Gallery TPW - Round Two

Back in May 2009 I applied for a Gallery Assistant position at Gallery TPW, but like many other employment opportunities made available in smaller galleries and artist-run centres, the position was created through the generous funding of Young Canada Works and therefore had stipulations on who was eligible. There are two streams of the programme: one for current students returning to school after the internship and one for recent graduates (within 24 months).

From my recent job searching, I have found that the majority of these entry-level/internship/contract/ short-term positions are created for students currently completing a degree. These funded placements are a way of providing opportunities for students to beef up their experience in combination with their education. I've participated in these programmes (Young Canada Works and Canada Council) on a couple of occasions at Eyelevel (Halifax) and Artspeak (Vancouver). Turns out that I cannot take advantage of the funded internships through Young Canada Works more than once, which makes sense because there are plenty of other students looking for a chance to work in a gallery over the summer months. But this also means that I'm not eligible for the majority of positions in galleries that would continue to help me build my career. Since operating costs take care of the permanent positions at smaller galleries, which are few--sometimes only one permanent staff member responsible for running a space--there is little room for staff growth (and only slightly more when these brief opportunities are made available).

When the majority of opportunities are being provided exclusively for students (underqualified workers) it only emphasises an imbalance between the 'training' and 'working' worlds. As universities allow more students into degree programmes, causing overcrowding and subsequent understaffing (not to mention increased tuition) there is a push for the production of qualified (on paper) individuals during the education process; the system of 'churning 'em out'. As a student, there is a plethora of internships (usually unpaid), networks and communities, and the luxury of having the collateral of being attached to a large institution like a university. Once you have graduated, the network infrastructure dissolves, the unpaid internships aren't the wonderful opportunities they once were because they don't pay rent, and the majority of the paid ones (in Canada) aren't applicable for graduates. The situation narrows where you thought it would expand. Because you have a degree, you are no longer in the process of developing the qualifications; you have secured them (on paper). The university has done it's part, now you're left to fend for yourself with no one ensuring the significance of your degree after you graduate, now it is what it is (and you're not sure what it is).

Gallery TPW is a seemingly rare example of an institution providing an opportunity for a recent graduate through the Young Canada Works programme. In the non-profit industry, with many graduates looking for new opportunities, there needs to be a stronger infrastructure to support those qualified individuals; not just a future-employee training zone, when there is no employment after the fact. With an emphasis on training, without a thorough follow-up support system, there is a significant lag of young, qualified individuals (with training, education and shaky networks) floundering around for a sense of meaning out of the years and expenses spent during the build up.

Don't worry, once us graduates get our shit together, making stellar contributions to the cultural community, leading renown institutions, the university will make itself known again, asking for us "to give back to the educational community" that may or may not have led us astray.

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