A Conversation with Michelle Millar Fisher of Art + Museum Transparency
By Rachel Kubrick
Recently I had the fortune of speaking with Scottish curator Michelle Millar Fisher. Formerly an assistant curator of European Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a curatorial assistant at MoMA, she is newly a Bostonian, having recently assumed the title of Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This summer, Fisher entered into the limelight after distributing a spreadsheet collaboratively created as part of the group Art + Museum Transparency (AMT). This crowdsourced spreadsheet, with over 3,000 entries at the time of publication, has allowed art workers to share salary information, sparking a major discussion across the country on salary inequality and underpayment in the art field. The instant success of the first spreadsheet encouraged the creation of a second one in July, focusing on unpaid internships in the art world. It is on this subject of unpaid internships, a hot topic among undergraduates such as myself, that Fisher and I discussed over a couple of hot beverages on a rainy Wednesday evening.
Is it Art “Plus” Museum Transparency or Art Museum Transparency?
We use the plus sign, so it's Art + [“and”] Museum Transparency. We started the spreadsheet calling it Art Museum Salary Transparency. When the spreadsheet was first live, it was publicly editable and so anyone could make changes. And very quickly people were saying, "Well what about children's museums or science museums or Artforum and criticism? It's not just about art museums," which was totally correct. And so we changed it to try and be as much of an umbrella as possible for anyone who is working in the arts and museums, expansively defined.
So how did the movement start and what is your mission? How were you guys inspired?
That's a great question. We started at the end of May 2019. I went out for some drinks with colleagues and friends. We were talking about salary transparency. I've always been very open with my salaries and we were talking about how it's really helpful to have a ballpark number, a range, just some kind of understanding of what you can expect to earn. Because so often you’re called upon to negotiate, or at least to respond to a salary offer and you don't have a huge amount of information to hand.
So in that conversation we shared various salaries that we've had. And on the way home, probably because I'd had two glasses of wine and nothing to eat yet, I thought, "You know, I'll just put it on a Google Doc." We were inspired by Joshua Boldt. When I was in graduate school (I'm finishing my PhD just now), I was an adjunct teacher at CUNY in New York. Joshua Boldt created the Adjunct Project in 2012, exactly what we then stole, a public, editable spreadsheet (it showed adjuncting salaries at various universities).
We had seven or eight salaries to start. Then the following morning I posted it to my social media accounts thinking that a few other people might do it. Quite crucially, I also posted it to the CUNY list serve--I'm part of the art history program. People there are hugely politically active, very thoughtful, and immediately they responded and said, "Great idea. I'll share, I'll post my own salary, I'll add in."
Then really importantly, we were also inspired by other who were tackling this topic, too, like Kimberly Drew who used to be at the Met Museum as the manager of social media. She has a great Instagram handle @museummammy. She was at AAM 2019, the Association of American Museums conference - I hadn't gone - but a couple of weeks before she had shared her salary and said, "This is what I earn."
And then even prior to her, the POWarts salary survey had been doing the rounds. It hadn't quite delivered its findings at the time we had posted the salary spreadsheet. There were many precursors to this conversation.
We didn't plan to start a movement. We just sent a Google document to friends and then colleagues, and then within a couple of hours that Friday morning it really took off.
What are the goals in changing the internship culture in the art world specifically? And do you think that you're closer to this goal than before the spreadsheets came out? And if not, what do we need to do to get there?
The goal of AMT is really to find ways to express solidarity and collegiality as workers. I think in art history in general, which is where I come from--at least in my generation and you may find this different in yours--we're often told to guard our research very jealously. Be territorial about what we do. Fight other colleagues and peers for opportunities. Do not collaborate. I was never into that.
In academia that can work for a little while because you often have to take independent publishing opportunities and solo teaching opportunities to get ahead. But museums and non-profits and arts organizations--in general, those are team activities. And so if you are not collegial, by refusing solidarity with your fellow workers, you are handing away power to the capital machine--because that's what any organization is, in the US at least.
Our goal really is to find ways to subvert that, to stop that happening, to allow people to know their rights. To work together, to de-silo out of different departments or different disciplinary boundaries. And to advocate for things that are basic human rights, like a fair wage, benefits at work, paid family leave, no more unpaid internships that suppress wages, and just in general to have a more healthy work culture that is led by worker input.
If we want to think about the goals that most museums and art spaces have for greater access, diversity, and inclusion, they really rely upon workers knowing their rights and exercising them in pursuit of those goals.
