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Networking, generosity and internships

Author: Alex Grace, Communications and Relationships Manager

One of the best things I did last year was work with two talented interns from Victoria University. Both were a pleasure to work with and brought a wealth of new ideas and useful questions to my small (one person team). The left me with a better appreciation of generosity and networks. Even the opportunity to work with them came from a combination of those things.

Harriet McFettridge and whānau at the opening of Gavin Hipkins: The Domain

Harriet McFettridge and whānau at the opening of Gavin Hipkins: The Domain

Nelson Bennett and partner at the opening of Handshake 3: Reflect

Nelson Bennett and partner at the opening of Handshake 3: Reflect

The Dowse has a tradition of hosting interns and a healthy long-term relationship with the various art and museum related course providers. We have hosted interns in the business teams but, unsurprisingly there are far more interns interested in working with art and artists than updating our social media accounts. It makes sense. Art draws people together and propels cultures in new directions, it surrounds me as I work and is the reason our museum exists. As an arts communicator I’m thrilled to see so many people seeking out a career in the arts.

The BA internship course at Victoria University is sector agnostic. It focusses on equipping students with the skills and networks they'll need to move smoothly from tertiary education into the workplace. This practical focus impressed me, as did the opportunity to get fresh eyes on my work. With a team of one, I’m constantly searching for ways to test my ideas, brainstorm and think through projects with other people.

I also know the course coordinator as a friend and was very happy to see her name in the email, asking if there was interest in hosting a student.

I was very interested. And approached my boss, and Director, Courtney Johnston with my draft programme of work for and intern. It was with generosity that Courtney said, “Go for it”.

I did. I scheduled induction meetings, added a plus one to forums and networking events and planned out a second stream of work all in the expectation that an intern that I'd yet to meet would benefit from these experiences and be a benefit to the business.

Courtney’s generosity has been rewarded with two successful internships - Nelson Bennett and Harriet McFetridge. Both Nelson and Harriet brought intelligence, insight, dedication and a helpful amount of humour to the role. Together we worked on risky new projects like dowseroadtrip.com (an invitation for art lovers, friends and families from throughout New Zealand to jump in the car and spend the weekend enjoying all that Lower Hutt and The Dowse has to offer), and the day to day tasks of social media managing, relationships management and exhibitions promotions.

During the internship with Nelson we talked a lot about networking, office culture, personal development and values. It became apparent very quickly that networking is a muddled concept. When we use it as a prescription for advancing a career, "Build a network! Use it to get ahead”, it roundly ignores relationships that sustain our careers the most – our friends and families.

Talking to Nelson about my career to date that distinction isn’t so clear.

Even the opportunity to host an intern came through a combination of the generosity of my professional network and my personal friendships. Both are essential to the success of the internship and can’t be separated cleanly.

My friends include a whole lot of ex-colleagues and bosses. And it’s these relationships that have fuelled me and my career forward through sage advice, supportive coffee dates, personal recommendations, and even good old fashioned introductions to important people.

Talking to Nelson and Harriet about their careers and the ever present call to network more, our conversations shifted from how to feel confident at “Hello, my name is” events to how they can use their existing relationship skills and strengths to grow into a career that will be meaningful and long-lasting. If “working a room” sounds like less fun than a trip to the dentist then move on and find something that you can do long term. That might mean spending time with people that bring out the best in you – your friends and families.

When it came to our exhibition opening rather than urging Nelson and Harriet to work the room I asked them to invite people they’d enjoy welcoming into The Dowse and spending the evening with. Their work ethic, talent and intelligence was already well known to the team at The Dowse, we have and still do support them both in their careers.

The opening was a time for us to be generous and welcome Nelson’s and Harriet’s networks warmly into The Dowse. Thank you both for contributions to The Dowse, we hope to see you and your friends and families again soon.

If you are thinking about hosting an intern in your organisation then get in touch with the team at Victoria University.

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