Why You Should Take That Unpaid Internship

Why You Should Take That Unpaid Internship

You never know if it'll make you worth your weight in gold...
19
views

Are you an avid follower of Adam Ruins Everything (Tru TV)? Have you seen his segment on internships? Has it deterred you from taking an unpaid internship in your field? Here are some reasons from an artist's perspective on why you should go ahead and try out that position in a creative field. Not just for the spot on your resume. If your employer is really a creative, they won't be sending you out for coffee runs or limiting your tasks to making copies or posting company tweets.

As an alumni of Columbia College Chicago and present foundations teacher at Northern Illinois University, I urge all young artists to check their school job boards for internship opportunities, gallery positions, museum staff, wood shop and print shop employment. Art school doesn't last forever. Even furthering your education in academia can only go on for so long (as I know, sadly, being in my 3rd and final year of grad school).

Practical skills and knowledge of what professional positions are available in the art world are integral to the survival of the artist - if you want to pursue a position in the arts as opposed to being a barista – not to diss a profession I was only recently able to remove from my resume – you must begin early and build up from there.


Benefits for the intern:

Higher education helps artists to think more critically. The internship helps artists to think more professionally. An internship is a chance to prove to yourself and others that you are a self-motivated individual capable of taking risks and pitching innovative ideas. Professional experience is needed – some companies will take a risk based on education, but a lot of places want you to prove that you have practical experience in your field. If you take on an unpaid internship you will find value in the experience - that someone invests their time in you for your benefit. And the fact that it does not pay makes you reflect more on the experience itself more than the monetary payoff.


If you are an employer looking for an intern – you should keep these things in mind:

Asking for a full-time unpaid intern is unacceptable. A college student or recent graduate must be able to pay their bills. An intern can receive college credit and learn career-building skills just as easily working part-time for your company. Do not use these people for free labor, focus on making it a valuable experience for them.


My experience interning:

Speaking from experience, I worked for two semesters as a part-time unpaid gallery intern and artist assistant at a local gallery where students and recent graduates have the opportunity to intern, working one on one with active Chicago-based artists through Elephant Room Gallery's Intern Placement Program. Though the position was unpaid, school credit was offered as an option. I worked anywhere from 12-20 hours a week depending on what responsibilities there were, (was it the week of an opening, a pop-up?) and was given school credit.


The program is beneficial to both local, under represented and emerging artists and those interning for such artists in their community. The intern placement program provides experience and growth for both artists. Perhaps most importantly, the internship acts as a networking program. The process goes like this, the gallery owner meets with artists, finds out what they need and connects students to them. The comprehensive program entails studio visits, consultations and facilitates a constant working environment. The intern participates in training sessions with the gallery owner, covering many administrative duties. And some of the artists go on to hire the interns for part-time positions as artist assistants. Experience in networking is invaluable to the intern's career.My internship introduced me to the Chicago Artist Resource where I now research exhibitions, grants, and residences for myself. I learned a great deal about marketing digital media, which seems obvious to our generation, but is very important when it comes to web design and social media tricks. The internship expounded on my skillsets and helped me gain greater knowledge about the administrative tasks involved with gallery management. The assistantship helped local artists to focus on their art-making while introducing the clerical side of being an artist to the interns. The intern placement program was very much a two-way street to grow together, short term or long term.

I recently texted my former employer: I want to thank you again for my experience interning with you. A lot of my ambitions, skills, and strategies come from what I learned with you (and Google Docs / Excel are still my go to for sharing info!) I know your interning program helps a lot of young artists get started and helps make us marketable for future positions - thank you so much for that!

Thanks to my internship, I gained my first experience in administrative gallery programing. Major responsibilities as gallery intern included hanging shows, co-hosting artist talks and public art workshops, working and promoting pop-up shows and co-authoring the art blog “Discovering Art in Chicago.” As an artist assistant, I learned the importance of promotion, marketing, and the tedious application process whether it's for upcoming exhibitions, residencies, grants or fellowships (a skill that was grazed over in art school). I gained practical experience with in-studio prep work, file organization, and online documentation. I perfected the art of the press release and in doing so learned a valuable lesson about marketing a concept and building a brand over a series of work.


