Art Struggles: Confronting Internships and Unpaid Labour in Contemporary Art

  • Panos Kompatsiaris University of Edinburgh
Keywords: Art Labour, Contemporary Art, Internships, Art Activism, Labour Turn


This article explores the practices of recently formed and mainly UK-based art workers’ collectives against unpaid internships and abusive work. The modes through which these collectives perform resistance involve activist tactics of boycotting, site-specific protests, counter-guides, and whistleblowing and name and shame approaches mixed with performance art and playful interventions. Grappling with the predicaments of work in contemporary art, a labouring practice that does not follow typical processes of valorization and has a contingent object and an extremely loose territorial unity, this article argues that while the identity of the contemporary artist is systemically and conceptually moving towards fluidity and open-endedness, these groups work to reaffirm a collective in whose name it is possible to advance certain claims, assumptions, and demands. The contradictions and dynamics of art workers organizing against internships and voluntary work within a highly individualized, self-exploitative, and often privileged field are useful for informing labour organizing in the framework of ongoing capitalist restructuring.

Author Biography

Panos Kompatsiaris, University of Edinburgh

Panos Kompatsiaris has received a Ph.D. in art theory from the University of Edinburgh. His thesis, Curating Resistances: Crisis and the Limits of the Political turn in Contemporary Art Biennials, ex- plores the ways in which the current economic crisis and the rise of anti-capitalist activism affected contemporary art and its institutions. He has published articles in edited volumes and academic journals on art theory, social media, creative economies, and visual ethnography. He works as an academic consultant at the MACAT project and was recently appointed an Assistant Professor of Media and Communication at the National Research University, Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Interrogating Internships: Intern Labour Activism