Attention must be (Un)Paid

UMBC Arts students budget out the worth of unpaid internships

By Dan Roeder

Contributing Writer

For many UMBC students, the beginning of the semester marks the start of a new internship, which can be found with the help of the Career Services Center in the Math and Psychology Building. However, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences seems to have less frequent opportunities for paid artistic intern work, at which point unpaid intern work proves a challenging gamble for many students.

In an alarming job market, students often become more susceptible to unpaid intern work in hopes of unclear future advantages. According to Forbes magazine, internships first went on the rise in the 1980s but are now looked upon as vital for career success. The worry with arts internships is that, as artists already struggle to command payment for work, unpaid internships may forge an economy in which only those able to afford unpaid work are able to advance in their field.

Recent lawsuits, such as the Black Swan case where interns took issue with a lack of compensation for certain kinds of labor, have questioned the rules that an unpaid arts internship must follow in order to remain lawful and productive. The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s website cautions against internships that would “displace regular employees” and recommends they span “a fixed duration” of time.

Senior Rebecca Behnke, double major in dance and social work, was able to support an internship with The Non-Profit Village and ClancyWorks Dance Company with a stipend after applying to the Sondheim Non-Profit Leadership Program. The job training in grant research and the temporary nature of her work made for a meaningful experience.

Despite her success, Behnke also acknowledges the danger of “over-interning.” This summer, Behnke “turned down a competitive internship for a low-key job that [she] thought would be a better experience for [herself].”

Junior Savannah Myers, a visual arts major who has interned for a faculty member, believes that interning for  “longer than a year” would be “too long.”

Myers, who recently interned in service of a faculty member’s art project, differentiates her work from paid work based upon the creative credit. “I was just doing the tedious parts, I wouldn’t take credit for [the artwork] or anything,” she said. While Myers jokes that the internship taught her that “big enough artist[s] can make interns do work for [them],” it’s not always clear how the interns’ process leads them to become “bigger.”

Recent transfer student and junior Julia Junghans, who has yet to intern in the arts, looks for the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the project. Junghans, who is entering as a theatre major, cautions that “if I signed up to be in props but I was just a lackey for everyone, I would definitely not want to do that internship.”

The most obvious alternative to internships is actual creative work, be it freelancing, contracting or generating your own projects with the intent of financial profit. Working for pay in your field is a muscle that should be exercised regularly before graduation.

Often, the most rewarding work comes from a project made in collaboration with unpaid peers, particularly in the opportunities it presents for leadership and entrepreneurial development. Junghans recommends “attending workshops and seminars where [students] would both learn new things and meet people” in their field.