What does AMT do besides the spreadsheets to advance the mission? And I'm also wondering, as a sub question, how many people are actually involved? Because you are kind of the face of it, and the rest of it is rather murky.
We actually don't say how many people are involved. It's a really good number now, which means that the work is very much a team effort, very much split collegially and the ideas and the conversations are very non-hierarchical. There's a lot of good trust and good working together.
There's a power in being anonymous. I am happy to be the face of it because I don't have a contingent job and so far I have not been fired for saying the things I have done. (I'm not flirting with that however. I like my job and I like what I do. I am not interested in not doing it). But we don't say how many people are in the group because it protects them.
In terms of the things that we do, we have released the spreadsheets and will do more of those. We operate a Twitter account to amplify other peoples' messages. It's not a top down approach where we do things that serve a particular constituency, but it's about amplifying conversations that are already happening and encouraging other people to use the tools that they have at their disposal to change things for themselves, and to know their rights, take power over their environment, and shape their workplaces.
My next question about the organization, or non-organization itself is what's the next move? Do you have something coming up?
We're interested in the next conversation being around paid family leave. So often that conversation is couched in terms of people with new children, new infants, but it encompasses anyone with a family, whatever shape and size. We were very inspired by Nikki Columbus’pregnancy discrimination case against MoMA PS1. She was offered a job and it was rescinded due to her status as a parent.
So often with that kind of case it's seen as a women's issue, but it's not. As Nikki made clear, it's a labor issue.
I don't have children but I am interested in everybody having the right to a family life. A lot of what I experienced, at least very early on in the arts, was no or low pay and very long hours, sometimes 80 or 90 a week. I'm not sure how it's possible to have a family if that is not enshrined as part of your benefits.
We are also working on a field-wide independent reporting mechanism, so that folks have somewhere to turn with various issues that require support outside their immediate workplace.
And we’re also looking at the way the job postings are publicly made and the fact that they don't often carry a salary band or a specific salary with them. We've been highlighting those on Twitter and several museums have changed their postings.
The next step forward that we'd really like to see, and we'll continue to push for, is posting the salary with the job description so people can see very clearly whether or not they can afford to apply.
And that's important because so often a museum's mission, especially in their hiring practices, is around diversity, access, and inclusion. And if you don't know what the salary is then it dissuades people who may historically have been underrepresented in such spaces. And we also know that asking for a salary history is discriminatory, especially against women and minorities, because they have traditionally had suppressed wages. So if you have to tell somebody what your wage has been, and it has been significantly lower even though you may be worth the same as whatever other peer, especially white male peer, has been making, your salary history can destroy the possibility of pay equity.
I see this all the time in internships. They don't say how much money it is or they'll say you get a stipend. But what is that stipend? Is it $100 or is it $2,000?
Yeah, will it cover my rent? One of my favorite ones that I saw recently, and I'm being deeply sarcastic, is a stipend that covered either travel or lunch. So you could either eat but not get to work. Or get to work, but remain hungry. But both things weren't going to be taken care of. Plus no one should get paid in travel and food. Money is money. Hard currency is what you need to pay your rent and you can't pay that in sandwiches or travel cards.
What do you think of the press coverage on the movement so far? There's art publications, and the New York Times did a piece, and I remember seeing on Twitter that there was discontent with how the New York Times reported on it.
We were really interested in workers and centering their experiences rather than centering the conversations and words of directors or board members or others who don't necessarily share that perspective. I think there are many directors and board members who do actually think very progressively, and that's wonderful. At AMT we think in general it's great that these topics are being covered. I don't really care what the angle is, I think it's helpful to get people talking about it. And it has furthered people filling in the spreadsheet and finding each other and being able to have these conversations either in public or in private.
In my ideal world the interview subjects would primarily be people who are underrepresented in the media. For example, security officers, cleaning staff, front of house staff, people whose stories are very rarely told. Zachary Small’s recent Hyperallergic series on art handlers was excellent.
Actually, the New York Times did do a Labor Day art worker special. So stories are emerging.
Moving on to talking about unpaid internships in general, how would you define a sufficiently compensated internship?
That's a really, really great question and I don't know that I have a perfect answer for it. But here's the thing that I think is important.
It is a viable living wage. When I did low paid work in museums I also did nannying and bartending and many other things that had nothing to do with my degree or my interests.
