London’s Old Vic theatre has announced it will suspend its main unpaid intern programme from September, following a lengthy campaign by the arts union BECTU and Arts Council England to pay participants the minimum wage for their work. BECTU’s general secretary Gerry Morrissey had accused the Old Vic of being the “worst example” of an employer not paying interns in the arts sector.

A spokesperson for the Old Vic told The Stage magazine:

“We are extremely proud of our commitment to developing young people. For a theatre without subsidy these initiatives are tough to maintain, and our motivation has always been to encourage and develop new talent and find ways to gain experience of working in the theatre. Through our various programmes we have helped many young people take their first steps to a career in the arts.

“While we believe our programmes have many benefits, we reviewed the ACE [Arts Council England] guidelines when it was published and took the decision to bring the internship to an end at the end of our financial year in September. We are currently discussing how to replace the intern programme.”

BECTU’s general secretary Gerry Morrissey welcomed the news, saying:

“Our position is that, with or without public funds, organisations such as the Old Vic should not be exploiting people and, by doing that, only giving opportunities to those who can afford to be subsidised by their families.”

The ACE’s director Barbara Matthews said the move would “encourage all arts organisations… to take note of their responsibilities,” but said she was still concerned about the prevalence of unpaid internships within the arts world:

“If we don’t create fairer entry routes into the arts workforce, we risk closing the door on a new generation of talented leaders from a range of backgrounds, and the arts will suffer. That’s why earlier this year the arts council published Internships in the Arts, which we hope will help arts organisations offer high-quality paid internship opportunities that don’t put them at risk of legal action.”

BECTU and the Arts Council England get a massive ‘Congratulations!’ from Graduate Fog on this excellent victory for interns, which we will add to the growing collection. Hang on… First, intern power gets Stella McCartney change her policy on internships. Next, Arcadia and X Factor award back-pay to their interns. And now the Old Vic closes its flagship intern programme. Is it just us, or is anyone else daring to get excited about this?

Do those struggling with funding problems have a fair point – or is there never an excuse for using unpaid labour? Arts interns, where have you worked – and were you paid?

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