Sarah Wilson, an Art Director on her DPS year, examines the culture of free work and unpaid ‘internships’
In 2015 there were 21,000 unpaid interns in the UK, most of these unpaid interns were based in London. As the years have gone on I can only imagine the numbers have done nothing but increase and with it getting harder and harder to find a job in London the amount of experience we have has never mattered more.
When I first started looking for internships I was more concerned about finding something I enjoyed and something that would look good on my CV more than finding something that paid well, although a nice pay check at the end of every month would be an ideal situation I knew that it wasn’t something that was guaranteed and not something I should prioritise. So when I applied for an online men’s fashion publication that I had followed for a while and they showed interest in hiring me, money wasn’t even on my mind when I accepted the position
At first it was great, almost fun. I could wake up at 3pm and work from my bed and still make deadlines. It wasn’t until I was asked to work on some merchandising for them that I started to have a problem with not being paid. I hadn’t really learnt much at this point, it was mostly just layout work and all of a sudden all of my time was consumed with researching (which looked a lot like online shopping) and generating ideas for t-shirts and hoodies. When I first started sending over ideas it was good to get positive feedback and exciting to think that these designs would be exposed and hopefully owned by their followers, which is a lot of people, but now I think it’s bullshit.
There is a big difference between taking on an intern to help out with some work that will not only benefit you but the intern as well by giving them some work to put in their portfolio and taking on an intern, not crediting their work and not paying them for work that you’re going to make a lot of profit from. I have realised that when it comes to your employer selling your work for profit there is in fact a price you can put on experience, and that is 10%.
Artists and designers not being paid for their work seems to be a recurring topic with companies like Zara being accused of copying independent etsy shops work and even Sainsbury’s, a company with a £26billion turnaround, asking for artists to work for free.
Once I knew what topic I was going to write about for this blog post I started to do some research and came across this website that was put together by Jessica Hische, a designer and author from the States, that highlights the internal questions we may ask ourselves when we’re told “we don’t have a budget” or asked “can you do it for free?” and will guide you to a yes or no answer as to whether you should do it or not.
I also found these illustrations by Emmie Tsumura who was commissioned by Format Magazine to “Imagine the faces of people who want you to work for exposure” to support their article that focused on creative being asked to work for free to gain exposure.