By Jennifer Sadler
Life-guarding at the pool, mowing lawns, working at a fast food restaurant, retail shop or as a cashier at the local grocery store—these are just a few of typical summer job for teenagers. For adults who are old enough, it’s difficult to imagine not being able to find a summer job back then. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current summer unemployment rate for Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 hovers around 26 percent. This percentage is significantly higher than both five and 10 years ago. One reason for the scarcity of summer jobs for teens is the changing face of the job market; many adults are taking whatever kind of employment they can get.
As a result of the stiff competition, anything that teenagers can do to set themselves apart is beneficial. Internships—paid and unpaid—can offer invaluable experience that can help develop skills that employers seek out. Most kids don’t know anything about the professional world and have no clue about what it takes to work in such an environment. Through summer internships, young people can get invaluable training in communication, time management, appropriate office behavior and other professional skills.
Many states and cities have youth employment programs in place that provide summer work/internship experience for youth, matching teens up with entry level jobs at a variety of establishments, including government agencies, summer camps, local businesses, museums, retail shops, hospitals and sports enterprises, with the goal of familiarizing youth with the working world, fostering academic improvement and social growth.
Many statewide and local arts organizations and creative businesses realize that an investment in youth development is an investment in the future of the community. Several offer out-of-school community arts education programs include internships that give teens a chance to stretch their minds and imaginations in a setting that is less obviously structured and conducive to more informal mentoring relationships with adults. Community arts organizations and businesses that actively engage this age group can create environments with social interaction built in to the learning experience—and opportunities for developing leadership, teamwork, communication and other important life skills.
GCAC understands that the cultivation and retention of a creative workforce are crucial for any successful community. And these kinds of internships can spark an interest and engagement in the arts that can last a lifetime. Internships with arts organizations can give impressionable teens some insight into the work that creative individuals and businesses do to give life to the community and help drive the economy. Just like integrating the arts into every day core curricula in schools, an arts-integrated internship experience can provide an engaging and rewarding context for personal and professional development.
Summer Youth Employment Program
In partnership with Central Community House (CCH) and Godman Guild, the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education’s Art in the House program this summer placed two youth interns through the Summer Youth Employment Program with Cobenick Studios on the near east side of Columbus, owned and operated by local artist Daniel Colvin.
This was the first year that OAAE has been involved in the internship program, but they were please to find that when they approached organizations such as the Columbus Metropolitan Library, King Arts Complex and Otterbein University’s arts department–all expressed an interest in getting involved and placing interns in the future.
The Workforce Program at CCH services youth 14-24 of age. The interns work 20-hours a week for eight weeks. CCH is subcontracted through Godman Guild which administers funding from Franklin County Jobs & Services for the program.
Latonya Naphier, who manages the Workforce Program said the kids are especially excited because the funding has allowed the internships to pay $10 an hour this summer.
“The majority of the teens in the program are placed at summer camps and help the counselors as junior camp workers,” said Naphier. At the training and orientation, the Workforce team asks the young people about their interests and then places them in available internships accordingly.
The commercial book arts Cobenick Studios has been around for 13 years and three years ago Colvin opened a gallery space at the location.
“Tim Katz, the director of community arts education at the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, contacted me and pitched the idea for the internship. I thought it was great,” said Colvin. “And it came at the perfect time of year – summers are always insane for us.”
The interns, paid hourly, are involved in all operations of the art studio, including paper-making and other art-making activities, installing and managing gallery exhibitions, marketing and communications, accounting and working at local festivals.
Colvin sees these internships as not only an opportunity to get much-needed help in running his business and helping young people develop important professional skills, but also to hopefully instill a sense of wonder about the arts that will stick with them throughout their lives.
“I’ve always had other people involved in my studios—for two main reasons: the first being that I recognized from the start that I could not do everything by myself; and secondly I want to continue the mentoring experience that got me excited about paper arts,” said Colvin. “I want to see it continue long after I have retired.”
Colvin’s interns are each focused on different aspects of the business: one for the studio and one for business management.
