Artists – what YOU can DO
The arts have featured in the news frequently over the last year with information on cuts and the job losses which inevitably go hand-in-hand with this. Although the arts may not seem a priority when compared to health or education for example, they are important none-the-less. Art is everywhere we look, it gives us pride in our surroundings and it makes up our culture. The arts ask questions, makes us seek out the truth, consider new ways of living, which is why it must be protected and nurtured, and not left by the wayside in this challenging economic time. In an article on page 9 of the M.E.N. on 27/10/2010 Fiona Gasper, executive director of the Royal Exchange said, ‘When the arts are put up against things like social care, education and health, it’s difficult to say they are a priority… but we would all notice if the world in which we lived did not have the arts.’
I think what bothers me most about the cuts are the effects it will have on the individual artist, in particular emerging artists at the start of their careers. When I say artists, I’m referring to all of the musicians, writers, actors, sculptors, painters, poets, designers, composers etc out there. The arts have always been notoriously difficult to break into and the reality for most of these people is that they will often have to subsidise their earnings from the arts through other work. Now though, the individual artist’s future seems bleaker than ever, with less and smaller grants available, and venues less likely to book new work, programming ‘safer’ more well-known artists and companies instead.
So what can the individual artist do to steer their way through this potentially difficult period of time? Well here are a few suggestions:
1. Join a network.
There are plenty of networks around, both nationally and locally. Being a member of a network can give you the support system you are likely to need in order to be successful in this industry. When times are hard a network and its members may be able to offer you business advice, training opportunities, emotional support and much more. There’s nothing quite like sitting down for a brew with a fellow artist and putting the world to rights working out how you’re going to proceed forwards. A problem shared is a problem halved after all. Now many networks are free to join, however some charge a small fee and others charge considerably more. Before you pay any money, make sure you research the network first and find out exactly what it is you are paying for… i.e. what will you be getting in return? Places like PANDA, the Performing Arts Network & Development Agency charge £50 per annum for example, but the first three months are free for you to trial the services they offer, such as full access to their website which is jam-packed full of information, a weekly e-newsletter full of the latest jobs, events and training opportunities and 1:1 advice with the PANDA team etc. If after the 3 months you no longer want to be a member of PANDA you can walk away having not paid anything. Before you pay any money to be a member of a network, make sure you do your research to see if you can get the same things for free elsewhere. If you can’t find a national or regional network applicable to your work, why not set one up!
2. Build up your contacts.
Yes it’s that old cliché of ‘who you know’, being just as important as ‘what you know’. Network network network! Yes it bears repeating – network! It’s a horrible word and it can be a horrid thing to do, but if you think of it as having a natter to people with the same interests as you, seeing how you can help them and vice-versa, then actually it’s not so bad! Keep an eye out for networking events and opportunities. If the thought of networking still fills you with panic, just remember these top tips: •
- Practice, practice, practice! Practice introducing yourself at home in front of the mirror. It gets easier the more you do it.
- Networking should be beneficial for both parties. LISTEN as well as TALK! Ask interesting questions.
- Relax – everyone is in the same situation as yourself and probably feeling just as nervous.
- Smile! It will make you feel more confident as well as put other people at ease.
- If you say you will email someone after an event, make sure you do!
- Last but not least remember that everywhere – be it on the train, Twitter, LinkedIn etc is a networking opportunity so work it! What’s a great idea is to include your Twitter, LinkedIn and blog links on your email signature too.
3. Get some work experience.
This could be paid or unpaid work experience or volunteering. Getting some work experience can help you get your foot in the door at a company and may lead to future employment. It will also give you the chance to work out exactly what type of work you like doing. Once you have got some relevant work experience you can update your CV with that experience and the skills you have developed.
4. Decide what area you want to work in.
Yes it is important to be flexible and to be open to the opportunities that come your way, but if you know what area you want to work in, then you can be smart about which opportunities you say yes to. When work is scarce, it can be all too easy to start applying for anything and everything. This is the worst thing you can do! It’s much better to send off three tailored job applications / funding bids than ten generic job applications / funding bids for example.
5. Learn the business lingo.
As an artist you may want to look at becoming self employed, working on a freelance basis, or even setting up your own company. If you’re not familiar with the business side of things, don’t worry – there’s a whole host of places you can get support from – the first and foremost being Careers & Employability at Salford University! Enterprise support is available to any Salford University student, graduate or member of staff from any degree discipline, regardless of the stage of your business – you could be at the early initial ideas stage, just about to start, in the first three months or want to grow an existing business. As well as offering one to one support, advice and guidance, the University also has the Enterprise Academy, offering a series of enterprise and employability skills development master classes, workshops and talks covering topics such as Self Employment, Business Plan Writing and Effective Networking.
6. Keep training.
If you are going to work in the industry it’s important to keep on top of your training. Your training doesn’t end when your art or writing classes finish, or when you graduate from university, or when you complete your music qualifications, or even graduate from drama school. You should continue to learn and train throughout your life, in order to become the best and stay relevant in what you do. Continue to research and seek out training opportunities which will improve the skills you want to develop. Many networks offer subsidised / discounted training, which can be a real help so take advantage of these whenever you can!
7. Get savvy with social media.
This means Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. These are all free mediums where you can promote yourself, your work and expand your audience following. Check out these blogs which give advice on how to do this:
8. Find a mentor.
Is there someone in the industry you really respect? Have they walked the career path you aspire to have? Why not ask them to be your mentor? Generally people love being asked for advice and actually being asked to be someone’s mentor is a real honour. They may only be able to meet with you just once, in which you can pick their brains as to how they got to where they are today, or they may be willing to meet with you regularly and give you advice on how you move your career forwards.
9. Be tenacious.
Do you remember the story of the hare and the tortoise and the motto that slow and steady wins the race? Apply it to your career – lay strong foundations, make the most of every opportunity, don’t trample over others to get what you want, but be nice to those around you. Grow your contacts, have integrity and build a positive reputation. Keep trying no matter what obstacles you face and slowly but surely you will make a positive name for yourself and build up a strong portfolio of work.
10. Say yes to opportunities.
Yes it may mean being flexible and being able to juggle a variety of opportunities, but these are good skills to have! Regularly check out creative websites and see what training, opportunities, placements and jobs they have on offer. Here’s just a few which may be of interest:
You can find loads more in our ‘sector basics’ in the Careers & Employability virtual occupational library.