I think when you're starting out (and I did it even into my mid-thirties) that it's somewhat realistic to expect that your internship may not be the only source of income that you have. But I do think that it should be sufficient in terms of minimum wage. And I do think if it is being advertised as something that speaks to a museum's mission around diversity, access, and inclusion, it has to be a robust wage that actually would be possible to live on. Because otherwise you are asking an intern or a fellow, or an entry level person, to bear the burden of representing their historical lack in the museum as well as doing the everyday job, and that requires compensation.
So I don't know that that’s a perfect answer. At a core, compensation is really necessary. What would you say?
I guess at least minimum wage.
Yeah. I think that's maybe the hard line I would draw.
What is your opinion on internships that offer academic credit?
Oh, that just is like touching my finger to the flame. It makes me so angry. When I taught for the first time in university institutions, I was completely perplexed that someone would not only intern for free but that they would do it and pay for the pleasure of doing it. That just seemed like a situation that could only happen here where students are routinely relieved of $50,000 a year for their university tuition. Where I come from, Scotland, it is free to go to university for everyone, no matter what your income level. And so my entire education was free - I'm the first in my family to graduate high school.
The unpaid internship for credit is an abomination. At AMT, we all strongly love the recent AAMD [Association of Art Museum Directors] resolution that called for an end to unpaid internships, but they left a loophole for internships for credit and that's just wrong. In no world is an internship for credit okay in my eyes.
What is your opinion of them? Do students feel as passionately about them as I do?
About academic credit?
Well I already have so many credits that it's like I don't need... Why would I want to put in the work to make it for academic credit if I don’t need them? I think some programs require an internship, but not my program.
Many programs do, especially when you get into Masters in Arts Administration.
When you are required to do that, it just seems inherently wrong. It seems like a partnership between two institutions that, you know, should know better--a museum that is taking free labor and the academic institution that farms someone out to go to work for free. And sure, there's some administration in terms of shepherding that person's experience, but not worth however much those credits cost.
Yeah, like thousands. I'll actually go to another question with that: Obviously paid and unpaid interns are in general undergrads or grad students, or even high school students. What do you think universities and particularly art history and art administration departments need to do to change the conversation and ameliorate this problem? Or to help students that seem tempted to take these internships or feel like they have to or feel like they should but they can't, et cetera?
That's a really good question because it's really easy to say unpaid internships are bad. They are deeply problematic, but you're right. Students do think, “okay, so if I don't take this I'm hamstringing myself from getting the experience that I need to get ahead and it’s a no-win situation. I either don't take it because A) I can't afford it, or B) I feel ethically compromised. Or I do take it and I do still feel ethically compromised and I can't really afford to do this…..” Either way, it's a miserable system.
Academic programs can do a lot to prepare students for the job market in more realistic ways. I've seen many professors do great work in that area. But I think that something like the salary spreadsheet is a good resource, plus sitting down with people who are going into an art history major at the undergraduate level and asking them, "What do you want to do next with this? Academia? Arts orgs? Or is this something that will give you a good foundation in terms of writing and visual literacy that you're going to take as a transferable skill into some other area completely? Let’s look at where you can take this."
So you're saying professors should ask these questions?
Yeah, for sure. Professors, academic advisors, deans. If you are in the business of making money (though most professors are, let’s remember, adjuncts who are not making that much money at all….) in an academic community of humanities degrees, and specifically art history, then you bear a responsibility to have these conversations about job preparedness.
That means bringing in folks from the outside if that's not experience that you have yourself. There's an ethical imperative to do so. We have to think very holistically, beyond pure intellectual curiosity (which I fully support as a crucial, foundational part of the university experience).
Do you know of any research that's been done about unpaid internships in the art world and the status or consequences of that? Or has there not been and now this is sparking a discourse?
I don't know of anything that is as comprehensive for example as the AAM [American Alliance of Museums] or AAMD reports that have, for example, looked at women in leadership, or diversity in the art world, or collections and their general span. So no, I don't think so but when there were several high profile unpaid internship lawsuits in the last couple of years, several books were written by economists, by cultural critics, and others, for example Intern Nation. So that's where the research lies, in those authors. But I think the AMT spreadsheet was the first time that there had been some kind of public conversation where people were able to share their anecdotes about unpaid internships specifically in the arts.
Do you think that more research needs to be done?
Yes and no. I feel like the main thing that needs to be done is just to pay interns. I feel like it's pretty simple. I do think though that research around the effect of unpaid internships and ways to transition to paid models would be useful, as well as considering what kind of pipeline programs are actually sustainable given the relatively few jobs available at the end of them.
A common sentiment around arts jobs and why they are so underpaid is because you're working for what you love and what you are passionate about and not for money.
