Wherein I Hallucinate About Internships

I recently misread the title of a post on Museum 2.0. But in that second of misapprehension, my brain flooded with assumptions about the subject of the post. I misread “A Shared Ethics for Museum Internships” to be something like “Ethics for Shared Museum Internships.” In that moment, I thought shared internships was a great idea and had a vision for how it would work.

Some of these assumptions were made in the context of the growing discussion of problems with unpaid internships, most recently an quoting former Sleep No More interns as saying there wasn’t any educational benefit to the experience.

One thing articles about unpaid internships have focused on is the idea that the experience is supposed to be educational and of no direct benefit for whomever the intern is working. Now the best information I have right now is that these guidelines don’t apply to non-profit and public sectors. But there are rumblings that this may be changed. And there is also the issue of just because you can use an intern in the place of a staff person, doesn’t mean you should.

What I thought the Museum 2.0 post was going to suggest was trading interns between companies, particularly between for- and non-profits. I had this immediate vision of interns at a bank working in a museum and the museum intern working in a bank for a few weeks. The benefit being that the future banker would have an understanding of arts non-profits and the future museum director/curator would gain insight into what motivated banks to support arts organizations (or what motivates individuals to give as part of their bequest if the intern worked in the the trusts department.)

While it may not be entirely appropriate for a non-profit to “act like a business,” this type of experience can contribute to a better understanding of the points of view of board members who are business leaders by future non-profit leaders, and those of non-profits by future business leaders and board members. Miracles probably won’t result from a few weeks spent interning in a different company, but it shouldn’t impede things too badly either.

Moments later, I realized what the real title of the piece was, but my initial impression still seemed like an interesting idea. Even if you didn’t do an internship trade, placing an intern to work for a week at the company that did your brochure printing or the hotel that put your performers up, would give an intern a better understanding of the work done by the close partners of the organization.

A few years down the road, the intern might be in a position to propose an arrangement that is mutually beneficial to both the non-profit and the commercial partner that ends up bringing them closer together. A closer bond would also be the hopeful long term benefit of the intern swap I initially mentioned. Once the interns had reported on their experience and moved on, hopefully the cooperating businesses and non-profit would feel a continuing respect and understanding of each other.

Of course, it can be hard work to arrange all these details. It is hard enough to ensure that the experience at your organization is meaningful and doesn’t relegate the intern to copying and answering the phone, much less to provide the same experience at other work sites. But then, the intern isn’t really supposed to be making a lot of copies during this period anyway.

Any thoughts about this, its viability and how it might be accomplished? I mean, essentially what I am asking is, since I already hallucinated the post into existence, does anyone want to write about Ethics of Shared Internships?

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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