A Guide to Internships in the Arts

Thank you to guest blogger Sarah Wolberg who discusses
landing and capitalizing on internships in the visual arts!

This week, I’ll finish up my two internships in Denver: as the education intern for the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum and as the collections intern for the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art. Both experiences have been fantastic introductions to the museum world, which has become increasingly hard to enter. There are more art history majors than there are museum jobs, and museums have their pick of applicants with master’s degrees and PhDs for even entry-level positions. It’s never been more important to network and gain experience through internships.

Getting the internship Don’t be afraid to apply for an internship that doesn’t exist. When I first worked at the Kirkland Museum the summer after my sophomore year, there was no formal internship program. I just emailed the Kirkland’s coordinator of volunteers with my resume and a cover letter asking if they had any research or other tasks I could do. They took me on as a research intern, and it was such a great experience that I came back this
summer. Galleries and small museums don’t always have internship programs, but a lot of them are willing to take you on for a summer if you can prove that you’ll be a help, not a hindrance.

Look for art internships in unexpected places. A lot of art history majors think of museums first when they’re looking for internships, but there are so many other paths to consider. I’ve also interned at an arts education organization and at a commercial gallery.  Arts organizations and galleries are growing, even while some museums are shrinking, so they often have more internship opportunities. Diversifying your experience can also help
you get hired in the fields of museum work that are growing: development, multimedia, and education.

Take advantage of your location. While spending this past year studying in Paris, I interned at a bronze sculpture gallery, thanks to a contact made through my study abroad program. If you study abroad, see if you can intern with an arts organization or museum, or even if you can just shadow someone in your field for a day or have an informational interview. It’s a great opportunity to broaden your network and improve your language
skills. Take advantage of the lesser workload you’ll have while abroad so that you can further your career goals.

You’ve got the internship; now what? Socialize! While I was interning at the gallery in Paris, my coworkers asked me every morning if I wanted to come have an espresso. I turned them down the first few times, thinking that I wouldn’t have anything to say. Pretty soon, I realized that the espresso breaks were one of the few opportunities I had to chat more casually with my coworkers. From then on, I made sure to take all the chances I could to hang out with my coworkers and get to know them on a personal level. It doesn’t seem like an intern’s job to socialize, but it’s good to connect with your coworkers so they see you as more than just “the intern.”

Once you’re done

Ask for a letter of recommendation. I’ve asked my last few supervisors for a reference letter before I completed my internship. If you ask for a letter early, it’s easier for your supervisor to remember the projects you were involved with.

Pay it forward. Once you’ve moved on to a different internship, or graduated, it’s easy to forget about the place you worked last summer or the summer before. But staying in touch keeps you up-to-date with your former supervisors. If you know someone who you think would be a great fit for your former internship, recommend him to your supervisor. This is a great way to strengthen your network and support your former organization.