Creating your own future with Intern Mag's Alec Dudson
Praised by the likes of It’s Nice That, Vice, Dezeen and Creative Review, the magazine’s ethos was a breath of fresh air for the industry. From his base in Manchester, Alec travels around Europe to run workshops and deliver talks to emerging creatives, as well as writing for an array of publications and developing creative projects under the Intern brand.
We caught up with Alec following his workshop with Plymouth College of Art students from across a range of undergraduate programmes to discuss starting Intern, the changing creative landscape and the best piece of advice he’s been given...
Describe Intern Magazine in one sentence...
It is a platform for and by the creative youth that seeks to empower the next generation by content, support and training.
What was your aim when starting the project?
It’s definitely shifted over the years, but the aim when I started out was to provide a frank and balanced debate about internships, in an accessible format from the perspective of the young people involved in them.
My concern was that internships were becoming increasingly common but there was no real dialogue about them, this suited the industry because it meant no-one really knew what was happening, and they were a bit too scared to question it for fear of getting locked out. That just struck me as really problematic, and that’s why I started out trying to make a difference.
Do you feel like you’ve been successful in creating that dialogue?
I’d say yes. The intention with the print magazine was to prove that you could make a beautiful magazine, comprising almost entirely of original work by this group of people who other magazines were unprepared to pay and were only offering “exposure” in return for work.
I say exposure with inverted commas around it because I always felt that is an absolute fallacy. If your work is good and you have confidence putting it out there it will always get exposure, but exposure doesn’t put petrol in the tank, it doesn’t put food on the table. In a value exchange, it is completely meaningless.
So I think we’ve been successful because we’ve put out print issues with about 60 young people from around the world paid to be part of it, it stood up to the publications that inspired it stylistically and aesthetically, but certainly not in their approach to employment and working with people.
You mention your contributors, what kind of people do you look for?
In terms of their skill set, their influences and their style, I try and be really open because the one thing we don’t want to become is repetitive. The moment we do that we kind of undermine our entire point that there is boundless value and inspiration to found in this age group.
In terms of attitude, I guess switched-on. We talked about that in the workshop today, it’s about how you conduct yourself when you’re trying to make contact, or how you put together a submission. Obviously, if the work’s great that really helps!
A lot of the people that have contributed in the past have then got involved in other ways. So they will let us know if there are any opportunities with them or where they’re working. They will get involved in events and come down as mentors. Maybe they’ll write for us further down the line and share their experiences. Without that enthusiasm and that belief in our community we don’t exist.
You have artists, emerging artists and established industry professionals all contributing, what do you think the importance of having both voices?
I want to bridge the gap for people from education to being a professional - a dialogue has to exist between those two parties and we’re there to facilitate that. So it’s always going to be necessary for us to draw from both pools, to have this conversation.
As we progress I think there will be a natural pull and push from both of those groups. If you bring someone super professional and at the top of their game into a lecture theatre of 1000 people, 15-20% of students will be inspiring by them. There on down, often albeit unintentional, the effect it can have is it can make people who are already a little bit anxious about how they make the next step really fearful because that perceived gap about where they are and where the industry standard is widens - often to the point where it’s suffocating for them.
By the same token, these people are at the top of their game because they’ve worked out things that it takes some of us a lifetime to work out. I do think the industry could be a little bit more open and a little less fearful of the inevitability of the younger generation picking up the torch.
Can you give me a brief summary of what do you on days today with the students?
Today, the purpose of our ‘Out There’ session is to impress on students the importance of being confident, or appearing confident at the very least, in terms of getting your work out there. Getting students to understand that daunting as it may seem - inherent in what they do creatively within their practice is also this ability to talk about their practice.
That can be really tough for some people, sometimes your practice can be quite a refuge, a safe space you get comfortable in, that’s not always bad but when it comes to trying to tell people how great you are it can be really counter-intuitive.
We draw from practices, from established professionals all the way to students who’ve found an interesting way to solve a problem, we try and share that knowledge. Sometimes in a taught environment, students can feel a bit anxious about putting their hands up and asking what they think may be a silly question, so we create an atmosphere that’s a little bit more relaxed and informal.
What do you think the influence is on your work from delivering sessions like these?
It’s always a two-way process, it’s interesting to see how different people react to different elements of the workshops and pieces of advice. It’s also fundamental that I am consistently taking stock of what people say, what their questions are, what their fears are, what works for them and what doesn’t. The more open the session, the more valuable for me.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
We’ve got two eyes, two ears and one mouth, and they should be used in that proportion. So listen to people and look at what’s around you before you make your move.
It’s been a learning curve for me to really listen to the customer, the client and be empathetic to understanding what their needs are and why they place value in what you do, rather than the value you assume you bring. It boils down to communication at the end of the day, as much of that is listening and observing as preaching.
Actually, the magazine that got me into independent mags was called Boat. The husband and wife who ran it said the best piece of advice they were given but never took was “don’t get into print”. Clearly, I didn’t take that advice either.