To date, over 200 interns (employed at a museum or arts organisation in the past three years) have reported their compensation, duties and experience through completing the anonymous survey, which reveals a striking reliance on free labour in the industry.
Although unpaid internships were originally designed to broaden access to arts careers, with interns previously having to pay institutions for the experience, they now underlie class inequality within the industry, as those from disadvantaged backgrounds may not be able to afford taking on unpaid work like their wealthier peers could. Art + Museum Transparency emphasised the need to put an end to the exploitation of free labour, commenting, “unpaid and underpaid internships limit the pool of emerging professionals to a privileged few and inhibit inclusivity and diversity in arts and museum spaces”.
The group may be in for a long, drawn-out battle, however, as the arts industry has proven more reluctant than others to steer away from what has been the status quo for so long. The spreadsheet reports that prestigious institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, amongst others, all paid their interns nothing. Some were even receiving thousands of dollars in payments from their interns, in return for the job opportunity and college credit from their universities.