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What I’ve Learned Supporting Arts and Culture Clients

The major fumble that career professionals make with arts-interested jobseekers is treating them as one or the other: arts-interested or a jobseeker, when in reality, creative clients require a different strategy

By Lauren Power

My job title is Arts and Culture Career Consultant. As far as I can tell, I’m a bit of a unicorn; outside of arts colleges, there are no other career professionals whose primary focus is helping creative individuals who have experienced difficulty developing a career path that is both meaningful and realistic.

Career professionals can feel stumped with how to proceed with their creative clients. It’s understandable, as arts clients are a peculiar bunch. Their career paths are, by nature, unorthodox.
The major fumble that career professionals make when approaching arts-interested jobseekers is treating them as one or the other: arts-interested or a jobseeker.

When faced with an arts-interested client, there’s desire to say “yes” to whatever plans he or she may create, for fear of crushing a dream – we call this “feeding the fantasy.” At the other end of the spectrum, well-meaning career professionals might portray a career attached to arts and culture simply as “unrealistic” and encourage them to move on.

We need a holistic approach to working with arts-interested clients.

In my experience, there are four lessons that can help.

Lesson 1: They are complex

Careers in arts and culture may be considered as whimsical, fanciful and less practical than other careers.

Arts-involved clients can be more complex than typical clients. The types of jobs that many arts-interested jobseekers target are different as they are in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector. By nature of their funding structure, many NFPs can only sustain temporary employment, not long-term jobs. Thus, there is a cycle of unemployment and disengagement from the workplace. For example, in Prince Edward Island in 2015, existing work experience programs had to change direction, away from funding short-term employment by NFPs, as NFPs were unable to sustain employment beyond the length of their wage subsidies.

Furthermore, creative individuals often spend time working for themselves. With no attachment to a traditional workplace, there’s a lack of support that most 9-to-5ers take for granted. These individuals miss out on things like paid vacation and the benefits of daily socialization. Without steady employment, wage instability is a major challenge for creative workers. As such, these clients might need supports in areas from work-related stress to traumatic work-related incidents and each client will need a more robust approach to employability skills.

Lesson 2: They need “the blend”

We don’t force our participants to choose between work and art, because, in the modern labour market, most arts-attached professionals manage both.

Ask any arts-involved professional and they’ll tell you the same: you’ve got to embrace “the blend.”

When we talk with clients about “the blend,” we’re talking about the approach to employment that involves pursuing multiple careers or vocations simultaneously, though we may call it a “hybrid career” or a “slash” (as in, playwright/barista or model/actress).

Among arts professionals, a blended career means that a work week may be divided into two or more distinctive career paths that provide them the ability to pursue their passions in an unorthodox way.

For many, the ups-and-downs of contract work and the freelance game are mellowed by the consistency of a day job. My mental Rolodex contains visual artists, musicians, ballet dancers, filmmakers and performers, all of whom engage in complementary employment to keep the bills paid.

From the perspective of the art-interested client, the blended approach is an opportunity to improve work-life balance over what is possible in most career paths for artists.

This type of learned resiliency is a model for the modern workplace: flexible, knowledgeable, skilled and open to opportunity.

How do we make it happen?

Lesson 3: They need different skills

I encourage clients to take responsibility for their skill development: creative and non-creative. Keeping your skills sharp is an important piece of creativity. Learning new things in your area of expertise as well as outside of your strengths can spark new associations that lead to fresh ideas. It’s as true for artists as it is for jobseekers.

In our experience, entrepreneurial skills are under-appreciated and not codified or captured when young people are documenting their skills sets, leading many to undersell themselves. There are thinking skills that arts and cultural expertise build, but rarely do we assist individuals with understanding the different modes of thinking and how they can apply them to the challenge of labour market participation.

Some skills are particular to arts professionals, like pricing, marketing and art evaluation. To help your client through these inquiries, you’ll need to call in the experts.

Lesson 4: They need perspective

One benefit of working with arts-interested clients is their creative minds. The concept of examining the world through a different lens is second nature to a creative individual. They are natural explorers and investigators.

However, in conversation with clients, there’s often a mental block regarding their skills. When you first introduce the idea of “the blend,” they can’t fathom it. To accept a day job is akin to abandoning a life’s ambition. Add in years of well-meaning parental advice, discouraging the “arts as a career” route, and it manifests as a disconnect with the job market, as they feel that they are “outside” of the in-demand job market, despite their skills.

