Phoebe Evans-Clarke, BA Fine Art graduate, completed an Erasmus traineeship soon after her graduation. She worked at an art gallery in Berlin for three months, and speaks here about what she learned from the experience.
Finding my internship
I found my placement through an online platform for hiring internships in creative spaces in Berlin called “BERLIN BLUE CREATIVE”.
I was drawn to Berlin having since visited my friend that year, as she was doing her Erasmus out there. She told me about the many opportunities Berlin had held for her in such a short space of time when compared to other cities – which I too, noticed when doing my research. Berlin seemed cheaper, held a slower pace of life than London and offered worthwhile opportunities in the field of art (like studio grants and part time studio assistant jobs) I had not heard of elsewhere.
After looking at various platforms from different European cities, I chose Berlin, the role being Gallery Assistant at BBA Gallery.
Highlights from my trip
Highlights in my experience abroad consisted of falling into a new routine each day – thanks to the gallery’s fast paced environment. I was surrounded by like-minded people, whether it was young professionals, a fellow intern, or experienced curators working with the gallery.
One thing I noticed is that people in Berlin have time for each other in the current art scene – wherever you are along the ladder of creatives everyone has time for you in this business. This was really refreshing for me to experience, coming straight out from graduating. Having heard the horror stories that London held with competitiveness and treatment towards interns in creative spaces it was nice to know that not everywhere was like that. This resulted in me feeling never below anyone else with far more experience at my internship – we were all here to gain experience and get the job done properly.
My daily routine
I worked at the gallery 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. The days differed week to week, which kept my routine exciting and new. My main role was to invigilate the gallery every day when shows were on. However, when it was a turnaround of a show – which happened 3 times when I was there, my tasks varied hourly. I would be painting walls for the new gallerists and curators to come in for their two-week show one day, and the next I would be doing desk work and researching drinks companies in Berlin for the upcoming show as potential sponsors. My routine I created here in Berlin differed wildly from my one back home, each day I was very independent – opening and closing the gallery on my own everyday, sometimes only having contact with my peers through email for a few days running.
I was given a lot of responsibilities in this internship, more so than in previous jobs I have worked at. Such as sourcing sponsorships for big private views – without my contact they would not have had free drinks and advertising at the event. This, however hard and slightly intimidating at the beginning was very rewarding and a successful turn out!
As I worked 5 days a week it was refreshing and exciting to get into the routine of a full time job, as I had only ever worked part time. It was fulfilling to get up and go somewhere everyday – into an environment where I was needed and my skills which where my passions lied – art – where something of use. Comparing to my past part time jobs and volunteering programmes, they were sadly not as directly linked to my current points of interest.
Challenges whilst living in Berlin
Top challenges included integrating into an unknown space and community. Phone calls to my friends back home were great, however it did not quite cover the feeling sometimes of being completely alone in a city. I needed to push past this quite quickly I realised if I wanted to start enjoying myself rather than not doing anything about my already short time there – the time flew by for me, which was helped I think by having such a busy schedule at my internship.
Another hardship I found out here was the area of expertise my internship required of me sometimes. Having never really had the chance to work in this field before I was quite clueless sometimes as to what was expected of me. I was thankfully fortunate with the team around me at the BBA Gallery, they helped me with a lot of hurdles and made me feel comfortable enough to approach them if there was a problem I was facing in the work space.
What I gained from my experience
From my experience living abroad I gained a lot of knowledge both in the field of art as a job but also about myself.
The internship within the gallery opened my eyes to what the ‘behind the scenes’ looked like in an art gallery – even a small one like BBA Berlin. I never knew how much little art related work would be necessary when in the gallery. To work as an assistant it is far more centered around desk work and phone calling. I did have my hand in setting up shows and spreading postcards which was really interesting – however having a taste of how hands on an assistant is I’m unsure whether I could carry it on. It allowed me very little time to digest my surroundings and concentrate on my own art practice. This is not a negative I must add, just different to what I expected. I did not enjoy my experience any less because of this, it was just a learning curve.
In terms of myself, I became a lot more self-aware with what I wanted from life after this experience, and where I could see myself going with the experiences I had learnt.
This experience was a taster of what was to come if I did want to work in the art field afterwards. It made me think hard about whether it was rewarding enough for me or just satisfying my post degree Fine Art fear. I really enjoyed my independence and freedom I was given out there, it made me realise how much I enjoyed my own company – when I was not forced to be alone.
I was at one point tempted to carry on renting my room in Berlin, to stay longer because I enjoyed the pace of life and felt as though 3 months was just not enough. However, I needed to be realistic and sadly I just could not afford any longer.
Tips for future students
Moving abroad can seem very daunting at first, the excitement can override the realisation that you will not have home comforts for up to 3 months or a friendly face sometimes. Much like London – an unknown city can be very isolating and uncomfortable, but something to mention is that you aren’t alone in it. To experience this down time gave me thinking time and allowed me to understand the city as a living experience, much rather than a long holiday.
Bring home comforts, for me something minuscule was marmite – believe it or not marmite is a rarity in Berlin. I would eat it daily back home – just a reminder that do not expect the place you are going to, will cater to you all the time!
Have ready a card you can use abroad; in Berlin you can use an N26 card or a Monzo card free of charge. If you use your UK card, you will get charged per transaction – sometimes up to £3 a go. So it’s worthwhile to get one of these cards before you leave the UK.
Get involved in groups on Facebook for the country you will be in! When it comes to the weekend and you’re out here alone, you may want to head out but have no one – Facebook really helped me with knowing what was going on around me.
Don’t worry too much if you feel left out or alone, this time is actually useful to both you and the internships level of success and level of understanding for how the city works and how you can use it to your advantage!
Funding for this opportunity was provided by Erasmus+.