In September 2012 Visual Artists Ireland invited a group of participants to form a Working Group to examine internships in the visual arts sector. In doing so Visual Artists Ireland was responding to a number of complaints from its members about the treatment they had received while on internship programmes. These complaints came both from those on the JobBridge Internship Programme and those who had participated in non-government-sanctioned internship programmes.
Interns have become an established part of the infrastructure in the visual arts sector. As well as assisting growth, they enable organisations affected by reduced public and consumer spending to sustain services. Therefore, Visual Artists Ireland saw it as necessary to examine the treatment and working conditions of interns. The Working Group looked at ways in which the welfare and interest of interns could be improved and to provide clarification of the responsibilities of host organisations.
Some of the wider structural implications for the visual arts sector were also considered. A strategic aim should be to ensure that employment in the arts is seen as a sustainable career choice. Internships should also provide opportunities for people from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible. Although interns are not regarded as employees of a company / organisation, there are laws relating to the workplace which give them protection and place obligations on host organisations. These include: the Tax Acts; the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act, 2005; The Holidays (Employees) Acts, 1973 and 1991; and also the Employment Equality Acts, 1998 – 2008, which place an obligation on all employers in Ireland to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
The attraction of a good internship is that it should provide a valuable learning experience. It should allow an individual to develop new skills, or enhance existing skills that are applicable to their chosen area. It should allow for the development of interpersonal work relationships and help the candidate to learn good work habits such as time management and communication skills. It should also allow for networking opportunities that will lead to paid employment or help to further the intern’s career in a tangible way.
The Working Group considers the introduction of these Best Practice Guidelines for Internships a vital step in the development of an ethical infrastructure for the visual arts sector.