And how do you respond to that? Do you think there is a complicity in the art world around this idea?
Yeah, for sure. I would say that is a really flawed argument. One hopes that most people get to work for the love of it, but that's not true. I know many people, and indeed have done work myself, that is nothing about love. It's putting money towards rent and food on the table.
Yes, one does often really love arts work. But we live in a capitalist system where you have bills to pay at the end of the day and so the fundamental discrepancy is again--and we keep going back to it--is if the mission of an institution is to be accessible, inclusive, and diverse you cannot ask people to work for the love of it because that immediately shrinks the pool of people who can actually do that to something that is absolutely not accessible, diverse, or inclusive.
And so, yes, I think any institution that fails to see that gap between that stated mission and the reality of the system of work in which unpaid or underpaid work is happening is absolutely complicit.
I do think people are actually becoming more and more aware of that and are taking steps to work towards it. I know of active and ongoing attempts to get internship programs funded. To make sure that there are salary review processes. I know that when I did my most recent salary negotiation, the HR team and my direct supervisor who I work with were incredibly progressive and forward thinking about it. And so I can see change, and I've experienced change myself and I think in any field it doesn't happen immediately or overnight. But at the same point in time, I don't think one can say, "Oh it just takes time," because if you are publicly trading on a mission that is about accessibility, you need to clean up what's going on in your institution to match that before you can say that is what you're working towards in public.
I read a little bit of what you said about this already, but I just want to hear you talk about how unpaid internships influence everyone else's salaries in the art world.
Sure. Basically if you are paid zero to do a job, then the next step up doesn't have to be much more than zero for it to be the next wage on the ladder.
So if you are taking an unpaid internship, or supervising an unpaid internship, you are basically messing up the chances for your future self. Because if you're prepared to work for free, then the logic goes, "well you'd be grateful for anything that is actually paid after that."
Unpaid work suppresses work across the field. And again, it is very easy to say that, but it's a much more difficult thing to not work with unpaid interns or to advocate for them to be paid, or to make significant change yourself, because people's jobs in this field are so precarious, so it's really nerve wracking. How do you say, if you're offered an unpaid internship, "Well I can't do it unless you pay me." I've definitely been in that position before myself. It’s not fun.
Do you think that this problem is exclusive to the visual arts? Or, how is the situation different in the art world?
It is not just part of the art world. It has special hold in the art world in some senses because these have been jobs that have historically been done by people who did not need to get a wage. At least in the Western world, which is my social location and my experience, museums come out of private collections or, latterly, state funded collections. But they originate in the homes of and the purview of people who have enough wealth to amass objects and looking after them was the pleasure that came after the objects had been amassed. The wage was not necessary, or it was an afterthought if it was necessary.
That's one reason why for a long time, it has been a fairly rarefied set of people who have been able to be curators. So I think the special condition of the arts is that it exists in a field which has historically attracted people, or been run by people, who did not need a wage.
Right. Since this is an undergraduate publication, I want to know what you would say to college students applying to unpaid internships, or considering accepting an unpaid internship. How can college kids, who are the ones who are on the front lines, reconcile that they think this is ethically wrong, or that they can't afford it, with the idea that it's a sacrifice they have to make or a stepping stone that's essential to their future career and a full time job?
I think people have to do what's best for them. They are making their own decisions and they know themselves best.
I think I would say that it's useful to solicit support and advice from a trusted community. Talk to your peers and also your mentors. If you don't have mentors, try and actively seek one out. Because I assume if you're thinking about taking an unpaid internship, unless you are magnificently rich, this is something that will be difficult for you. You'll either wonder how or where you're going to get funding from, you'll be working long hours earning money somewhere else or you'll be wondering how many unpaid internships you have to do before you can get an actual job that pays you.
Again going back to the start of our conversation, solidarity and collegiality goes a long way. Even if an unpaid internship is something you do decide to take, knowing that you're not doing it alone and figuring out how you can, within a network of trusted peers and mentors, figure out your next steps, is crucial.
The deep socialist in me wants to say don't go for anything that undervalues you. In my experience (and again I came up at a different time, and I'm not part of the "internship generation") I refused any unpaid internships, mostly because I couldn't afford them. There was never a moment in time where I could actually afford to work five days for free. I desperately wanted to work at MoMA in the Architecture and Design department. I got a summer internship after assuming it could be paid. It couldn't. I didn’t do it.
So I guess I'm saying to students, do what you need to do. Your choice is yours. But find ways around being unpaid, if you can.
