What is it like to do an internship in New York City?

Feature Article; Internships, Assistantships »
By Isabella Cillia, BFA Candidate, Painting »

If you are considering applying to BFA program read this!

The transition from undergrad to brand new artist in the world is daunting. Not because there isn’t money or jobs in our industry, but because we are navigating this new world for the first time without the structures of school such as deadlines, grades, or office hours.

I am learning this as I begin my degree required internship (one of the best and most valuable components of our BFA program at UCA). I have been in New York for a little over a month, dividing my time between my job as a studio intern with artist Raúl de Nieves and as a gallery intern with Field Projects Gallery in Chelsea. The longer I am here, the more I am realizing the incredible value of this opportunity. It is doubtful I will ever have such an opportunity again.

I am fortunate in that most of my internship is covered by excess scholarships. I understand that cost is (rightfully) the number one concern of most students as they begin to consider how they would practically and logically do an internship in another city. Especially if that place is New York City or a similar location with a high cost of living.

The good news is that UCA offers up to $2000 in scholarships per student enrolled in the internship course. If you work every week for 40 hours a week, you could swing a 2-month internship. The pros would be that it would be less money. (It’s about $2000 a month to be here), the cons are that 2 months is a very short amount of time with little time left over to explore and meet people (which is very important). That is especially important if your goal is to transition into moving to the city that you’re interning in.

Previous students have stayed in the cities where their internships occurred, some even became employed by the artist after the internship ended. I don’t believe I am in one of those situations, but I am considering staying in the city this kind of exposure is one of the greatest strengths of the internship experience.

It’s very scary to move, to start somewhere else, to go to openings where no one knows you or talks to you. It’s easier if you are, say, pouring the wine at the opening (as I did earlier in January at our first show at Field Projects this year) and it’s easier if you’re part of something familiar when you introduce yourself. (When I introduce myself most people at least know the gallery I’m interning at or the artist I’m interning with which is a good way to start conversation.)

I am very very happy that I chose to divide my internship. I have an interest in community-building, artist-run spaces, and programming, so for me, seeking to divide my time was a very easy decision. Apart from this however, for students who are not looking into a similar career path, I do believe there is still a lot of value in interning with such an organization.

As an intern at Field Projects I have the opportunity to correspond with artists and collectors via email, to observe and participate in the curatorial process, and maybe most important to you, the opportunity to view both accepted and rejected submission packages to our gallery. How are submissions received? How are they judged? Why are they rejected? I have seen hundreds of submissions, both accepted and rejected since I came here, and I have seen EXTREMELY strong work in both categories. I have gotten to read many artist statements and proposals as well.  This has all informed the way that I think about what it means to apply and be rejected. In fact, I have been rejected from a few of Field Projects open calls before I became an intern, and from this side of the process, I can say that I’m in good company.

The New York art scene is exciting! I learn something every day, all the time. I have met famous artists and I have had the opportunity to talk about my work (over and over until I was finally able to do it right!). It’s difficult, but it’s a necessary path to meeting people, and forming connections with others who love what you love.  UCA has given me an opportunity that a lot of universities and art programs don’t offer. Because of my funding, I expect to be here until April. It is a dream scenario, four months to do nothing but focus on my career and what I love as I set the foundation for the future.

I truly believe that this would have been an impossible thing for me without the support of UCA both financially and through my advisor, Professor Sandra Luckett, who I report to every week and who reports back with thorough and thoughtful responses to what I write in my journal entries.

Earlier this semester I joined the BFA Critique Club in a Skype call and I posted a series of Instagram Live videos to share and demystify the internship experience. If you have questions DM @bfa_critique_club on Instagram! I would be extremely happy to be a resource for you whether you are navigating your own internship or just considering applying for BFA. Always happy to share what I know! Missing everyone at UCA!