Internship Confessions: It Turns Out, Art Curators Are Pretty Snotty After All

Copy-making, coffee-fetching, envelope delivering. It’s a job description that seems typical of a personal assistant’s job, just like that of Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. These days, it’s not uncommon to find the same job description applied to interns, except unlike the college-grad P.A. Hathaway portrays in the movie, interns usually don’t usually get paid for running errands. In recent years, internships have muddled the lines between personal assisting and educational learning experience. In our new series, “Internship Confessions,” we will take a look at the world of college internships by interviewing different NYU students in a variety of fields, to see what makes an internship great and what makes one seem like slave labor.

Meet Lara*, a CAS sophomore majoring art history. Last summer, Lara took on an internship at an art museum in the curatorial department.

How was the job advertised?

I was supposed to be under the direction of a head curator and I was supposed to be given just one project of my choice that I could explore my interests in. That’s what I thought I was signing up for. I basically just ended up kissing everybody’s ass. I was expecting to shadow the curators, rather than doing everything for them. I wanted to see what their day to day work was but I just ended up doing everything they didn’t want to do.

What were your actual duties during the internship?

The work that they gave me wasn’t what I signed up for. Basically I felt like I was the bitch’s bitch because I was put under the curatorial assistant’s direction. But what ended up happening was all of the curators would give the curatorial assistant all of their work and she would give me what she didn’t want to do. I was doing all of the curatorial assistant’s work. The curators didn’t do jack shit. They would just be listening to music and going to fancy lunches. I was basically doing all of their hard work. I wrote the catalog, all of the object descriptions, the artist biographies, and all of the [artwork logs]. I had to go the workshop and get all of the measurements for the pedestals that the artwork was on. I did everything for them and they did nothing.

How many hours a week did you put in?

I was working 9-5 five days a week, but I had to put in extra work for an upcoming exhibition and I worked from home on the weekends.

Were you paid?

No. I would have loved to have been paid.

Were there any situations where you said to yourself: “I shouldn’t be doing this?”

I felt that I shouldn’t have been doing almost everything that they gave me. The worst was when a curator asked me to transcribe some hundred year-old letters that were in cursive and old language. I don’t have the training for that. These curators have PhD’s and have extensive training. I had just finished my freshman year in college. This was my first experience with a museum and they knew that. They just saw me as someone to dump their work on.

On my last day, one of the curators came up to me and said: “This is your last day. I have to give you as much work as I can before you leave.” He was serious. I was up to my neck in work until I left. They were definitely using their power to do as little work as possible.

The curators seem pretty snotty.

I definitely know that many of the people who worked at the front of the museum (tour guides) thought the curators would treat anyone who was below them like trash. There seems to be some sort of haughtiness—like I have a better job than you, I know more than you.

What were the other interns like?

I don’t want to seem pompous, but the other interns seemed like dumbasses. It just wasn’t all there.

Do you feel like you’ve benefitted from the experience?

I feel like my resume has benefitted.

What did you learn? 

I learned what goes into planning an exhibition. Negotiations, organization, that sort of thing. I learned that a job is about kissing everybody’s ass, basically. You have to work your way from the bottom to the top. Especially for those in the museum field, the people who are on the top–their main job is just to schmooze with art collectors.

Did this deter you from the art field?

My passion still lies in art and I definitely still want to work in a museum. I realize now that it’s more about who you know. It’s a whole bureaucracy.  To collect art you need to have money. It’s just going to galas and having lunch with rich people, scholars. You’re obligated to prove yourself. [I was obligated to] work from 9-5. They wrote me great recommendations, but you have to make sure you do as much as you can to shine in the boss’ eyes.

I had this idea of what the job was going to be like, but you never really know until you actually work there. It was a lot of work, but for me, it paid off in the end.

*name has been changed

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  1. Tristan Grimes Lanier says

    Everybody’s first job is not going to be a hand-holding experience. How do you expect to learn the field without doing what curators do with firsthand experience? If you feel that you must kiss everybody’s ass, then you should work in a different field altogether. Get out of arts, because so many artists and arts professional are egomaniacs and everybody else is nothing. It’s strange with all of your complaining that you thought you actually got something positive out of it.

  2. Valencia Reyes says

    Hello hi “Lara”

    Working in gallery/musueum, working in hospital: is there a diffenrecne??

    Nurses-bodies, doctors assistants–curators and interns, blood/art/money/blood/lunch/ nine to five

    we really are not that different u and I. We share many similar things. sometimes it is good to have a hobby.

    blow off the steam

    When I first got taste of working in hospital i thought it would all be smell of blood and doctors and charts. It is hard.

    learn to talk with friends and family. if you are sick place bandaid (c) brand bandages all over on body. discuss great dificiculty of day. learn to expand horizon.

    think of your friends and family as tools for a greater tomorrow. get a lot of sleep so your blood is awake. have several meals a day.

    @Tristan–please be more supportive of Lana. She is in need. various decisions .

    you are welmcome

    small piles,

    Vanderina Reuyes