My Undergraduate Internships

Hi there! This is Emily, Program Director for the Houston Program.

Internships are such generous opportunities: they are experiential, tangible, and applied; they can be in new places and contexts; they provide visibility and access to areas previously unknown; they help you develop skills; they provide connections, referrals or even future opportunities; they bring you into new communities and relationships; they help you understand more about yourself, your strengths, your interests and how you might want to be in the world. I’m often asked about my own internship experiences, so below are descriptions of my four internships from college. 

I attended Bennington College, a small liberal arts college in Vermont, where we were required to complete an internship every January/February from our first year through senior year. This Field Work Term requirement was one of the main reasons I wanted to attend Bennington and I saw these four internships as great opportunities to learn more about how I could live out my interests in the arts, humanities and community development on a day-to-day basis. I also wanted to experiment with internships in four different places to determine where I might want to live after graduation. I received financial support from my college’s internship office, some compensation from certain internship sites and mostly from the jobs I worked during the summer months. 

In addition to my work as an advisor, I’m also an artist, so you’ll notice all arts-related experiences here. 

First Year: Education Intern, Henry Street Settlement, Abrons Art Center, NYC

Why this internship I knew I wanted to intern at an arts organization in New York and commute from my home in New Jersey. I had previous experience in education and this internship had been posted to my college’s job board. After looking into the organization, I was excited by the HSS’s impact on immigrant communities since its founding and appreciated its emphasis on curating exhibitions that were reflective of the diversity of New York City. 

Highlight I had a terrific supervisor named Nellie who empowered me to create my own visitor experience curriculum for touring school groups. 

How this informed my next year At the time, I realized that I wanted to learn more about being a creative practitioner myself rather than educating people about other artists’ work. I also didn’t enjoy the hustle and bustle of New York as much as I thought I would. 

Second Year: Hair and Makeup Intern, Fifth Avenue Theater, Seattle

Why this internship I wanted to dig into the technical theater side of my arts interests and learn a skill that wouldn’t be covered in any of my classes: wigmaking. My college roommate Maren had a childhood friend whose mom was the main wigmaker at a theater in Seattle. Maren’s family offered to have me stay with them and I commuted to Seattle on a ferry every day.

Highlight I made two wigs over seven weeks of work and I was so proud! I had never had an experience where I was concentrating on one task only all day for an extended period of time. I also loved being in a totally new part of the country. 

How this informed my next year This internship made me stop and think about how things are made, by whom and for what purpose. It made me value labor and craft and changed my practice as an artist. I also realized that working ‘behind the scenes’ didn’t invigorate me in the same way as being in a more public-facing role. I was also ready to live independently for my next internship. 

Junior Year: Artist Assistant, Christa Donner & Gallery Intern, Three Walls, Chicago

Why this internship I wanted to learn firsthand how an artist works in their studio. I looked up arts faculty at SAIC to see whose work I thought was interesting since I had friends living in Chicago and could stay in their apartment. I was also making artist’s books and zines at the time and found Christa’s work. Christa only needed support 2 days a week, so she connected me with Three Walls since she was having an exhibition there during my internship. 

Highlight I was able to not only help Christa in the studio but also support the install, assist a site-specific mural and learn more about how a smaller arts nonprofit worked. Christa was so generous in sharing skills and strategies with me on how to be a working artist from creative, political, ethical and monetary perspectives. 

How this informed my next year How could I learn more about being a working artist who wasn’t planning on teaching in the arts? How could I learn firsthand how artist communities form and support one another? 

Senior Year: Artist Assistant, Lisa Congdon Studio & Arts Intern, Southern Exposure 

Why this internship I had taken two courses spring of junior year that both inadvertently focused on the Bay Area (Histories of Food and Social Practices in Art). I was interested in completing an internship in San Francisco because I had a hunch I might want to move there after graduation. I asked my friend Fennis, who was from Berkeley, if she had any resources to share. She sent me the website of an artist/illustrator her mom loved, Lisa Congdon, and I emailed her directly to ask if she needed an assistant. Lisa did, and, similar to the year before, she connected me with the arts nonprofit Southern Exposure since she only needed my help two days a week. I had no idea that SoEx was a fixture in San Francisco’s art community and I was so lucky to split my time between both places. 

Highlight Lisa is a self-taught artist and she freely shared the ways in which she developed her practice, social media presence and business. I learned all about freelancing as an artist and the practicalities of being an entrepreneur as well as a creative practitioner. At Southern Exposure, I got to feel what it’s like to be in a multigenerational community of artists who are working, learning and living in the same neighborhood. I was subletting an apartment with three friends and we loved cooking together. 

How this informed my next year I knew I needed to be a part of the Bay Area arts community. I fell in love with Northern California and moved there after graduation. I continued working for Lisa and she also connected me to my other first jobs in the arts, eventually landing me a role at California College of the Arts where I worked for five years. A significant number of my classmates eventually moved to the Bay Area after the positive experiences of our 2010 internships together. 

I look forward to supporting you in your future internship experiences. If you completed an internship last summer, let’s talk about how that experience will inform next summer’s search! 

By Emily Tareila
Emily Tareila Program Director, Charles Hamilton Houston Internship Program