Greta is one of the creative arts interns, who is running a creative arts campaign throughout the month of November, to encourage arts students to sign up to Studenteer, and to create volunteering projects with community arts charities.
November marks the 8th month of being in lockdown in the UK, and also marks my 8th month of being on furlough. I’ve spent more time furloughed than I have actually working at the post-production house, which employed me in November 2019, after graduating that summer. I almost got the chance to return to work one day a week, but thanks to the second lockdown, I was back on furlough before I got to step through the door! Some friends have told me they wish they were on furlough, others simply give me words of encouragement, for which I am always grateful. The issue with having friends who are at the same point in their careers as you, is that none are able to give me any practical advice about what to do next. Whilst I am not qualified to offer any professional advice to anyone on furlough, or to anyone who has recently graduated, I hope that by sharing my experience, I can encourage and inspire someone to take the initiative and get involved in something which can benefit their future.
Even one tiny step in the right direction, is a step towards re-shaping the future of the creative industries.
I have to give a disclaimer and say that being on furlough has been an unexpected gift for me, despite the awful circumstances (Covid-19) that led to it. I hadn’t stopped to really think about what I wanted to do with my life, maybe ever. I graduated from university in 2019, where I was studying Fine Art, and went straight into working at a kids’ summer camp. When I returned to my home city, London, I began working part time at a swim school, and within a few weeks secured a part time job in the post-production house. I spent a month juggling morning shifts at the post-production house (starting at 8am in central London) and evening shifts teaching swimming (finishing at 9pm, also in central London). Afternoons were for napping. My Saturdays were taken up with an 8-hour swim teaching shift, so I only had one day off a week on Sundays, was barely sleeping or seeing my friends, and decided something had to go. The swim teaching went (of course), and after the Christmas break, I began working full time as a runner at the post-production house, pretty much a dream for anyone who wants to go down that career path.
I say furlough was a gift because, if it wasn’t for lockdown, I would never have had the time to self-reflect, to discover more about who I truly am and what I really want to do. These past 8 months have given me the chance to build a solid foundation of self-awareness that I previously did not have. I would have kept running (no pun intended) on this hamster wheel until I seriously burned myself out, or ended up at 40 realising I wasn’t where I wanted to be at all. Perhaps this just sped up the inevitable: realising that everything I thought I wanted in life was actually what someone else had told me I wanted, or worse, what I convinced myself I wanted just to please someone else. I think a lot of us are funnelled straight from school to university, then to the bottom of the career ladder, and are told that if we keep our head down and stay in our lane, that someday, we might ‘make it’ (whatever that means!). I’ve spoken to enough professionals at work to realise that this isn’t always the case. For those of us who take the time to pause and reflect, I think there might be a constant re-aligning and re-shifting that we have to do, in order to find clarity in where we want to be, and what we need to do to get there. It takes a lot of courage to get out of your lane and decide to do things differently, and then to continue doing this as others protest that you stay in the lane they have assigned you. Most of the time, they think this is best for them, but in actuality, what is best for you, is always what is best for everyone else.
Furlough has also been a gift for me because it has allowed me to volunteer my time for Studenteer’s Creative Arts Internship. Although I am on furlough from my minimum wage job, where I only get 80% of my monthly salary which is NOT enough to live on, I also have some savings from when I lived at my parents’ and worked, which means I can get by each month on my £575 pm room in South East London, and if I live really cheaply, only need to dip in to about £200 of my savings each month. I wanted to be forthright about my financial situation, because everyone omits how they manage to keep paying the bills when they are in the creative industries, often working part time, doing odd jobs or internships. The reality is that most people who don’t mention finances, don’t talk about it because they are actually quite well-off. They don’t feel the need to talk about how their family supports them, either out of an ignorance born from privilege, or out of embarrassment. It is important to talk about these things because unless we all acknowledge our own privileges, careers in the creative industries will continue to be shrouded in mystery.
There is a spotlight, now, on the flaws in the system, and people are starting to finally understand how problematic the creative industries can be. In no other industry that I know of (granted I know little about other industries) do you need as much experience for an entry level job as in the creative industries. Grad schemes take people straight from university, but in the creative industries, prior experience is mandatory. The problem is, you can only get this experience with a CV that has some experience on it (see the flaw in the system), or by being willing to work for free. This leads the creative industries to often be inaccessible to people from working-class or less well-off backgrounds, discouraging them from pursuing a career in this industry, which prevents the world from having the diverse range of voices and ideas that it so desperately needs.
Although the system has inherent issues which need addressing, we have to work with what we’ve got, and I hope that by approaching charities, and creating remote projects that students can fit around their studies, I will be giving someone the experience that they need in order to secure their first job in the creative sector. Even one tiny step in the right direction, is a step towards re-shaping the future of the creative industries.
Being rejected from countless jobs, coupled with my extensive time on furlough, had really knocked my confidence, but doing this internship at Studenteer has rejuvenated my confidence in my professional skills, and has reminded me of the satisfaction that comes with contributing to something, and working with other people. I feel ready to return to the world of work with a renewed belief in myself, and a renewed clarity on what it is that I want to do. Also, I have been able to return to some of my creative projects, something which I did not have the headspace for during the past 8 months. I have come to realise that in the creative industry, it is, unfortunately, very unlikely that someone is going to give you the opportunity to do what you want to do when you are starting out, and therefore, it is so important to make those opportunities happen yourself. Whether that be writing a collection of poems and printing them cheaply at your library to sell at zine fairs or creating your own drawing workshop and getting in contact with organisations to help facilitate and advertise it. I truly believe that the highest quality, and most authentic work, comes from someone’s passion, even if the path to manifesting it into a living is not, at least at first, always clear.
By Greta Sharp for Studenteer.