Arts & Culture

In challenging job market, art students are hit hard

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, July 19, 2009

This year, it wasn’t just economics majors who were dutifully monitoring changes in the economy and the job market. College students pursuing arts and media internships found they were just as affected by the downturn as those hoping to spend their summers on Wall Street.  

Harvard sophomore Daniel Villafana has felt the effects of ailing markets this summer at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where he is an intern. Well, not quite.

“They would not take an intern,” Villafana said. “You have to pay interns.  I am volunteering. I work, like, 12 hours a week.” 

As a volunteer, Villafana’s responsibilities include standard intern duties, such as filing and organizing, as well as a few slightly less routine tasks linked to downsizing at the prominent museum. “Two days ago, my job was to clear out the office of somebody they had to lay off,” Villafana explained.  “It was a person in charge of the membership department.”

Summer festivals, staples of the arts world, have also experienced shifts as a result of reduced funding.  Matt Acoin, another Harvard sophomore, described his experience as a coach and pianist in the opera division at the Caramoor Music Festival. “Essentially, my job consists of playing the orchestra’s part at all non-orchestra rehearsals and coaching the singers,” he said.

Money, or lack thereof, has forced the festival to restrict its hiring to individuals who already have local housing. “I’m the only non-New Yorker on the staff,” Acoin said. “Normally, Caramoor gives its employees places to stay, but the budget was badly hurt this past year, and most jobs had to be given to people in the city.”

Acoin’s classmate, Ian Kumekawa, on the other hand, is interning at a small New England artists’ colony that seems to be weathering the downturn, with help from strong community support. “It’s in a fairly wealthy town,” Kumekawa says. Plus, “it’s a small museum, so the overhead isn’t very high, compared to a large museum.”

Michelle Gomes, in her final semester as a graduate student in media studies at The New School, is interning at a major cable news organization with a senior correspondent who reports on the United Nations. Her duties — which include creative, editorial and writing responsibilities and grueling workdays — seem to go above and beyond the standard filing fare of most internships.

“As an intern, I only see budget cuts in various news-producing departments and fewer job openings,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Interns are definitely given more responsibilities.  We end up doing most of what a person in an entry-level position would do.”

UPDATED July 20 at 2:45 p.m.