Research & Insights / Designing Virtual Internships in the Creative Sector: Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston 2020

Designing Virtual Internships in the Creative Sector: Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston 2020

The following blog series will provide a closer look at the Boston-specific Bloomberg Arts Internship program implemented by EdVestors and share the learnings and key takeaways for effective creative youth development and employment models.

The Bloomberg Arts Internship (BAI) is an arts-focused summer internship program in Baltimore, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia that provides high school interns with paid work experience at cultural organizations along with work readiness and college preparation support. In 2019, EdVestors was selected to be the Boston partner responsible for implementing the BAI program. After a successful pilot summer, EdVestors and the Boston team responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by quickly redesigning and implementing an entirely remote summer program model with the continued support of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The Boston BAI team was not alone in their efforts to adjust quickly and thoughtfully. For the summer of 2020, unlike other cities that canceled their summer jobs programs, Boston’s program went forward with the full support of Mayor Walsh who added $4.1 million in city funding to support new youth employment opportunities and the city’s Summer Jobs Program (this included SuccessLink at the City’s Department of Youth Engagement & Employment, Action for Boston Community Development, John Hancock’s MLK Scholars Program, Youth Options Unlimited managed by the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, and the Boston’s Private industry Council or Boston PIC). The Boston PIC played an important role in supporting and overseeing the administration of many of the over 3,000 youth employment opportunities citywide. In addition, as was the case in 2019, the PIC was a critical partner for the BAI program, managing the recruitment, interview and student HR needs for the program.

The BAI program is distinct within the ecosystem of summer youth employment programs in Boston due to its integration of the arts as a central facet of the program model. Potential interns are recruited knowing that their worksites will be arts-focused organizations. The interns’ interest in the arts and identity as artists are key elements of student recruitment and hiring. 

In addition, the program incorporates a Creative Youth Development (CYD) approach and philosophy into the program design, which along with creativity and art-making includes: elevating youth voice and leadership; teamwork;  increased self-identity that leads to more personal expression, and connection building. The program also offers opportunities for them to make connections with an array of potential mentors and expand their networks via their worksite supervisors and contacts with program partners (Boston PIC, 826 Boston, executive coach Muadi Dibinga, College Advising Corps).

Below are Lessons Learned from our experience overseeing the BAI Boston program. Subsequent blog posts will dive deeper into  best practices for youth-centered creative virtual internships with direct examples from intern experiences.

Lessons Learned

A. Virtual youth internships are effective with the right worksite staff and wrap-around supports.
EdVestors staff developed clear criteria for selecting worksites that led to the identification and selection of arts and cultural institutions which were well suited to supervise and support high school-age interns. Partnering with arts and culture organizations provided a strong foundation for approaching program implementation from the lens of CYD. Selected institutions demonstrated experience with and commitment to employing and supervising high school age youth as part of their original application process. In the midst of the pandemic pivot, EdVestors and partner institutions were able to quickly make high leverage adjustments (e.g. redesigning internship schedule for a virtual format) and provide coordinated supports due to a shared commitment to CYD strategies and decision-making approach in support of students. EdVestors also was able to leverage its role and knowledge as a citywide intermediary organization for arts education to provide operational and strategic support to worksites throughout the planning and implementation of the internship.

B. Structuring the program to have a wide array of adults involved in the program implementation enabled the interns to develop meaningful adult relationships and mentor-like support systems.
By the spring of 2020 it became clear to the EdVestors staff that the BAI program would be entirely remote. With this in mind, the staff made a deliberate decision to develop additional mentor-like support from caring adults for the participating interns, given the inherent challenges associated with the interns having to work remotely. This goal was critical in the success of the summer, as the interns had an array of adults with whom they could connect and learn together.

C. Using arts as a theme encouraged and promoted interns to “share their best selves”, find commonalities with one another and with their worksite supervisors, and provided a platform for self-expression and youth voice.
The Boston BAI program builds on the best practice principles and characteristics of CYD, which see young people as active agents of their own change, with strengths and skills to be developed and supported. Program components explicitly created an experience that supported self-expression and youth voice. Self-expression was important because it enabled interns to stay more engaged in the day to day programming, which was especially relevant following a virtual academic year. It was also important because their identity exploration and articulation allowed them to build more relationships, set future goals and create personalized plans to achieve them through various program elements.

D. An arts-based internship program can provide opportunities for participating interns to develop skills that are transferable and relevant across industries sectors.
While this lesson is relevant during an in-person program as well, the remote internship experience, in particular, increased student exposure to and facility in using numerous digital tools necessary across organizations regardless of industry sector. BAI students completed the summer with meaningful digital work artifacts that can be shared in a professional portfolio. Beyond technology skills, BAI interns also developed transferable competencies such as adaptability, public speaking, collaboration, self-advocacy, networking, and creating your brand through the lens of theater, visual art, and arts advocacy workshops.

Coming up in the next blog, Developing Wrap-around Supports and Authentic Relationships.