Intern Culture

Past Project 2012

Intern Culture is our work around unpaid internships in the arts – a literature review launched in May 2012, and a debate in October 2012.

Literature review

In May 2012, Artquest published Intern Culture, a literature review of 23 reports, guidelines and policy documents since 2008.  The review brings together the research and guidance from 23 reports on internships in the visual arts since 2008.  These sometimes conflicting and contradictory guides have served to inform – and confuse – organisations looking to hire interns, as well as interns themselves, leaving low-paid workers vulnerable to exploitation and unaware of their rights, and organisations in danger of breaking national minimum wage legislation.

It aims to provide interns with information on their rights, and organisations seeking interns an understanding of the legal context within which they operate.  It also seeks to open a debate on the moral implications of endorsing and encouraging free labour in the visual arts, often supplied by those who can least afford it.  It is our view that much-vaunted and well-funded programmes to encourage diversity in the arts can’t succeed without a sea-change in how the arts operate, are valued, and might be accessed by everyone, regardless of their social or cultural background.

The reports in this literature review have been written by Government, public funders, think tanks, industry bodies and artist-led groups.

The report includes:

  • The historical context of internships – coming from the legal and medical professions, where a period of free labour is balanced by high future incomes
  • Best practice guidelines collated from a variety of sources
  • An exploration of the critical differences between social mobility and social justice
  • The business and legal cases for paying interns
  • Potential enforcement remedies for interns who have been exploited
  • The spread and take-up of paid and unpaid internships

Intern Culture is researched and written by Dr. Sophie Hope, Lecturer, Department of Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London and Joanna Figiel, PhD candidate at Centre for Cultural and Policy Management, City University London.


To celebrate the launch of the report Intern Culture and extend the conversation into the sector, Artquest chaired a debate at The Showroom during The Grand Domestic Revolution GOES ON on Wednesday 17 October 2012, encouraging artists, arts professionals and representatives of art organisations to participate with their experience and opinions.

At the end of the debate action points to promote change were compiled by the audience.  Artquest will be working with partners on these actions to effect change in the visual arts throughout 2013 and beyond.

  • Propose and seek agreement on a sector-wide definition of high-quality internships.
  • Work with HEIs to understand the relationships between of internships, work placements and professional development, and the value of each.
  • Raise awareness amongst interns as to their legal rights, and amongst organisations as to the law around working practices.
  • Provide resources to promote confident negotiation amongst interns to ensure a high-quality, tailored and accessible experience.
  • Promote an understanding that internships are useful access routes into the sector, and are not just for graduates.
  • Provide more forums for those involved in internships to meet and discuss issues.

Researcher Jessica Benson-Egglenton also attended, using the debate as a basis for material to add to Artquest’s resources for interns.  Her report on the debate can also be downloaded below.


Jessica Benson-Egglenton recently completed her MA in Arts Policy and Management at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her research within the dissertation element focused on arts sector internships and the learning that takes place in these experiences. She currently works at a performing arts conservatoire in an administrative role that encompasses widening participation, equality and diversity, and supporting the Academic Registrar.

Sophie Hope worked as an independent curator for six years (as part of the curatorial partnership B+B), and continues to develop her practice-led research into socially engaged art, commissioning processes, evaluation practices, labour conditions and community art histories. Her PhD (completed in 2011), entitled: ‘Participating in the Wrong Way? Practice Based Research into Cultural Democracy and the Commissioning of Art to Effect Change’ explored criticality in the context of an artists’ contract. Sophie is currently researching art and politics in the year 1984 and recently wrote her second radio play about a tribal uprising on the outskirts of Plymouth.

Sarah Rowles is Director of Q-Art and author of ’12 Gallerists: 20 Questions’ and ’11 Course Leaders: 20 Questions’ – two books which like the organisation aim to break down the barriers to and between various models of art education and make the workings of the contemporary art world more transparent.

Tracey Smith has a longstanding career in social work, and is attending her third year of a part-time Fine Art degree at London Metropolitan University. Her art practice is concerned with narrative, telling fairy tales in which characters confront their fears, using puppets in photostories, films and animations. In 2012 Tracey undertook a six month internship at Peckham Space as a gallery assistant. During the internship she secured the opportunity to develop her own community project which unfolded as a one day arts and music event in August 2012, the Peckham Peace Festival.

Intern Culture – literature review

Intern Culture summaries