As the social, economic, gender and racial injustice of unpaid internships continues to grow, some non-profit arts institutions in New York are taking steps to change their policies and pay their interns.
One year ago, the arts blog Hyperallergic announced their own paid internship program, noting that their interns had previously been provided only with a “small daily honorarium and paid as contributors for their blog posts.” In March of this year, the nonprofit public art organization Creative Time announced a new pilot program that will fund ten paid Summer 2015 internships. Meanwhile the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has expanded its paid internship programs after cutting back on paid opportunities for several years running. These are small but important steps towards transforming a cultural industry that is heavily reliant on unpaid or low-paid work by art workers at any stage in their careers, including interns, educators, administrators, artists, critics, preparators, curators, designers and writers.
While the conversation might be changing, it is worthy to note that just a few years ago, most arts organizations, from galleries to museums to non-profits to journals, seemed content to accept the idea that interns were privileged students whose labor was disposable. As Hyperallergic noted, “We’re hopefully creating opportunity for a wider range of students and emerging writers and photographers.” The fact that the journal is calling for a “wider range” of voices indicates that the discourse has been narrow. By taking steps of paying interns today, the industry is starting to acknowledge that the art world is fueled by policies that exclude those who cannot afford to work for free. It is safe to state that this exclusion hits people of color disproportionately.
Budgeting is one of the main channel institutions communicate with their funders and signal their priorities. For example, Creative Time made sure to thank individual funders for bankrolling their new paid internship program. In order to start paying their interns, these institutions must initiate honest dialogues with their funders about the reality of this exclusion, and the benefits of paid internships to the cultural landscape at large.
Paying interns is only the first step in an issue where many crucial questions still remain. Will the interns be learning from their experience? How does the payment / stipend compare to the institutions’ operating budget, especially in a city like New York? How should an internship be valued in comparison to a job? Is it possible to establish an industry-wide practice where intentional decisions are made to create a workplace that is intersectionally aware on issues of race, class and gender?
#payinterns #internlabor #fairinternships #equalinternships