That Which Does Not Kill Us...
The end of August 2011 signalled the beginning of my four months long internship at one of the largest indoor art and technology festivals in Europe: STRP Festival. My personal field of interest and the thematic occupation of STRP Festival appeared a perfect match on forehand. Quite soon after my internship started, however, I experienced at first hand good omens do not give any guarantees.
The end of August 2011 signalled the beginning of my four months long internship at one of the largest indoor art and technology festivals in Europe: STRP Festival. Located in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, STRP Festival is a multidisciplinary event merging interactive art, music, live cinema, performances, symposia, dance, gaming, robotics, and a large-scale educatory programme. I was exited I had been given the chance to do my research at an organisation that willingly tries to explore the boundaries of the intersecting fields of art and technology. The relationship between art and technology is a theme I find interesting not just from an academic point of view but also from a practitioner’s standpoint. The interaction between art and technology not only touches the majority of my personal interests, it also fits well with my background as a multimedia designer and strategist. My personal field of interest and the thematic occupation of STRP Festival appeared a perfect match on forehand. Quite soon after my internship started, however, I experienced at first hand good omens do not give any guarantees.
I would like to begin my internship report with a golden tip for any future intern: do not underestimate the formal aspects of an internship arrangement. Your first interview with the people at your potential internship company is key. Always come prepared; tell your internship supervisor precisely why you are here; make proper arrangements and put all oral agreements in black and white. When you are invited for your first interview, have a clear outline of the research you want to conduct prepared. Try to get your finger behind as many expectations your internship company has of you as you possibly can. When the company’s expectations are on the table, you can see whether they match yours or not. Do not believe you can easily adjust the focal point of you research when you have already started your internship. As time passes by (and it passes by fast) this will only get harder. The clearer the arrangements you make, the smoother your internship will run its course. Clear arrangements are the pathway to a successful internship.
If I had valued the aspects above I would probably said no to an internship at STRP Festival. I cannot point out the exact reasons why I did not make proper arrangements. Perhaps the assumption that my personal interests matched STRP Festival so well clouded my judgement or perhaps I wanted this internship so much I was afraid to get turned down. In hindsight, I realise I was making concessions at the expense of my research from the first moment I had my first interview. Unaware of the troubles ahead, I started working full-time as a communication assistant at the end of August. My job was to support my two direct colleagues in their marketing and communication tasks and focus on the implementation of social network sites Facebook and Twitter. After a few weeks, I realised I had not spent any time on my research what so ever. I was doing the groceries, I was watering the plants and I was setting the table for lunch, but I was not doing anything that resembled the occupation of an average master student. As time passed by, the dissatisfaction with my internship grew and grew.
At this time during my internship there were also positive things to report. From my first day on I felt well accepted by my colleagues and my internship supervisor did everything she could to make me feel comfortable in my work efforts. She is someone who has much experience with interns and that instantly paid off. She responded in a pragmatic and reassuring manner when I expressed my worries about the way things at the time were going. As a result, I was granted a day a week off to work on my research. This allowed me to work on my paper outline and to search for and to read up on a lot of literature. I began to make use of my travel time, as I started writing down research questions and other brainwaves in a little notebook. Granting me a day a week off really enabled me to put myself over the false start I had made and from that moment on I even began to see the benefits of my supposedly failed internship.
At the request of the festival, my research focuses on the relationship between the festival phenomenon and the usage of Facebook. This focal point, indeed, lies far from my initial desire to explore the interaction between the fields of art and technology. At the time, I could have refused this type of research, but I really had an urge to make something positive out of my time at STRP Festival and my newfound morale helped my to put my initial disappointment with my research assignment behind me. Quickly thereafter I came to see this type of research could in fact help STRP Festival understand the nature of social network sites and could help to increase the efficiency of their implementation of Facebook for marketing and communication efforts. I had an opportunity to contribute to STRP Festival in two substantial ways: on the one hand through my daily work efforts, helping my colleagues organise and promote one of the largest art and technology events in Europe. On the other hand through my research: contributing to the festival’s long-term strategy.
After I realised I could really be of added value to the festival organisation the dissatisfaction with my internship decreased. I made myself a personal schedule in which I prioritised my work. In the time ahead of the festival I would mainly concentrate on my daily work efforts. When the festival was over I would focus all of my attention on my research. This decision gave me peace and allowed me to concentrate on making STRP Festival a success. This decision also allowed me to focus on the visitor survey I had to coordinate. A visitor survey is of great value to the festival, as it gives an overview of how visitors appreciate the festival, what their visitation incentives are, and what their profile looks like. The survey was also of great value to my research, as it gave me the opportunity to gather data on how visitors use Facebook in relation to the festival.
Looking back at my time in Eindhoven I can say it has been a unique experience to be part of the organisation of such a large event. Although my daily work efforts ahead of the festival were not necessarily on an academic level, they certainly were of added value to my personal development. My time at STRP Festival has led me to believe internships should enrich you personally as much as they should be relevant on a professional level. Friedrich Nietzsche said: that which does not kill us makes us stronger. I believe this saying applies well to this particular internship. I have experienced the lows of being an intern but these lows helped me appreciate the highs more. The more diverse your tasks as an intern are and the richer the palette of your emotions is whilst you perform these tasks, the more you learn. The more you have learned, I believe, the better your internship has been. Looking back, I would not trade my time at STRP Festival in for anything else.
During ten days in November 2011, STRP Festival celebrated its fifth anniversary with a retrospective exposition, which marked fifty years of Dutch technology and media art. It may also have marked the end of STRP Festival itself. In the months passed since November, many permanent employees along with the founding father have left the organisation. This, together with ever-increasing budget cuts in festival funding, make the future of STRP Festival uncertain. The festival may return biennially or it may never return at all. I can only hope it will not be the latter.