I was talking with a graduate level arts admin course the other day and said to them, "Why don't you organize to tell your program that you refuse to do these internships for credit?" If you band together you can probably get better conditions than if you're working alone. Whether that means as a group you refuse to do internships for credit that are mandated, or you decide that you will work as a collective to lift each other up another way.
I was so lucky as an undergrad, I still know the six women who I went to college with so well and we have over the last 15 years looked out for one another, cheered each other on, passed opportunities, applied for the same jobs at the same time. Like, may the best person win. Work together, work in concert with people, because you can't necessarily change the system alone, but you can change parts of it, if not the whole, by doing things together.
But really, no one should be asking you to work for free. The onus is not really on a student at the end of the day. The onus is on the system not to exploit the student.
What were your experiences as an intern and how has this experience influenced your work with Art + Museum Transparency?
I was actually a cook through college and so I didn't do an internship. I did one internship in the end. I was an intern at the Guggenheim Museum just out of my undergraduate degree. I applied to about 14 different internship programs on the east coast of the US. I got refused from all of them. Someone dropped out of the summer program at the Guggenheim, and they offered it to me at the last minute. And I was like, "yes! I will do it. For sure."
I was paid a thousand dollars for the summer for living in New York, and that obviously didn't cover it. I used savings from work, which literally bled me dry that summer. But I worked for someone amazing, Ryan Hill, who was my very first mentor in the arts. I still know him and love him dearly. At the end of that summer, I asked for a job. And they created a job for me and they waited. I got a visa to come back from Scotland and that was my first US museum job.
They must have really liked you.
I often wonder. I think they did.
I really did work hard. I created a whole program for the internship program where we did amazing studio visits. I didn't know anyone in New York and so I phoned up Christo and Jean Claude and Michael Kimmelman and various people and said, "Can we come and meet with you?" And to their credit, they all said yes.
The thing that really actually shaped my politics around internships is that I became the internship coordinator for about three years there. And while I think we did really good work in terms of giving support to the interns that came through, I gradually became very aware that things like internships for credit existed, and that one had to be pretty privileged to come and live in New York for the summer and do this experience, and that very few people like me were first generation to college...and when they were, that this was hard. It was hard for many people. And it was super white.
It just didn't seem right. When I went back to do my PhD that was a real turning point for me. I only applied to go to CUNY because I felt very strongly about a state education. After that, I was very keenly aware that if someone wanted me to work for free I probably wasn't going to be valued by them so I chose not to.
It probably took me a good while longer to get the experience and the resume points to get the jobs that I have gotten than if I had said yes to the unpaid opportunities.
Do you think that the internship experience has changed since you were an intern?
For better, for worse?
For worse. Even though my generation was asked to do unpaid internships, they are now the intern supervisors and somehow there's been this collective amnesia. We’re still seeing unpaid internships. The resumes that I see coming in now have up to 10 internships. That's insane. That labor, usually unpaid, sometimes underpaid is just unconscionable. I do think that generations today have it really hard because they are graduating with historic amounts of debt. And then to go from that debt hanging over you, to being asked to work for free and not even being guaranteed a job at the end of it…..
So you're the face of AMT-
I'm still wondering how that happened exactly and how has that affected your career? I know it's only really been a summer but have you seen certain consequences, either positive or negative?
It happened because everybody else in the group has contingent jobs. And so they don't have the guarantee like I do of being in a position. I mean, I can be fired at will and so if my employer doesn't agree that I'm doing a good job at any point in time they can decide that I'm terminated. But on the face of it, I have a secure job. I'm at a good, fair wage. I do feel a renewed sense of collegiality with my peers in the field which is wonderful. But I don't think it was a smart career move.
I definitely took a long time that Friday morning, thinking, "Should I send this out? Should I do this?" I had a really nauseous feeling in my stomach. I didn't realize that it would become quite so public. But at the same point in time, this is an area that I've been speaking and writing about for many years.
I'd been thinking for a long time, if I ever had the cash I would really put my money where my mouth was. We all felt that way. So AMT made a pledge to the museum I was working at the time, the Philadelphia Museum of Art which I love dearly, that we would pay one needs-based internship every summer. And I do think that if AMT can do that, at $3,000 every summer, then an institution absolutely can, or other donors can.
I know actually in good faith, many, many boards and directors are looking to get there. But they also have a fiduciary duty to their institution to make the bottom line. I think they can do both.
And are there any kind of tensions between AMT and the people that run the internship department in museums?
No, no. Not at all, no. The people that run the internship department in every institution I've worked for are some of the best people in the world. And they're usually one of the underpaid too. It's another museum job.
