Galleries - September 2012

13. GALLERIES SEPTEMBER 12 ART WORK Sarah Drury considers the Rise of the Intern sinking (the odds are 20-1 against being taken on permanently), what is the answer? “Eventually I gave up on the gallery world and took a four day a week salaried job at a construction company . . . a more pleasant and amiable environment to work in despite the constant pressure of deadlines”. Over a two year period juggling positions with six different galleries, this intern was told by two agencies specialising in the art world that she still didn't have enough experience for them to find her paid work. And yet it wasn't all a waste of time: frustrating yes, but an eye- opener to arcane skills such as sales techniques and price maintenance. “The amount of effort put into sales was a convincing reason for artists to have a gallery – sales people talked up paintings they had never even seen . . . in direct contrast with the clumsy put downs of an artist talking about their own work.” She did observe rather ruefully that the better you were at the job the less 'fun stuff' you got to do, such as helping well-known artists move studios or set up shows. The more inefficient you were, the more freedom and flexibility was offered (which may account for some of the anecdotes I've heard about interns' sloppiness and carelessness). One of the problems is the gulf between what's on offer and the work itself. This is a fact of life for most people in employment, but at least they can console themselves that it's all money in the bank. If you're on expenses only and there for a limited period (the usual conditions for interns), the initial promise of 'a hands-on role within a small team that has big ideas' or 'an opportunity to appreciate the entire process of organising an exhibition' or 'an excellent opportunity for developing your credentials in arts marketing' is taken at face value. When it turns out to be repetitive and boring (such as data input), perhaps even a cheap way of keeping a gallery open without paying staff overtime, it's no wonder disillusion sets in. Welcome to the real world, cynics might say. But if an internship is 'a personal investment of your time in return for someone else's expertise', as the Internship in London website succinctly puts it, then it's best to go into it with open eyes. Advice from the coalface, so to speak, includes not committing more than three days a week; treating the job like a paid one, ie 90% perspiration rather than inspiration; sticking with galleries who are either serious about developing interns or whose names will look good on a CV; and, finally, starting a programme of events and shows, in pop up spaces or in collaboration with others, which will give that CV a dynamic edge. For some of us, the word 'intern' has never lost its transatlantic connotations. But the habit has spread and now the art world seems to be, if not run, then in no small part kept ticking over by these useful persons, who are moreover as likely to be home- grown as imported. One gallery reports a very mixed experience with interns, most of whom come via the local art college, and are indeed partly funded by it. The more degrees under their belt, the greater the lack of social skills with customers and the more likely they are to try to promote themselves at inopportune moments. Sometimes it's just a reflection of youth's preoccupation with its own affairs which, for instance, results in a cavalier attitude to time-keeping. This dealer emphasized the importance of structuring the learning for interns so that they leave with a good understanding of all the processes and tasks involved in running a gallery. The idea of using them as dogsbodies for the boring jobs was anathema: “I am very aware they have to be able to use what they get out of this experience in their future careers. But as a one-man band, I have to rely on someone, and if they don't turn up . . . ” And what do the interns themselves make of it? As they put in the hours, weeks, months, and see the debts rising and the hopes of paid employment