Everybody’s talking about unpaid internships. Scott led things off railing against the injustice, Isaac follows up with posts here and here basically agreeing, 99 says interns should just suck it up, Adam Thurman warns against the dangers of getting addicted to free labor, Guy offers a perspective from internships in the software industry (where my career started as well), and Milena Thomas cheerleads for the status quo.

Here are my thoughts, in brief. I think there are two separate issues going on here. First, we should make a distinction between internships and “working for free.” There is a name for working for free; it’s called volunteering. Volunteering is done with the understanding that the volunteer is doing it for the good of the cause; the volunteer’s reward is the good he or she is doing for the community or the world through his or her work. An internship, on the other hand, is explicitly supposed to be an educational experience. In this context, whether or not the internship is paid is of secondary importance; what really matters is the nature of the internship, and whether it really is educational or is just an excuse for the hiring organization to unload some undesirable tasks on an unwitting subject. Hence the government’s six rules to define what an internship is. As such, the real issue is truth in advertising; if the internship is unpaid, it only codifies the fact that the experience had better be valuable to the intern in other ways in order for it to qualify for the title of internship.

The second issue is what Scott talks about, the pernicious effects of a system in which working for free is required to get ahead. This runs much deeper than unpaid internships and touches on other issues like artistic entrepreneurship, competition entry fees, the concentration of grant funds among high-profile institutions, and much more. Internships do play a major role in the dysfunction of this system, and it is certainly a good thing to call out that role. At the same time, we also need to recognize that there are some fundamental supply and demand factors going on that will make fixing the relevant class inequities an uphill battle. It doesn’t mean the battle isn’t worth fighting (not at all!), just that we shouldn’t expect immediate success or easy answers.

There does seem to be some disagreement about whether organizations that hire interns can afford to pay them or not. My belief is that most of them can, but we probably won’t really know until it’s tested somehow, perhaps through the enforcement of existing legislation. However, if it turns out that both (a) it is a financial hardship for organizations to pay interns and (b) we believe internships are important for educational and career development, then the logical policy solution is to subsidize nonprofits so that they can pay their interns a living wage.

Anyway, in case you’re tired of talking about that, here’s what else has been going on lately:

  • This Tuesday is National Arts Advocacy Day. To celebrate, some folks from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design are trying to get the hashtag “#arts” as a trending topic on Twitter. So if you tweet, show your support on Tuesday by including #arts in some of your messages.
  • Janet Brown on general operating support in the arts.
  • Michael Kaiser on emerging leaders.
  • Seth Godin on why labor-intensive products like handmade goods can be the new conspicuous consumption. (I think he’s on to something – at any rate, some level of that probably needs to happen if the arts are to continue to thrive.)
  • Math is fun and can help explain why things are the way they are: exhibit A (the Drunkard’s Walk); exhibit B (the Levy flight).
  • Andrew Taylor is a BLOGGER ON FIRE. Here he is on the rise of the API (key observation: it’s “more evidence that hoarding, controlling, or constraining essential access to your organization is a strategic blunder”), the specter of more creators than consumers, and details about the new federal student loan forgiveness programs for the nonprofit sector (and by extension the arts).
  • Barry Hessenius has a great wrap-up of the just-concluded grantmaker-themed Emerging Leader Salon on ARTSBlog. Barry’s been a huge champion on this issue and I’m glad that his report and the topics it addressed are really starting to get some widespread attention.
  • On the other hand, Sean Stannard-Stockton explains why following is sometimes even more important than leading.
  • Richard Florida has yet another new paper, this one looking at how the regional distribution of social, cognitive and physical skills relates to regional prosperity. He delivered the keynote at the Creative Cities Lexington conference last week, and his new book hits the stores in a couple of weeks. Florida remains a polarizing figure; you can add this gajillion-word essay to the list of critiques his work has attracted.
  • Rocco scores yet another long profile in the New York Times. Apparently Our Town will be unveiled on Tuesday.
  • The Baltimore Sun has an interesting article about cultural districts in Charm City. Apparently of two designated such districts, only one has really flourished as promised. It raises the question, once again, of to what extent these things can really be planned, and what factors make a cultural agglomeration successful.
  • PhilanTopic points us to an interview with Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian in which he talks about Andrew Carnegie’s legacy. Carnegie’s an interesting guy – a lot both to love and hate there – and his orientation toward philanthropy is worth examination even today.
  • Brain Pickings has a retrospective on the WPA of the 1930s and mentions the federal arts programs contained within.
  • My hometown of Boston is so strapped for cash that it’s now asking the nonprofits for help. Awesome.
  • NewMusicBox/Counterstream Radio has an audio Spotlight Session with Createquity friend Ted Hearne, which includes a clip from the wonderful Katrina Ballads.
  • A new startup makes crowdsourced fundraising into a game.
  • The first step is to get people to agree that there is, in fact, a problem. And in the brainwashed theatre world, that is easier said than done.