Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Class, Geography, and Internships

Back before we were discussing Outrageous Fortune, we were discussing the effects of class on education and success in the theatre, and I and several others talked about the class bias of unpaid internships. Today, Lyn Gardner of the London Guardian raises the same questions in a post entitled "Arts internships: chance of a lifetime or cut-price labour?" Gardner draws our attention to a report on this issue by the Arts Group, who represent arts students and graduates, entitled Emerging Workers: A Fair Future for Entering the Creative industries.  This report, Gardner summarizes, "has called the large number of unpaid jobs in the creative sector "exploitation" and is calling for legislation to regulate the use of unpaid internships by arts organisations, suggesting that all placements over a month should be paid the national minimum wage." She goes on:
This comes at a time when universities and colleges are producing ever-larger numbers of arts graduates, often from courses that often fail to equip them with the skills to find work, particularly in a recession-hit market. The colleges are happy to take the fees, but they wash their hands of the consequences. I think we should be asking why, according to the report, 40% of graduates entering the cultural sector do so through working unpaid – not least because it has massive implications in terms of access. It immediately discounts all those who can't afford to work unpaid, and particularly disadvantages those whose family home doesn't happen to be near London, where many of these unpaid opportunities are. [ital mine]
 Gardner makes an excellent point, one supplements our past discussion: that the "tradition" of paid internships not only privileges people who have the benefit of private wealth, a doting family, or a partner who is supporting them, but it also privileges people whose families live close to where the theatre is. If you grow up in a rural area far from a professional theatre offering an internship, for example, you must figure out how to pay the rent, whereas someone whose family lives in the city can move back home into their old bedroom and save rent money (not to mention the cost of things like food). This has a major impact on your ability to accept the internship.

Of course, if you do an internship your chances increase of getting hired permanently by an institution after they have worked with you for a while. I think we all recognize that. Getting a foot in the door can help your chances for future employment. But internships privilege certain feet over others. The question, as Gardner says, is one of access, and it provides more evidence that the theatre playing field is not level, not a meritocracy.

5 comments:

joshcon80 said...

Cue the arts administrators and rich kids' angry defense of unpaid internships in 3. 2. 1...

Scott Walters said...

crickets...

Greg Redlawsk said...

This really hits home for me, as I'm currently applying for several internships which would leave me scrounging to live, but seem as if they would be worthwhile as a way to, as you said, get my foot in the door. The thing I worry about, however, is that if this were to come to fruition, companies might, rather than offer internships paying minimum wage, discontinue their internship programs entirely. This wouldn't be beneficial either, as young artists need a place to start, and internships can be great ones. I'm not saying I have the solution, just noting that as a possible ramification of legislation requiring minimum wage to internships of over a month.

Scott Walters said...

I know, Greg, it is a Sophie's Choice in many ways. We have gotten ourselves into the same situation as pre-union workers who were so desperate to work, and who had so many who were unemployed and willing to work, and so wages kept going lower and lower. Internships take this the final step: no pay altogether. Pretty soon, young people will be expected to "pay to play"!

Greg Redlawsk said...

Hell, that's already the case in some places. I've come across several summer "internships" which require their interns to pay for the privilege of doing the grunt work. It's just about entirely ridiculous.