life at the start of your career.

As well as individual contacts you can join or start a peer mentoring network.

Other resources for interns

Forums/groups of other interns:

Getting paid

Internships in the arts are often not well developed or do not offer money. In 2010 about half of people working in the arts said they had done an internship without getting paid.

Internships are a useful way to get job experience in the arts. Many people in the arts have had internships to get some initial experience. But if the internship is not paid, people with low incomes or backgrounds can’t take part. Unpaid internships block these people from getting jobs in the arts. This has led to a workforce that is:

  • 95% white,
  • Mostly middle class,
  • More likely to have done a formal higher education course.

Many people believe that the arts have come to rely on free labour. Poorly designed internships make people accept poor working conditions later in their career.

Whether you should get paid does not depend on:

  • the name of the role,
  • the type of work they do,
  • the description of the work (such as ‘unpaid’ or ‘expenses only’) or
  • the sector they work in.

What matters is whether the agreement or arrangement you have makes you a worker for minimum wage purposes. There is a legal definition of work. If you are working, you should get paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

If you are a student on a work placements as part of your course you may not have to get paid. Different rules apply for apprentices, who also work as part of their course. Apprentices get paid at a lower rate than the National Minimum Wage.

Employers with charitable status can take on volunteers. But charities also have employees who get paid too. Volunteers are not required to come on specific days or to do specific things.

You are likely to be a ‘worker’ if:

  • You have to come into work.
  • You cannot set your own hours and come and go as you like.
  • You cannot end the internship without giving notice.
  • You are do work of genuine value to the employer. You are not job shadowing or only working under supervision.

If these things apply to your internship you have the right to be paid even if it was advertised as unpaid. Former interns who took their case to an Employment Tribunal have been paid the National Minimum Wage, even though they had agreed to work for free.

If you are job shadowing you have few employment rights. Job shadworing is for your benefit and not for the employer. You can also end job shadowing at any time.

Unpaid internships are still common in the arts. Even a paid internship might not be enough to live on. Many students take up an internships while they still have a student loan. Others will work part-time or rely on savings. Do not use a credit card to finance an internship becuase it is easy to get into problematic debt.

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