Saturday, 14 January 2012

To be an intern or not to be an intern...?

A friend of mine showed me this article and I think it raises some interesting concerns about internships:

I must confess to knowing little, if anything, about the fashion industry (you should see my wardrobe!) but having friends who have studied fashion/textile design I have heard countless stories of searching for/taking on several stints of unpaid work in the sector.

Whilst I can understand the need to "get in there" with designers and (hopefully) gain paid employment, the concerns raised in the article ring too true when I think of those that have undertaken months of unpaid work... and gained nothing except an extra couple of lines on their CV.

This is also true of other creative industries:

A few years ago I took an internship at a theatre company to assist with the premier of a new show. I told myself it was a valuable (albeit long) lesson but was excited at the prospect of putting "assistant producer" on my CV - the Arts Council would have to fund my debut theatre project after that, surely?!

In hindsight the only thing that I really remember from the experience was to add 10% contingency to any budget. Did I really need to work one day a week unpaid for nine months to learn that? Or is that in fact common sense? Timetabling rehearsals, writing to local businessess for financial support and selling tickets were all necessary parts of putting the show on, but by the end of the process I began questioning my role. I was putting address labels on letters and taking them to the post office. What did that teach me about running a theatre company? Where was my creativity being stretched - or even acknowledged? How was the company benefiting from my creative skills?

The end point came for me after the show had finished when I was asked to do an additional day in order to envelope generic "thank you" letters to contributors and participants. Clearly my envelope-stuffing skills were highly regarded, but I felt that my time as "assistant producer" had come to a natural end.

Three years later the paragraph regarding the internship is slipping further down my CV and has not lead to any other creative projects. It has, however, stopped me from giving away my time for free again... maybe that was the truest lesson to learn.

As the article suggests, internships can be productive at times, but both sides need to benefit. Creative individuals are surely going to be inspired by other creative people.

So now I shall endeavour to follow the parting advice given in the article - get on and do it! Find the people to work with/for and just go for it!

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