Milica lewis from Lion Art Projects outlines her personal view on unpaid interns in response to the recent release of 'Internships in the Arts' publication by Arts Council England and Creative & Cultural Skills.
Milica says; 'So, Arts Council England and Creative & Cultural Skills have published guidelines that lay out legal obligations regarding internships in the arts. On the one hand, I obviously fully see the extreme importance of having some safeguards in place to protect interns from being exploited. On the other hand, I am irritated by this move. Why is it that the sector that faces one of the biggest cuts and in which people are on average already paid extremely low salaries, is the first to publish an official document that puts even more restrictions on itself?
Yes, the importance of the arts is highly underestimated and undervalued by those ‘in power’ and in an ideal world, the arts would be better financed and everyone would get paid a wage in line with their job description and/or effort. (I’ll save my opinion on the crippling effect I feel the funding dependency of most arts organisations has on their creative development for another post). But for as long as we live in a capitalist society, this is – in my humble opinion – the reality for the arts.
I’ve had many different jobs in my life, but in my experience people in the arts work incredibly hard and work many (unsocial) overhours, much more so than in any other sector I’ve worked in. Also, most people I’ve worked with in the arts have been overqualified and could earn a lot more money for a lot less hard work in other industries. So why are they putting up with this?
First and foremost, people who work in the arts do so because of their passion for the arts and their deeply rooted belief in its importance as a tool for social change. This is at the heart of why on many occasions that I have been part of interview panels for the arts organisations I have worked for, the priority in the selection process was which candidate had demonstrated this passion and not which had the most directly relevant skills and experience for the job at hand.
One sure way for (especially small, underfunded but no less important) arts organisations to find out whether potential employees have got this passion and therefore have got what it takes to give their all to their job and make a valuable and unique contribution to the creative development of the organisation as a whole (plus not leave at the first opportunity for a better, more well paid position at the advertising agency or accountancy firm around the corner), is to check whether they have a track record of creative thinking, taking initiative, and volunteering/getting free work experience as an intern at a time when no other option to work in a paid role in the arts was available to them yet.'