“Our studio intern, Kaine Black, is handling the day to day in production and studio upkeep, while our business intern, Mosheh Clark, is getting a taste of what it’s like to really run a business,” said Colvin. “They are both working hard and being worked hard. You cannot make it in this small business community if you do not understand the necessity of hustle and work ethic. I can teach someone how to do what I do; I can’t teach work ethic— a person has to figure that out for themselves. We give them a little training as needed from day to day then it’s off to the races.”
Many teens are attracted to internships with arts organizations and creative businesses because they have an innate desire to learn about the arts or have an interest in becoming an artist themselves. But this isn’t always the case.
Interns Black and Clark are bright young men with big ambitions—and interests that are outside of the arts as far as careers. Black hopes to one day go to medical school and Clark is currently studying accounting and economics at The Ohio State University. But it’s clear that both have a passion for the arts and learning new skills that will help them in future endeavors.
When asked whether they would they would recommend an internship in the arts to other teens, both agreed that, especially if you don’t have a natural affinity for the arts, it’s a good chance to step outside of your comfort zone and explore.
“The experience has been good so far,” said Clark. “I am learning how the business operates and functions on a daily basis. It will help me in the future by helping be able to manage and run my own business so day.”
In addition to learning the business end of the gallery, Clark has learned how to properly prepare gallery walls and install an art exhibition.
And Black is enjoying what he considers “a unique work experience.”
“I’m enjoying every moment of working at the gallery. I want to be a doctor in the future, and I have noticed that this experience is helping me learn how to have steady hands, seeing that I will need this skill one day.” Black also added that after being exposed the paper arts, “and I would really love to start making a book!”
Young Artists at Work – The Arts Commission of Toledo
Other communities around the country and in Ohio recognize the value of these programs. Since 1994, The Arts Commission of Toledo has sponsored the award winning Young Artists at Work (YAAW) program. This six-week summer employment opportunity enables diverse youth, ages 14-18, to benefit from an intense exposure to the arts.
The objective of YAAW is to provide an intensive arts experience that fosters artistic self-expression and a quality work ethic that can impact the youth throughout adulthood. The program encourages expression, refinement, cross-cultural sharing and the exchange of ideas. The opportunity provides exposure to the concept of art as a business, as well as the creation of public art for the greater Toledo community.
Approximately 60 teens are accepted into the program each summer and are paid minimum wage or more an hour depending on funding sources. Funding comes from The Arts Commission along with private donors, grants and sometimes partnerships with the City or County.
GCAC spoke with The Arts Commission’s office manager, Emily Finkel, to learn more about YAAW.
Finkel said the program is spectacular in so many aspects, but one that she finds most impressive is the program’s interview process.
“Of the 250 applications we receive for the program year, we offer every single kid an interview,” said Finkel. “Even if they call us and say they have some kind of conflict and won’t be able to participate in the program, we tell them to go ahead and come in for the interview anyway. We want them to have that important experience.”
This kind of essential life experience can be critical for a young person’s professional development.
Finkel said the projects change from year to year. Some are commissioned projects that beautify the community, like painted murals in public places or privately owned businesses such as the local pool or health center. Participants also create salable items that can help raise money for the program like bird houses and feeders, drawings, paintings and other items.
This summer, YAAW brought in a theatre clinician to work on a stage performance with the participants. The teens were instructed on how to put on a play.
“The kids were paid by the hour to work on the production—just like actors are paid to do a play. We want them to understand the business end of being an artist,” said Finkel. “Some of these kids may have never had a job before in their life. Even in something fun like acting in a play, they need to learn to be on time, work with others and collaborate.”
Though many of the projects are involved in beautifying the community, Finkel said she feels like the personal development of the kids is the program’s greatest impact.
“Through this program, they are being exposed to and exploring the things they’re passionate about, and it engages them and exposes them to people they would never have met,” said Finkel. “It builds their confidence and they realize that they can be proud of their passions and sharing their art with others. The personal development impact is definitely the greatest thing about YAAW.”
If you are a teen or you know a young person who is looking for an arts-related internship experience, below are some places to start. Volunteering is something to consider, too. Arts colleges, universities, art schools, galleries, museums and creative businesses – many have internships available and it’s never a bad idea to contact them directly to see what they might offer for teens.
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