I graduated in 2012 with a degree in Multi-Media Textiles from Loughborough University. Like most people who do an arts course, I chose it because I loved it. I loved creating art, I loved being around art and I loved what art could teach me. When the time came for me to start looking for jobs, I felt totally clueless though. I was writing application after application and receiving rejection after rejection. Thankfully, since that uncertain summer of 2012, a lot has changed. I have worked in arts organisations both large and small including an independent charity, a commercial attraction, and a large university museum.
Based upon my four years of working and volunteering in the arts and cultural heritage, these are the skills that I think you should develop if you want to get into this incredibly competitive sector:
I cannot stress how important it is to be able to fundraise when you work in the arts. For most organisations, it is a key income stream without which they would be unable to survive. As the current economic climate toughens and as government funding dwindles, it is becoming even more important. Usefully for new graduates – and as opposed to many other arts professions – it is an area that is growing very fast.
Getting people to come and see your exhibition, your play, your performance is pretty important, right? Your potential employers think so too. Understanding different audiences and how to communicate with them about what you are doing is vital. As with fundraising, it is income- and target-driven. As with fundraising, getting people to buy into the arts is becoming ever more important as those traditional funding streams disappear.
Leadership skills are highly sought after in all sectors, so it is good to develop this regardless of what you want to be doing. Good leadership is vital to drive organisations forward and make them successful. This doesn’t only apply to the person at the top, but to people at all levels. Because it is not always about leading people; it can also be about leading change. Being able to initiate action and to coordinate and motivate people are the attributes that are driving arts organisations through the present choppy waters.
Showing people what is amazing about the arts and being able to make them care is something that I have needed to do in every organisation that I work in. From interpreting historic artefacts, explaining how something is made or just knowing the fun ‘behind the scenes’ stories that aren’t on public display – they are all what gets and keeps people interested in what we are doing.
Don’t wait for these opportunities to find you. Look out for volunteering and internship opportunities that offer this sort of skills development. Contact your local voluntary services. What are your local arts/cultural organisations offering? Start putting on your own exhibitions, performances and plays. Make contacts and grow your network.
My first role in the arts was organising exhibitions with my university friends. I recruited artists‚ updated the blog‚ wrote the newsletter and publicised the events. It taught me a lot about how to work with a lot of different stakeholders (artists‚ gallery owners and my colleagues) as well as ways to attract new audiences and steward our current audience. Most of all it taught me how to take the lead on my own projects. Four years later‚ I am still building on the skills I learned in this role.
So have a think – what are your peers doing that you can get involved with?
The key piece of advice that I can give to any new graduates looking to gain a foothold in this incredibly diverse and competitive sector is this: stay open-minded‚ be flexible and listen to people. When looking for opportunities‚ go for variety. Never ever stop trying to learn.
Kathryn graduated from Loughborough University with a BA in Multi-Media Textiles in 2012. Since then she has worked for a number of museums and creative organisations in management‚ fundraising and communications capacities.