Internships in the arts

The Creative Employment Programme is a genuine attempt to try and create new jobs, to create routes into the industry, to encourage people to think about how they might develop their own initiatives. That’s why we at house, a touring and audience engagement initiative working across South East and Eastern England, grabbed this opportunity and decided to make it into something useful.

Lots of our venues in the house network were interested but didn’t really want to have to deal with the bureaucracy. I think we as an organisation sit in that strange place where we appear in many ways to be part of the establishment; we are credible, but I hope we’ve retained a bit of mischief and a bit of judgement. And that’s what we’ve tried to do with the consortium bid to the Creative Employment Programme, to say that we’ll be the public facing gate that allows the state to give us the investment to try to make things happen, and then we’ll talk to a whole host of partners through the house network.

Thanks to the success of the consortium bid, we’ve now got eight young people who are in six month placements across the South East, with more to come in the near future. That feels significant; that feels like something that might be making some little difference. Wouldn’t it be great if in 10 or 15 years people would talk about that being the thing that allowed them to get into the industry?

I hope these young people get some doors opened and I hope they get some validation in terms of saying yes you can do it, yes you can make a living out of your ideas. The other real opportunity in this programme is that it’s paid. Frankly we needed to change the status quo, where the only people who could do internships were those people who were prepared to do an unpaid internship and were therefore funded either by their parents or by a lifestyle that meant they didn’t need to generate income.

One of my real hopes is that the employers involved do not just think this is a way of paying the intern that they might have taken on anyway. You have to push yourself to look at creating opportunities for a wider group of people. Both interns who are now working on a six month basis with us at Farnham Maltings would not have been able to self-fund for six months, so there are two people who might not have made it into the arts but for that encouragement. I really hope that the Creative Employment Programme and we as employers take that responsibility seriously.

– Gavin Stride

Joe Burnham, Sherringham Little Theatre

I was attracted to the idea of a work placement which involved my existing interest in the creative arts, and drama is an area I’ve always wanted to explore professionally. This internship was also especially appealing as the position (publicity assistant) is inherently quite open-ended, and enables me to bring a lot of creativity to the job.

Ultimately it was fundamental that any full-time position I took up was paid. This is for practical reasons, as I’ve spent several years taking unpaid positions and at a certain point you’re unable to sustain that. Equally, with a paid position you can be assured that it holds a level of legitimacy when referencing it on your CV in the future, as otherwise it’ll appear that you were simply one of many volunteers.

An awful lot of young people don’t have that all-important ‘first opportunity’ which gets them grounded within the arts sector. It’s a fantastic way for them to develop experience and apply the skills they’ve already picked up. I’m now looking into arts marketing as a future career, and with a little luck the theatre I’m currently working for will be able to keep me on as a full-time employee after the internship.

Damian Kerlin, Letchworth Arts Centre

What university doesn’t prepare you for is the extreme competition faced by new graduates in the current economic climate. Yes, they tell you that you need to work hard and should aim for a first, but in the harsh reality of it, experience dominates and a degree flags in at second place.

An internship at Letchworth Arts Centre allowed for me to explore different areas, not necessarily covered by my degree, but let me put into practice disciplines I had picked up throughout it. This particular arts centre covers a range of different mediums, which has broadened my knowledge of the arts as a whole.

So many internships or apprenticeships offered me experience but very few offered me a wage. In fact some of them even expected me to pay for the service I was providing them! Experience is all well and good but one cannot live on fresh air alone. What was most important to me was to feel valued. Once you put a price on it, suddenly you become a lot more precious.

The arts is a tough and extremely competitive industry. Internships allow for people to get their foot in the door and put their skills into practice in a safe learning environment.

Jonathan Mileman, Your Leisure Kent (including Margate Theatres)

I work in a Marketing Department of 3 people (including myself) which is in a separate location from both of the Theatres and the other locations of the business (leisure centres and venues). I have been put in charge of the Theatres’ Marketing, which includes brochure and poster distribution, engaging with hard to reach audiences and setting up and running a time management program for show marketing. I am lucky to have a very good relationship within the department and with people across both theatres and have felt like a respected colleague ever since I started.

It is very difficult for graduates and young people to find their way into the arts and so many people are desperate to get their foot in the door to show what they are capable of. It is also fantastic for the internship to be financed as it means that young people from across the social spectrum with an interest in the arts can seriously consider applying for this kind of opportunity. All too often, financial considerations limits what experience young people can obtain, and what opportunities theatres and museums can offer, and this will have a knock on effect on the arts in my opinion.

Sam Langan, Creative Arts East

The fact that this internship was in Norfolk and within ten miles of my home was a huge motivation in me applying and obtaining the internship. From my job searching as a graduate, I know how difficult it is to find work in the creative arts/events industry outside of London, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Since graduating from university, I was looking for an internship that would allow me to work on something artistic and become passionate about a certain area of work. This internship has definitely helped me work towards achieving these goals. I have been given so much independence which has been great for my confidence and sense of self-worth within the organisation.

I believe that for graduates to develop in the arts industry they need to get opportunities to work in different sectors and do a range of different roles. This is difficult in a financial sense. It’s also difficult in terms of job security and the variety of roles in the market. In my experience, becoming an intern gives you the right level of responsibility and freedom that you can build upon and work towards more senior roles.

A shorter version of this article was originally posted on the Guardian Culture Professional Network Blog on Tuesday 11th February, 2014.