In 1986 John Hughes created a 103-minute long tribute to the freedoms of adolescence – Ferris Bueller's Day Off . Like many of his coming-of-age films it showcased his distinct talent for stretching time like an accordion, portraying an amplified sense of possibility available to the young.
That very nature of 'possibility' fluctuates as each generation changes. The meaning of freedom is tallied to the economy, politics, trends and education. Different generations face different hurdles when jumping from the haze of youth to the concrete reality of adulthood. For millennials just leaving adolescence now, life doesn't fade out like the end of a movie– it demands proactivity. And there's no better definition of youthful proactivity than a summer internship.
"I've always been around museums and was a huge art lover all through my elementary and high school years in New York," says Caroline – a 20-year old art history student who spoke to think about her experience this summer as an intern in a small gallery in downtown, New York. "Beyond the more academic aspects of my love for art, there is something indescribably magical about good art and architecture – should you take the opportunity to immerse yourself in it".
Although Caroline has worked with an artist before, this was her first year working as a gallery intern. She got the position within a week of applying – something she says still isn't common. Ever since the 2008 recession creative internships have been notoriously competitive. Back then they were mostly unpaid, seen as somewhat of a setback on a career trajectory that was destined for great things. The creative internship was a dark and winding path ahead of the door that entry-level professionals could get their foot into.
Nowadays they're still competitive, and sometimes still unpaid – although things are improving on that front. But the big difference is the way that savvy young people are approaching them – not as a necessary evil – but as career shaping, character building experiences.
"You need to make sure you know what you're getting into," Caroline says, describing the steps taken when choosing and ultimately accepting an internship role. "Going to the gallery itself and interviewing is great because you can actually check out the place yourself. More importantly you get to find out exactly the type of people you'll be working with – in both a positive and negative sense. If you don't like what you see then don't take the job because that'll be your entire summer. You can always find something else".
A typical day for Caroline is a lot more than the proverbial coffee-making. She arrives at the gallery at around noon, drinks her own tea or coffee, and goes through e-mails or digital archival work for about an hour. Her tasks will vary from day to day, but could include archiving, updating the gallery's website, writing press releases, some light graphic design work, editing artists' bios, social media work, and serving food at receptions – until she leaves for home at six o'clock. It's a very grown-up to-do list – enough to shake even the most ardent Bueller-ite adolescent out of their summertime stupor.
"I plan on doing a Masters then PhD in Architectural or Art History, then becoming a professor and doing full time research," Caroline says when asked about her long-term goals. "There's a very small chance that I'll work on the business side of art. Of course there are many opportunities for Art History majors, but it's just not my thing. This internship has absolutely changed the way I look at the industry. I understand the difference between a good gallery and a sub-par one now".
This enlightened new age of interns are proving that internships are salient tools in revealing what parts of the industry are most suited to individuals' strengths and interests, which makes a lot more sense than figuring that out four years into an entry-level, full-time job. Although this seems obvious, it hasn't always been clear to creative industry hopefuls. The difference lies in the interns themselves – they're no longer fighting for something to help them get on the career ladder; they're figuring things out, biding their time and choices, and using a summer job as part of their research methodology.
"I'm much more interested in contemporary art trends than I was before this summer – I'm more interested to see where we're going than to examine where we've been. And I'm beginning to understand the difference between a good artist and great artist – it's not about making something pretty, it's about creating a brand for yourself."
Even though Caroline has become quite good at archival work, she's understood that it's not something she wants to explore in the future. "I think it's important for anybody looking for a gallery internship to make sure their boss has plans to teach them about the industry – that's a good question to ask about when you're interviewing for an internship".
Caroline represents a new generation of interns – serious, hard-working, and foresighted. She genuinely has control over her own career choices and is steering her way towards them on her own terms. From her experience it seems clear that interning is not just a notch in the CV post, taken to either shut your parents up or make yourself feel better about your summer. Because contrary to Bueller's philosophy, you can't do everything you want to, and time doesn't actually stretch that far. So it makes sense to find out, early, what not to waste it on.
Caroline MacLachlan is 20 years old and a rising junior at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts where she studies Art and Architectural History. She's particularly interested in the evolution of contemporary art and in the movements of modern architecture.
READ: INTERVIEW: Write about design, write about design, write about design