So you want to be an artist…..?

The Moor, SheffieldAs part of Departure Point Yorkshire, a creative venture to support emerging theatre companies the Moor Theatre Delicatessen is currently offering a series of free public workshops for early career artists (and those wanting to work in the arts industry). As the new Employability Adviser for Humanities (including Stage & Screen), the opening session was unmissable.

Led by Jess Brewster, Co- Artistic Director of Theatre Delicatessen, this engaging discussion was about what it means to be an artist and how you might become one. The panel of four speakers includedSheffield Hallam University graduate Sarah-Jane Parker, a visual artist and founder of Muriel Design; Terry O’Connor, a creative member of Forced Entertainment and Professor of Contemporary Theatre and Performance Practice at the University of Sheffield; Nina Segal, a playwright/producer and Malaika (‘Max’) Cunningham, Artistic Director of local theatre company, The Bare Project.

Like the panel members, this event did not lend itself to being pigeonholed! Not only did it tackle issues that artists grapple with, but it also offered insight that could also be applicable outside of the arts industry, particularly if you are interested in freelance work and/or a ‘portfolio career’. A number of themes and useful tips came out:

Don’t be afraid of a fluid career and practise articulating the value of what you do

The pressure to focus on a particular role to be remembered and taken seriously was acknowledged, but the most important thing is to have an inner conviction that you are an artist. One tip was to focus on a form of work rather than an individual role; something which Nina, as both a writer and producer, has embraced.

As many people are unfamiliar with non-play based theatre, Terry finds explaining what Forced Entertainment does a challenge, but suggested that perseverance can pay off!

Departure Points

Avoid direct comparison with others

It was recognised that it can be a struggle not to compare yourself to others, particularly those who secure certain high status venues and reviews etc. ‘Look for value in your own work rather than competing with others’ and ‘resist following trends for the sake of it; stick to what you want to do,’ advised Max.

Persevere to strike the balance between financial survival and your artistic development

Working outside of the industry is common, particularly in early careers, but aim to choose roles that leave you the energy to continue developing your art. Sarah spoke of her long term determination to become financially independent rather than relying on external funding. She has gradually built up a wallpaper design business (supported by our very own enterprise team). ‘This allows more time for my individual art work than previous jobs have done,’ Sarah added. As it is a creative business, it feels part of her artistic life consisting of ‘interconnected strands’, which can be individual or collaborative; commercially focused or not.Departure Points 2

Be aware of the realities of the market but maintain a positive perspective

To some extent, both the panel and audience acknowledged that trends and marketing can sometimes lead to being pigeonholed by funders and venues. However, there is a flipside to this coin, as branding can also be useful to sustain a career. There is no easy answer, but the consensus was to compartmentalize different aspects of the industry; ‘get perspective – distance yourself from the parts of the industry you don’t like and focus on those that you love!’ advised Max.

There are three more public Departure Point workshops; see full details here – https://goo.gl/AXfWpN 

Post written by Laura Kerley, Employability Adviser for Humanities (including Stage & Screen) at Sheffield Hallam University.