In terms of the people that I work alongside, they agree wholeheartedly that internships should be paid. Every internship coordinator I know is on board for it. But it's like any other program in a museum, how do you get people to fund it? You really need a board to commit to that because they are the people who at the end of the day set the financial outlook for an institution.
But to be a board member in the US you need to usually be quite a wealthy person who uses their money to do good for a community, and that's probably quite divorced from memories of eating baked beans and being unpaid as an intern. You're a long way from that if you're sitting on a board.
They've probably never experienced that.
Right, so not to say they wouldn't be empathetic about it. Not to say that they wouldn't think carefully about it. But you might not prioritize it in the same way as an expansion of a museum or an acquisition. But I think the institutions that fund their interns (and there are institutions out there that actually do) or offer robust family leave will get noticed, and will attract talent.
It's the same thing with universities. My university builds all these expensive science buildings but they still increase tuition every year. We don't need to do that.
I was so lucky to grow up in Scotland. Many of my buildings leaked or were quite old at university but the University of Glasgow has been around since 1452, and it is a really brilliant institution and I had a world class education there. I did not have to pay a penny for it. I had lots of different types of people in my class who did not need special kind of wealth to be there.
Going back to your question about what students should think about: I've always been totally convinced that my mind will be my mind no matter how much tuition I pay for it, and I can't afford to pay a high tuition. So I'm just going to take my mind to the places where I can find good mentors for free. And that so far has worked. I have another great new mentor now I am in Boston.
I have a ton of privilege because I grew up in a country where I didn't have to pay for that first, initial education. I'm also white, so I've grown with that inherited privilege, but I came from a single parent family. I very definitely didn't know what a college education looked like because my mom had never had one. I didn't have a roadmap for that.
I loved going to CUNY. I loved being in Glasgow. I loved being in these places because I had a reciprocity with the people who were my peers in those courses and that by far has been the thing that has sustained me in my career, but also in my life too.
Sure, I think my path might have been smoother if I could say, "Oh I did my undergrad at Harvard and then I went to the Courtauld, and then I did my PhD at Oxford." But that's not my financial reality. Plus there's a deep politics to thinking, "If I buy this and somebody else can't is that really super ethical for me to be able to have this to get ahead in my professional life?"
I have already gotten so many legs up just by default, I'd much rather be engaged in an educational setting where there's at least some semblance of politics to it.
Have you ever supervised an unpaid intern?
Yes, I totally have. At the Guggenheim and MoMA for sure. I think the last unpaid intern that I supervised was in 2015 at MoMA. MoMA was pretty good actually most of the time that I was there. The internships were always paid.
There was a moment, basically just after the Lehman crash, so like 2011 through 2015 where they stopped paying. But the interns that I ended up supervising for my last three years at MoMA were usually always paid. Summer interns got paid, and then we had 12 months internship positions that were between $25,000 and $27,000 a year, which is nothing in New York but it has health insurance with it too and it has a stipend for research. So not a millionaire's paycheck by any means, but you can get by on it.
So what was it like supervising an unpaid intern? From your perspective.
It definitely didn't feel great at the time. I was still trying to find, I guess, my personal ethics in terms of knowing how to say, "I don't want to," or "I feel like this is wrong." Thankfully at MoMA, after the funding got reinstated, everyone that I worked with was paid, but it must have been extremely difficult for people working as an unpaid intern.
I actually did an unpaid internship that was funded by my university, which was very nice, but do you think that universities should be doing that more because it helps people take them or-
Do you think it encourages museums to not pay their interns?
If somebody can get paid, I don't care where the funding source comes from. Museums certainly should not be let off the hook, so yes if you are taking somebody's labor then you should be paying for it. But at this point in time if a university program has funds, if they can attract donors and funding, great. I don't think it absolves a museum from their responsibility to make sure that those internships are paid. But an academic program does have some kind of responsibility to make sure that their students are prepared for whatever step comes next.
Lastly, most of the institutions you have worked for don't pay their interns. What are your thoughts about working for an institution that hosts unpaid interns? How do you reconcile these two parts of your life?
I don't want to single out the institutions that I work or have worked for because it's a field-wide issue. But your question is very fair in terms of reconciling my beliefs with the places that I work for. And I can say that I not only dissent from taking an intern, but I am very vocal with my colleagues in saying that I don't, and why. I don't think my mentorship is worth working for free. I reconcile my work and my values by trying to be a model for what I hope will eventually come to pass in the not too distant future.
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