Internships I’ve Had: A Boss’s Book, A Paid Gig, And One Awful Experience

by Emily Gallagher

Film Festival:

This was an internship in a basement. Sometimes I read scripts and put them in two piles, “okay” and “no.” Most of the time I folded pamphlets. I am not a very fast folder and The Boss would often make fun of me. “I’m going to write that you’re not good at folding in your recommendation letter!” The real joke, unbeknownst to him, was that he kept calling me “Amy” and my name is “Emily.” Sometimes I got to distribute the pamphlets. One day I ran into my friend as I was doing this, and we took a two-hour coffee break and then he became concerned that I was going to get in trouble. I didn’t.

The Boss asked me to proofread a book he wrote on how to run a film festival. I was particularly interested when I read the chapter called “Interns.” The chapter said, “A must for any film festival, you will not get any work accomplished without them! Also, if they have small fingers they’re good for shoulder massages.” One day I decided not to go in. Then I decided to never go back. I told my college advisor about the book, and she said she’d get me a new internship.

Events Coordinator

This was an internship in an apartment. The woman who lived in the apartment owned a large concert venue with her boyfriend. The boss asked me on the first day what my interests were. I told her, film, art and indie rock. She then allowed me to call myself, “The Event Coordinator.” When an event came through that fit into my interest group, she forwarded it to me and I took care of it, with her oversight. I set up a feature film wrap party, a music festival and a famous musician’s son’s birthday party. The boss and I would eat lunch together and talk about our lives, hopes and dreams. A misguided young musician imagined I had power and tried to sleep with me.

After a few months the boss offered me a full-time paid job. I liked it so much I frequently worked overtime, and sometimes worked as “The Caterer,” “The Bartender,” “The Flyer Girl,” “The Cocktail Waitress,” “The Elevator Attendant,” and “The Coat Check Girl.” I spent essentially all my time at the venue, and I probably worked about 65 hours a week. I kept the bar tips I made in an athletic sock under my bed. It was probably the most money I ever made. I thought about quitting college to keep doing this job. My parents said, “no way in hell.” This boss just invited me to her wedding in Australia, and has visited me three times in New York. I love her.

Art Gallery #1

A beloved friend got me this internship through her sister. It was a highly coveted paid internship, where I got $50 a day and free lunch. Most of the time I sat in the satellite gallery and called the gallerist when a person came in. Usually no one came in, and I spent my time despairing about my life or obsessing over my long distance boyfriend. Other times I would file press in binders or mail invitations to exhibitions. Frequently, I would hang out in the basement with the art handlers because they were mostly punks and I admired them. A few times they “claimed me” and I got to sit in the truck with them while their delivered paintings.

Mostly everyone was nice, except one guy who was only a year older than me, who liked to make me go on long walks to buy him a milkshake and would call me Intern Emily. This was a harmless internship and I learned a few things about working in the art world. It was supposed to be a summer internship but I stayed until January and no one minded. Mostly what I learned was that there was a large class divide in the gallery. Some of us had three jobs and others had wealthy relatives. One girl got her zits popped by a dermatologist. It was the first time I felt poor. It would not be the last.

Art Gallery #2

This was unpaid at an alternative art gallery and I loved it. Only three people worked there so I got to do things that actually made a difference. I wrote the press releases, I attempted to get beer donations, I painted the walls, I helped hang the shows, I wrote profiles of the artists, I hosted the openings and sold the paintings. I had keys to the gallery and could hang out there whenever I wanted. I mostly loved that I felt like a real part of the team, and not a joke.

After a few months I was invited on a trip. The team was going to Los Angeles and staying in a very fancy hotel for an art event weekend. They told me that they would put me up in the fancy hotel if I agreed to come and work. I was excited, and spent my savings on a plane ticket. Unfortunately there were no other women on the trip so I ended up sharing a room with four men who were much older than me. We went swimming on the roof and had parties. I was super naive and felt very cool about the whole situation. One night we were at a party and some of the artists started biting people and acting strung out and scary weird. I retreated to my room and got into my bed and was alone for a little while. An older artist came into the room. A very uncomfortable situation unfolded (“let’s pretend we’re teenagers,” he said), thankfully interrupted by another of the roommates coming into the room. I was confused and freaked out and worried. I wanted to tell someone but I was afraid because I was sharing a room with them. I also felt very sad because this artist was one of the only ones I actually got along with, and I couldn’t believe he had acted that way. I tried to tell the boss, but I don’t think I communicated very clearly. The boss told me, essentially, that I should be flattered.

The next day I was angry. I asked to leave work and went to the beach. I swam in the ocean and bought a dress and ate a taco. I couldn’t wait to leave, and quit shortly after. I found out through a friend that the gallerist called me “immature,” which wasn’t untrue but was also clearly retaliation. I thought that one of the artists “gave” me a painting, (I remember him saying, “I want you to have this”), but it turns out I still was supposed to pay hundreds of dollars for it. I tried to return the painting to the gallery. They let me have it for $300, which was most of my money. I learned a lot at that internship — I never took an internship after that.

More from the Intern Diaries

Emily has since had plenty of jobs, including her current one, where she was not abused and treated really really nicely, and paid.