That's a Wrap!
After ten weeks spent working with DITA Host Sites, our 2020 cohort celebrated the close of a successful internship on August 7th! Despite attending digital workshops together and being in-contact over the summer, this was the first opportunity for the interns to meet each other in person. In a lunch hosted by the Arvada Center (a 2020 Host Site), the interns each spoke about their experiences over the summer and shared what they will take away from their time with DITA.
2020 interns had the chance to visit Pink Progression: Collaborations, an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment while evaluating the complexities of the struggle for suffrage. The exhibition is open now at the Arvada Center through November 8th.
Thank You for Making DITA's 2020 Internship Possible!
This summer would not have been successful without the dedication and adaptability of the interns' supervisors: Jordan Garcia - American Friends Service Committee Kimberly Rouland & Teresa YoKell - Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities Eve Orenstein - Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra Cecily Cullen - Center for Visual Art Genna Kohlhardt - Lighthouse Writers Workshop Melissa Vuletich & Ramsay Walker - Newman Center for the Performing Arts Special Thanks To: Tessa Crisman - Arts Students League of Denver
Retrospective: Running an Internship Program in a COVID-19 World
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way many organizations and businesses function. When the virus hit Colorado in March and shutdown the programming for a vast majority of arts and culture nonprofits, DITA was faced with a daunting question: "Is it possible to run a successful internship during a pandemic?" As a second-year program, we launched our search for interns in early January boasting eight nonprofit organizations as 2020 Host Sites that ranged from art galleries to performing arts centers to social justice advocates. By the time March came around, we were deep in the process of interviewing applicants and recommending interns for approval to our hosts. Less than two weeks before I was gearing up to send internship offers to applicants, COVID-19 shut Colorado down. The economic impacts of the shutdown have been analyzed and projected at every turn. However, an often overlooked casualty comes not from profit-focused businesses but the arts nonprofit sector. As organizations built to serve their communities with a wide array of artistic offerings, that rely on the support and patronage of regular visitors, that earn a vast majority of their income through in-person programming, the shutdown left us reeling. There was little information regarding how long the shutdown might last, or how quickly the pandemic could get under control in our state. Despite looking at reopening dates throughout March or April, lookdown began to seem like something that could last the entire summer. Understandably, organizations that applied for the 2020 internship had to reevaluate their budgets to determine if they had the finances to host an intern. As the lockdown continued, staffs were placed on furlough and arts organizations tried to navigate a way forward, Host Sites had to determine if they had the support system in place to give an intern a meaningful experience. To that end, two of our original eight Host Sites made the difficult decision to pull out of the internship, decreasing our intern cohort from ten to seven. With the insight of my Advisory Board (Chrissy Deal, Erin Yoshimura, and Rachel Basye), DITA met every week to review the newest orders from Governor Polis and updates from our Host Sites. Our intern applicants—all college students now facing an uncertain summer—demonstrated a degree of patience and understanding that gave us the time to pull together plans. A drop-dead date was set in early May and we moved forward intending to have a summer internship but with the understanding that it may not be possible. Step one to keeping the 2020 internship running was to ease the financial commitment of our Host Sites. An important tenant of the DITA program is to provide our interns with a paid position, as each intern works full-time in addition to evaluating and recommending improvements on their Host Site's DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) commitment. To that end, Host Sites are provided a grant that covers a portion of the intern's wages based on the organization's full-time equivalent (FTE). However, COVID-19 gave no consideration for the size and projected budget of any business, much less any nonprofit. After receiving the green-light from our funders, DITA increased the size of each organization's grant to cover the interns' wages in full. With the question of budgetary restraints addressed, we were thrilled to keep the remaining six Host Sites for the summer. Our next step was to adjust programming to the digital space. Host Sites, who had made the switch to working remotely in the spring, reworked the interns' job descriptions and started showcasing the creativity and innovation that makes the arts so valuable. As a result, our interns were introduced to aspects of nonprofit work that they would not have been involved with during an in-person internship. Without the flexibility and adaptability of our Host Sites and their intern supervisors, the 2020 DITA intern experience could have easily become boring or uninspiring. In contrast, this summer's interns left the program with new and useful skillsets and knowledge they plan to apply to their futures. They also left with intimate knowledge of how to keep an organization running during a pandemic, something many of us were wishing we had from the start. In addition to their internship positions, DITA interns attend two workshops designed to improve their strength as DEI advocates. Just like the rest of the world, we made the switch to video calls. The breakout room feature on Zoom was instrumental in recreating the intimate conversations that helped strengthen the relationships within our 2019 cohort and, as a bonus, the video call format meant no one had to find parking. Step three was reviewing and replacing aspects of the internship that could not work in quarantine. DITA's Shared Learning Experiences are designed to allow each intern a chance to show their cohort the organization they are working with and share the experience they've had throughout their internship. Taking a group of seven to each Host Site over the summer was absolutely out of the question. It was decided the interns would have a chance to share their experience in a shorter format (which became our End of Program Celebration), and focus was shifted to building more comprehensive resources for the unique DEI proposals our interns provide at the end of the summer. As a result, this year's Host Sites were presented with suggestions that could be implemented with minimal cost to the organization and even new programs to build and implement in the future to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion within their work. From March to August, the backbone of keeping the program running was communication. In a time when we were all stressed, overwhelmed, and likely felt pulled in a hundred directions, being open and honest with our interns and our Host Sites on the direction of the internship was crucial. Even in periods where I was not yet positive on DITA's direction, the mere act of providing a deadline for having an answer reassured participants. Something as simple as "I am in the process of reviewing current updates and will have an answer for you next Wednesday" helped to combat the uncomfortable tide of uncertainty that flooded all of our lives. Leaders across the globe were challenged to keep some semblance of normalcy in an abnormal world, and there are lessons we will continue to learn and evaluate from the successes and roadblocks of 2020. As valuable as it is to give yourself moments to miss pre-COVID life, it is also important to celebrate each small triumph along the journey. Running this summer's internship was one of the most difficult juggling routines I have encountered, but I could not be prouder of the participants who persevered, and those who recognized the time was no longer right for them to commit to the program. Regardless of if our state is 'back to normal' next summer, I have every confidence that DITA will be ready to tackle the challenge.