Where I've gone from there:

My experience as a gallery intern has been the backbone for much of my employment success. The summer after my graduation I was offered a position as a gallery assistant for Art Alliance: The Provocateurs curated show by Shepard Fairey (Obey, Obama Hope, etc.) This ultimately spring boarded my career in gallery and studio management. Working with a high caliber artist and acting as a sales representative in a reputable market made me a valuable candidate for future employment.


Not long after my experience working with Shepard Fairey I was offered a job assisting contemporary fine art photographer, Darryll Schiff in his West Loop Studio. I have since been promoted to Studio Director at Darryll Schiff Fine Art. My accomplishments with Schiff earned me the coveted internship at DeGroot Fine Art, the art consulting firm based in Chicago. Each of these steps have been inter-related and dependent upon my experience interning and getting my feet wet at Elephant Room, Inc. - an unpaid internship.


Try new things:

It is important to learn new skillsets to flourish in a creative field. Trying on new administrative hats helps you to learn what interests you. A career in the arts takes multi-disciplinary focus. You must be self-motivated and willing to try different career paths within your field. Value and honor your BA or BFA by finding work that grounds you in the art scene and never give up the hustle. Expand your network with peers and art professionals as much as possible. There is a certain level of growth that can only come from networking with people in your field, whether it is collaborating, cross-promotion or bouncing ideas off each other, starting that conversation is the key to success.

Check out your school's job board today and get networking!

Happy job hunting!


Cover Image Credit: Photo by Marc Mueller

Popular Right Now

Why Working With Special Populations Doesn't Make Me A Good Person

What you're missing from the bigger picture.
15790
views

"What do you do?” might be one of my least favorite questions. Let me tell you why. I am currently a Registered Behavior Technician at a wonderful program (MAP) nestled in the heart of North Carolina. Usually when I tell someone what I do, their response is either an uncertain nod or a plain look of confusion. At that time, I break it down by saying, “Basically, I work with children who have autism.” Now, more times than not, the response I receive is along the lines of, “Wow, that’s so amazing of you” or my personal favorite, “Good for you. I could NEVER do that.”

I understand that working with special populations isn’t for everyone, just like being a neurosurgeon isn’t for everyone. But, working with special needs children doesn’t make me a good person, a saint, or a hero. Every time someone tells you he/she is a teacher, do you gasp and express how much you could NOT be a teacher? What about when you meet a pediatrician? These people work with children just like I do. I’m certain if you spent one day in my shoes you would see just how much you COULD do my job.

Maybe not all of the technical work, but after a day with these children you would be humbled by how much you could learn from them. After all, these children are just children. They want to be accepted just like every other child. They want to be understood and to be part of a community just like the rest of us. My job has given me the opportunity to get to know a handful of the more than 3.5 million Americans on the spectrum. I’ve gotten to know each of their personalities, their quirks, and what makes them unique. I can’t help but imagine a world where everyone gets to know these individuals as I have. A world where we accept all of those who might appear or act different from us and educate ourselves on these populations. A world where that education helps us see that they aren’t so different from us after all.

Working with individuals with special needs doesn’t make me a good person, because I do it for selfish reasons. I work with them because I don’t know what my life would be like without them. They have taught me so much and changed my life in so many ways. I get to play a small hand in these children’s lives. I get to help them learn fundamental life skills you and I take for granted.

But, I also get to leave work everyday having learned a lesson. These children have taught me to be a better version of myself and to appreciate even the smallest of things life has to offer. Each day they challenge me to laugh more, have more fun, and not take myself so seriously. They show me more love than I ever knew possible. Maybe it isn’t with their words. Maybe it’s with the smiles and giggles when we’re singing their favorite song, or the way they look at me when they finally get something they have been working so hard to learn.

