|This guide was put together by Adam Harris Levine, McGill Art History Class of 2010. Adam interned at the Cloisters Museum and Gardens of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York in Summer 2008 and interned at the DUMBO Arts Center in Brooklyn, New York in Summer 2009. He continues his studies in art history at the Courtauld Institute in London, England.
Internships for art history students can take many forms: work in museums, galleries, journals, and auction houses; in formal internship programs at larger institutions, less formal internships in smaller institutions or curatorial offices; paid and unpaid.
There are many ways to approach researching, approaching, and obtaining an internship in the field and a number of factors to keep in mind. This guide is designed to help art history students to move through the process with ease.
Not all internships at arts institutions can be applied towards credit at the Art History and Communications Studies Department. Consult the departmental advisor as you search for and obtain an internship to ensure that you will in fact be eligible for credit.
Types of Host Organizations
Most art history students find internships at museums and galleries, but some take internships at auction houses, journals, or magazines.
Hands-on experiences in museums and galleries present the opportunity of working with art display, exhibition installation, education and curation.
Work in auction houses can offer an intern a glimpse into the commercial art world, art market, and the type of research required in closely examining a piece for history, provenance, condition and technical details.
Art journals, academic publications, and art magazines offer students a rare opportunity to hone their art-writing skills and to see a distinct segment of the art world.
Types of Internships
Students sometimes find formal internship programs at larger museum institutions. In a formal internship program, interns often have the opportunity to tour their host museum, see lectures by curators, conservators, and administrators, and to visit other nearby institutions. These programs give interns a great deal of exposure to the inner workings of a large museum. In some cases, these programs are funded: remuneration can range anywhere from monthly metro passes in the museum’s city to $3,000 for a summer. Formal internship programs are extremely competitive. Funded formal internship programs are even more competitive (for instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York receives over 400 applicants a year but takes only 30). These programs are typically led by a museum’s Education Department.
Students can find other internships at museums by contacting curators or departments directly. Interning with a curator or department gives a student intimate access to a smaller group, sometimes working closely with renowned academics in the field. Curatorial interns often participate in thorough academic research for upcoming exhibitions and collections analysis. Students are more likely to find informal internship programs at galleries, although some galleries are beginning to formalize internships. In general, galleries have smaller budgets and smaller staffs than museums. Interns at galleries may find themselves doing a range of tasks: installing exhibitions, working directly with artists, filing and cleaning.
Some auction houses have formal internship programs, but it is important to realize that major houses, such as Bonham’s, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s may only feature internship programs at their major headquarters (sometimes in London, New York, or Paris). Informal internships are often available at their smaller offices around the world (for example, Bonham’s Toronto accepts summer interns). If you’re looking to return home and do not live in London, New York, or Paris, consider finding a smaller auction house branch nearby. It’s often easiest to call the general office number and inquire about the procedure for applying to intern. These calls and emails should always include your full name, your year at McGill and your program of study.
Generally speaking, journals and magazines offer internships based on internal demand and in specific departments. If the institution’s website does not offer explicit instructions, call or email to inquire.
Reaching out to institutions can be a sensitive and challenging process. Each type of institution has a different, nuanced etiquette for making contact.
It is very important to follow the application procedures and timelines of formal internship programs. Applications can be due by December through the spring, and it is important to plan ahead and organize your application well. Consult museum education department websites for information. If the education department does not offer details about internships, seek out public programming departments, volunteer coordinators, and employment/job opportunity listings. Some institutions can be very formal. It’s crucial to follow their rules and to appear professional. For instance, if applications contain a message along the lines of “Please, no phone calls,” or if only an email address is offered, respect this suggestion. Emails should be well-written and polite.
On applications, be sure to highlight relevant skills: languages spoken, important courses taken at university, and previous work experience. If an internship involves work with the public, highlight any work experience you might have in the service sector to emphasize your social skills.
When applying to an institution, it is imperative that you be familiar with the collections, history, and philosophy of the place. For instance, an application to work at the Louvre should show that you know more than the Mona Lisa, and an application to the Guggenheim in Venice might show a familiarity with Peggy Guggenheim, her collection, and her legacy.
Many museums and galleries value neat and articulate presentation in their interns; they view their interns as ‘the faces of the museum.’ Keep this in mind in correspondence and interviews: dress formally if you have a face-to-face interview and remain poised and professional.
Many museum and gallery internships can be extremely competitive. It’s very important to apply to more than one and to have a range of exciting options.
Students may be interested in using their internship experience towards credit. They should consult the following link for more information about ARTH490: http://www.mcgill.ca/ahcs/ugrad/internship/
Some museums and galleries now require that interns get credit in order to accept them for an internship.