Thursday, October 11, 2012
Gallery Girls and Interning: the legal truth
Image courtesy of The New Yorker.
The New Yorker's description of Bravo's Gallery Girls says it best:
Bravo’s “gallery girls” are unpaid interns at mediocre galleries, recent college grads blowing their trust funds on vaguely artistic pursuits. There’s mild nudity, there’s cattiness, there are really expensive shoes. There is practically no mention of art.
There's been a lot of grumbling about Gallery Girls, mainly that it wasn't about art. But why isn't there more chatter about the fact that these unpaid internships are totally illegal??
The art, design and fashion worlds have long depended on the labor of interns. But the current lawsuit involving a former Hearst intern has made it pretty apparent that those days are long over. And don't think you're going to get off easy by calling your unpaid helpers "volunteers". For-profit entities CANNOT have volunteers.
So what IS an intern? A legal one, that is...
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, there are circumstances in which an individual may "intern" at a for-profit entity without receiving compensation. The following 6 criteria must apply:
1. The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
4. The employer that provides the training receives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern (and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded).
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job upon completion of the internship.
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
There are at least 3 specifications above that would contradict a majority of the "internships" in the art/design/fashion field. It's impossible to argue that sending your intern to pick up a sample swatch did not somehow benefit you, the employer. But don't start mourning the loss of labor yet. You can still have unpaid interns--but they must be students receiving school credit.
What's great about the current crackdown on this practice is that it will force companies to pay the young labor force. Those of you graduating college finally have a fighting chance at getting paid right away! No more interning for year(s) just to build up street cred.
My prediction for Season 2 of Gallery Girls (if, uggh, there IS a Season 2), is that Maggie sues Eli Klein for 3 years of back wages for her time spent interning. Now that's a storyline I'd tune in to watch.