Unpaid Internships in Art Museums May Become a Thing of the Past

by Glasstire June 26, 2019

In a bold (and valiant) gesture, the board of trustees of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) passed a resolution this past week calling for art museums to start paying their interns. The resolution reads as follows: 

WHEREAS, internships provide critical opportunities for students considering careers in art museums, as well as experience necessary for entering the workforce; and

WHEREAS, paid internships are essential to increasing access and equity for the museum profession;

NOW, THEREFORE, the Board of Trustees of the Association of Art Museum Directors:

RECOMMENDS, that art museums should pay interns, except in special circumstances justifying such an arrangement.*

The section that states “that art museums should pay interns, except in special circumstances justifying such an arrangement” seems both suspicious and antithetical to the purpose of the resolution. However the annotation that follows that section confirms that this language applies only to circumstances in which students who are receiving academic credit for their internship are not eligible to get paid while receiving course credit at the same time. 

Jill Medvedow, co-chair of AAMD’s Professional Issues committee and director of the ICA Boston, states: “Providing paid internships is an important step for the art museum field in creating and sustaining a diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive set of opportunities.” She goes on to say:

“Internships are an important gateway for those seeking careers in art museums, providing incredible opportunities for hands-on experience in many aspects of an institution’s operations. Yet by failing to pay interns, we ensure that these experiences are only really accessible to those who already financially secure and, often, people who have established career networks available to them.”

The resolution comes on the heels of AAMD’s own paid internship program, which started last year with 10 participating museums. The Association also heard from economist Richard Reeves at its annual meeting in January, who spoke further on the issues of unpaid internships and how they maintain inequality in the workforce and stifle economic mobility. The lecture gave insight into AAMD’s decision to pass the resolution this summer. We can only hope that many museums (and art institutions in general) will quickly follow suit. 


You may also like


anonymous June 27, 2019 - 09:18

It’s about time. An internship wasn’t feasible for me while I was in school because I needed to spend my non-school time at a paying job so I could actually pay my bills. Yet finding a job in the arts is impossible if you haven’t interned somewhere and gotten experience. Most, if not all, other industries pay their interns – museums and galleries should not be an exception!!

Susan Larsen June 27, 2019 - 11:25

Long ago, museum work was the province of people from upper class backgrounds who could afford to take a low-paying job
for its prestige and social connections. Usually the lowest paid were young women. Today, a generation of young people with fine educations and high aspirations can present themselves to the profession without the class barriers and stereotypes of yesteryear.
I was asked, “Who are your people, dear?” by an old professor in graduate school. I didn’t even understand that he was asking about my class and economic background while assuming anyone poor was unfit to enter the profession. It is high time to supplant these ideas.

Christopher Knight June 30, 2019 - 11:15

The pay scale also matters. In 1974-75, I had a full-time museum internship at $125/wk (an inflation-adjusted rate of today’s widely proposed $15/hr minimum wage).


Leave a Comment

Funding generously provided by: