Can we just pay the interns?

Each of the writers here, on The Female Gaze, are people that are just starting or about to start their careers. Most of us want to find our homes in the arts, so we have become deeply acquainted with the consequences of long standing traditions. One is the tendency of museums, archives and galleries to not pay their interns. They can avoid compensating interns because they provide educational job training but do not replace an employee.

The problem that these places face is the true lack of funding that forces difficult budget priorities. The field has been pushing itself towards being more accessible to its public, often causing massive projects to rewrite labels and overhaul education departments. This is incredibly important, to keep a population interested that has changed how it interacts with art, and has even more ways to spend their leisure time. This draws money away from endowing their intern programs.

Yet, at the same time, there is ever increasing professionalization of the field, pushing people interested in the field into graduate school in order to gain the degrees required for entry level positions. As the graduate schools do not have more funding, they raise their standards on acceptance. People cannot just apply to graduate school with just their experience working as a library check out staff for a year in today’s graduate market. They need internships and job experience in their undergraduate years.

Sadly, there are very few paid internships in museums or archives like there are in web development or finance. While many of the very large museums can offer some funding, as the most prestigious and recognized, the selection is highly biased to those with personal connections or past experience. This is especially true in some New York museums. Many of those people considered competitive already have several years of experience, gained from unpaid internships at smaller institutions. Yet, how will someone find that starting unpaid internship if they have work to pay for college or feed themselves?

Even with these paid internships, they do not cover the cost of living. MoMA has a very generous paid year long program for recent graduates, the $22,000 would barely cover rent and utilities. It is required that an intern would either have to be independently wealthy, live in New York City or work another full time position.

Just because it's funded doesn't mean it's really ok.
Just because it’s funded doesn’t mean it’s really ok.

It makes a pay to play game, and only worsens the division between those who have the connections and resources to gain access. Museums, galleries and archives are making these decisions because they have a seemingly narrow view of how to take care of their public.Interns take on projects that are often neglected by the day to day runnings of the institution. From working on backlogs of cataloging projects, researching curatorial projects, running social media campaigns, interns help museums grow and develop. They take care of projects that better serve the public, and they should be compensated as such. This would allow more people to gain access to the field that are currently locked out by their socioeconomic status.

2 comments on “Can we just pay the interns?

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