An internship can be one of the most valuable experiences for an aspiring young arts professional. It provides valuable training within a working organization. It serves as a base for networking with other colleagues from throughout their field. Ideally, it is also a time of mentorship with an established veteran who can teach, inspire, and encourage the intern, showing the ropes in the real world and revealing appropriate steps in the path forward.
The benefit to the host organization is inexpensive labor, often provided by an energetic college student or recent graduate with specialized training in their particular discipline. Many arts organizations rely on one or more interns as a regular part of their staff. The relationship, ideally, is a win for both the intern and the host organization. One may be reminded of the model of the medieval professional guild which trained the next generation’s practitioners while serving the immediate days’ needs.
Not every situation is ideal, however. One pitfall is inadequate intern compensation. Sadly, there are internships in many medium and large-size organizations which require many weekly hours’ work with little or no pay. This puts the internship, with all of its benefits, out of reach to those of limited means. At a time when our country is newly and energetically dedicated to inclusion, equity, and diversity, the limitation of internships to the wealthy is not desirable or tenable. Not only does it unfairly deny access to many potential candidates, it robs the field of badly needed talent. Arts leaders, organizations, and funders must be sensitive to and active on this issue.
Applicants to the Foundation’s Performing Arts Program will notice a new set of questions in the Spring 2021 cycle. We are asking organizations whose operating budgets are one million dollars or more to provide information concerning their internship programs, including the amounts and means of compensation. Compensation can take a number of forms, including cash, housing, college credit, and transportation assistance. A primary goal of the compensation, in whatever form or combination, should be providing for a significant portion of the intern’s living expenses.
The Paul M. Angell Family Foundation is strongly in favor of appropriately and adequately paid arts internships. Our present information gathering is the first step in our initiative to learn about our grantees’ and applicants’ programs. We encourage our grantees to ensure that their internships are accessible to all qualified young artists. We are also interested in the input from current and previous arts interns who may wish to share thoughts, kudos, or concerns about their experiences. Please direct your emails to the Foundation’s Performing Arts Program Officer, Audra Yokley, at [email protected] and put “Internships” in the email’s subject field.
Best wishes to all for a happy holiday season and an energetic, healthy, prosperous, arts-filled 2021 ahead.
–Mike Angell, Performing Arts Program Director