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Building a Creative Career: 5 Questions with Katie Burke, Bloomberg Arts Internship Alum

Katie Burke

U.S. employers rate creativity as one of the top three personality traits most important to career success, according to 2015 data from Americans for the Arts. The Bloomberg Arts Internship (BAI) is designed to help prepare the next generation for success in the workforce, in the arts and other industries. It aims to provide meaningful workforce experience, develop knowledge of the creative sector as a career path, encourage awareness of culture as a civic resource, and prepare students to apply and transition into college. Eighty-six percent of BAI participants report enrollment in college or technical school compared to 40 percent nationally.

BAI alumni go on to apply the skills they learn through the program to a variety of professional fields, including some who decide to pursue a career directly in the creative sector. As a BAI intern in 2013, Katie Burke gained hands-on experience with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Today, Katie is an individual giving coordinator at Park Avenue Armory, where she also serves as a supervisor and mentor to the Armory’s current BAI interns. We recently spoke with Katie about how her BAI experience prepared her for a career in the arts, as well as her advice for current students.

What was the most memorable part of your internship at Dance Theatre of Harlem?

The most memorable part of my experience was being given the responsibility and respect of a regular employee, despite only being in high school. Some internship opportunities are limited in what they can offer students, and a lot of times younger interns end up with tasks along the lines of fetching coffee or filing paperwork. During my BAI internship at Dance Theatre of Harlem, I was given the tools and confidence to take the lead and manage my peers because I was proactive in communicating with my supervisor. Not only did this opportunity teach me vital managerial skills, it instilled in me the importance being a self-starter.

How did your experience with BAI help prepare you for continuing your education and entering the workforce?

One of the most important skills I learned during my internship was the importance of time management; a skill that I still use today in my job at Park Avenue Armory. My BAI internship also gave me insight into how different organizations are run, and my managers showed me what it takes to run a well-oiled machine in the creative sector. Because internships are often a student’s first opportunity to work in an office, it is also their first opportunity to interact with a wide array of personalities. To be successful in these professional environments you need to be thrown into the deep end and given real responsibility, which is exactly what BAI does. Regardless of the kind of organization BAI interns ultimately find themselves working with, the program provides an authentic introduction to paving a successful path across any sector.

How can students in the current BAI cohort make the most of their experience?

Self-advocacy is so important. Let your supervisor know if you need more work or if you have too much. Because everyone is now working virtually, communication is more important than ever, and you need to make sure that your colleagues and mentors understand how your experience is going.

Rachel, the BAI intern I’m mentoring this summer, is having a different experience from me because her internship is entirely online. Despite this difference, her core responsibility is the same – supporting the Armory’s fundraising efforts. This shows that even amid the disruption and chaos we’ve all experienced this year, there are still many opportunities out there to establish yourself and gain valuable work experience.

Did you always want to pursue a career in the arts?

I always knew I wanted to be involved in the arts somehow. As an only child, my mom enrolled me in every extracurricular under the sun, and I always found myself gravitating towards the arts-focused activities. I didn’t necessarily want to pursue performance as a career, so the work I’m doing now is perfect because I am still immersed in the world of art and am able to engage with artists that I love.

I interned for a full year at the Armory prior to my BAI internship, which allowed me to experience two different cultural institutions. After I completed my internship at the Armory, I stayed in touch with previous colleagues and supervisors to see how I could continue to help the team with their fundraising efforts. This is what eventually led to my current full-time position. We all know that networking can be daunting, especially for young people. But if you are truly passionate about the arts or anything else, then you must put yourself out there to get the career you want.

What is the most important lesson you learned through the BAI program?

It is vital to have a community you can reach out to, both within the program and outside of it. You need to be able to talk to coworkers who understand your situation and can advise you on your progress, and you need to be able to talk to people about other institutions and sectors. High school students are faced with the pressure to pick a career path at such a young age, and for many, that is a daunting task, but a BAI internship provides the necessary tools that can help you to figure it out.

Learn about the 2020 virtual BAI experience in last week’s blog post interview with Rachel McCain, a BAI intern at Park Avenue Armory this summer who Katie supervised