The hugs, the kisses, and the moments where our two worlds collide and we finally connect; these are the moments that remind me how much these children have to offer the rest of us. If only we would take the time to let them teach us, we would be more selfless, less judgmental, and have a greater appreciation for life.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. My hope is that this month we work to spread awareness for Autism, as well as other special needs. We take this time to learn something new, to help educate others, and to stop looking at these individuals as though they need special people in their lives to help teach them and focus more on opening our minds to the things they can teach us.

Cover Image Credit: Katharine Smith

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Please Stop Treating Your Friends And Family Like Customers

Your pyramid scheme job is not more important than your relationships.
57
views

Listen. Times are tough--especially if you're a millennial. I absolutely get it.

We are dragged down by student loan debt and left unable to find jobs that pay us enough to get by as cost of living expenses are skyrocketing, and the prospect of getting out of debt, no less affording a mortgage or being able to have enough financial stability to raise a family, is drifting and further and further out of grasp.

On top of that, the millennial generation is blamed for the 'death' of everything. Have you noticed this? Apparently we are cold-blooded killers of napkins, golf, bar soap, restaurant chains, fabric softener, and all kinds of other seemingly common entertainment avenues or household goods, plus democracy in general.

Because that makes total sense. Bog us down with debt, refuse to pay us a living wage, and then get mad when we can't afford anything beyond the necessities. Oh, and be sure to jump all over us when we splurge one time on avocado toast.

For me, in addition to working my primary day job, I also have three freelancing jobs in editing just to make ends meet. I often feel lucky because I am much closer to financial stability than a lot of my peers, but at the same time I have to work myself nearly to death to just feel a modicum of comfort.

So when I say I get it, I mean it. We all have to do whatever we can to provide for ourselves and overcome the struggle.

But with that said, an unfortunate trend I've noticed in recent years is the prevalence of pyramid schemes that slide in under the radar with the guise of: Work for yourself! Be an entrepreneur! Work around your own schedule! Be your own boss!


By and large, it's all complete garbage. One person who came up with the scheme gets rich while all the minions at the bottom of the pyramid usually end up wasting away their own savings in hopes of achieving their American Dream.

I'm not here to tell you how to live your life. If you want to sell Avon or Mary Kay products (which are actually pretty good, IMO), please do! If you've found success and are able to pay your bills and take care of your family through networking and doing sales pitches from home, more power to you!

I will say you need to tread lightly.

I am all about supporting my friends in their professional endeavors.

What I don't appreciate are friends who haven't talked to me in years suddenly reaching out to me only to try to sell me something.

I don't appreciate people who sell sham products for It Works! (it doesn't work, BTW) sharing pictures of stock photos of supposed before and after results of their products and misleading people who are supposed to be their friends and family.

Side note: Here's a fun challenge for you. If any of your friends who are moms share a million pictures of the "amazing" results of their product on stretch marks, ask them to show you how it worked on theirs. I promise you they won't be able to.

I don't appreciate Herbalife representatives whom I've known since I was seven years old pedaling poison to me as if I don't know any better.

I don't appreciate having a friend DM me on Instagram to tell me they think I'd be a perfect model for their skin cream and ask me to "try it out" and see how it works for me, but telling me I have to pay them to be a model...for them? What? How does that make sense?

I don't appreciate being told I'm a bad friend or sister or cousin or whatever because I don't want to attend a stupid candle party when I can get a better candle for half the price without having to leave the comfort of my own home.

Don't get me wrong: As I said before, I'm all about people trying to find success for themselves. I don't even mind being invited to your party where you're showing off the makeup or yoga pants or hair products you're trying to sell. That's fine!

But if I can't make it to your party, or if I can't afford your product, or if I simply don't want to incorporate a new lotion into my skincare regimen, am I a bad friend or sister or cousin? Or are you being the bad friend or sister or cousin for deciding our years of friendship or blood relation mean nothing when I don't hand my wallet over to you?

Just something for you to ponder.









Cover Image Credit: YouTube

Related Content

Facebook Comments