To help them envision a career path that includes long-lasting, sustainable work (and to break the habit of pre-judging non-arts work as personally unsuitable), these clients need to spend time with arts-involved and non-arts-involved professionals. They observe, interact with and learn from working professionals that exemplify the broad range of skills and knowledge necessary to participate in the current and future labour market.

I introduce this idea as “cross-training”: building knowledge and experience in two or more fields to improve their overall performance.

These activities have the bonus of training arts-interested clients in networking. Learning how to open the lines of communication and make yourself visible are invaluable skills.

At its core, the way we help arts-interested clients with career maintenance is the same way we help every client: encourage them to reach out. Creative individuals live and work in creative communities. To see someone live, work and succeed in their chosen field can be a revelation for a jobseeker, and it can sustain them long after they have left your office.

AUTHOR BIO

Lauren Power is the Arts & Culture Career Consultant (MEd, 2007) at the Murphy Centre (murphycentre.ca), serving people at all ages and stages of career development. He works, writes and teaches in St. John’s, NL. You can reach him at laurenpower@murphycentre.ca.

References

Beck-Tauscher, S. (2010, January 22). Hybrid careers: Gaining momentum in the workplace [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://springboard.resourcefulhr.com/hybrid-careers-gaining-momentum-in-the-workplace/

Dex, S., Willis, J., Paterson, R. and Sheppard, E. (2000), “Freelance workers and contract uncertainty: the effects of contractual changes in the television industry,” Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 14, pp. 283-305.

Hamill, K. (2014, September 17). “Monochromatic” job titles are becoming obsolete, or: Embracing being a hybrid [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2014/09/17/monochromatic-job-titles-are-becoming-obsolete-or-embracing-being-hybrid/

Work Experience PEI job program cut by 70% (2015, July 8). CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/work-experience-pei-job-program-cut-by-70-1.3142602

Profile photo of Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon is the Bilingual Content & Communications Co-ordinator for CERIC. With a passion for quality content, she connects with her online communities and provides strong resources to engage members – and always encourages new ones to get involved. She identifies, creates and curates the content destined for the ContactPoint website, the weekly CareerWise newsletter and Careering magazine.

3 Comments

  1. JP
    October 17, 2016, 4:13 pm   / 

    Fantastic article Lauren. Do you have any perspective to share on how to work with parents of students who want to work in the arts?

    • Lauren Power
      October 20, 2016, 1:44 pm   / 

      Thanks, JP! And great question!

      Parents are often part of the picture, with artists of all ages.

      First off, advise parents to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of doling out “realistic advice”. Recognize where it’s coming from (a place of loving concern), and recognize how it’s coming across (nagging). Some parents just HAVE to say SOMETHING. Help them see that those conversations have a time and a place, and they’re prone to derail any reasonable discussion before it starts.

      Help them fight the desire to steer the student towards a “real” job. Even as an employment counsellor, I wouldn’t be able to point to a field where people are guaranteed a job. Besides, parents are always behind on the trends. They were pushing kids into IT long after the bubble burst.

      I encourage parents to recognize their own limitations. It’s hard to give directions when you don’t know the lay of the land. So, take an interest. Familiarize yourself with the realities of work in this sector. Or, better yet, direct them to someone who knows. Help them connect with people in the arts & culture sector.

      From there, a parent can set clear expectations. It’s not unreasonable to ask a child to be active in their own career development. So, if a kid doesn’t want to pursue a traditional, non-arts job, then it’s reasonable to direct them to pursue their arts career with gusto. They should be building a portfolio, meeting other artists, and trying to make it work.

      All the notes above apply. Encourage “the blend”. The ballet dancer I mentioned above has parents that encouraged her to have a Business degree “to fall back on”. If they really love what they do, they’ll usually find a way to make it work.

      -LP

  2. Profile photo of Victoria
    November 23, 2016, 11:34 am   / 

    My comment is not about a career in fine arts as much as information about the value of a BFA. During a tour of the ACAD Alberta College of Art and Design one piece of information stayed with me. According to the dean people with a BFA do extremely well in the mainstream business world. They are creative problem solvers, see opportunities that others may overlook, think on their feet and they are innovators . They also possess math and science skills and the ability to apply that knowledge. In short they are often a walking exemplar of the list of Essential Skills. The trick of course is that the work seeker must know how to market their skills and match them to an employers needs. Of course that applies to any degree or diploma. Even with so much information available it seems that too many students believe that if they wave their diploma around (figuratively speaking) then an employer will hire them. At the risk of making a sweeping generalization all a degree really proves is that the graduate is a good test taker and not that they can actually apply what they have learned or understand that they have developed workplace skills.

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