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Creative Arts | Creative Arts – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

The creative sector encompasses an enormous range of talent. It contributes more than £70 billion per year to the UK economy. This briefing aims to support those seeking a career as an artist, maker, or performer.

This page provides some useful tips for those looking broadly for creative careers, as well as specific advice for the commonly requested careers below:

  • Acting
  • Visual Art & Design
  • Creative Writing

You might also like to see information on working in TV & Film, Music & RadioArts & Heritage or Advertising – or any of the many other sectors which employs creatives!

Further advice for each of these areas is included under ‘Entry Points’, while Prospects has a more detailed resource on creative career routes, and there are more resources for looking at the wider industry listed under ‘External Resources’ below.

Entry points

Acting – entry points

Most professional actors will have some form of professional training.

Drama schools

Drama UK

Drama UK is the UK accreditation body for courses in acting and related fields. A directory of accredited courses is available, including a list of accredited postgraduate programmes in acting. There are many benefits to further study on one of these courses, including the opportunity to perform, network and – on graduation – access automatic membership of Equity and Spotlight (the UK’s leading casting directory).

Advice on funding is available from the Drama UK website. It’s worth noting their advice to research options – including applying to trusts and foundations for funding, saving money from other work, and exploring scholarships or bursaries offered by the institutions. Some of the accredited courses are eligible for the DaDA awards which can provide funding for those aged 18-23. Those aged over 24 are often advised to explore other sources of funding, including the Advanced Learning Loan scheme. If you are an international student, be aware that many sources of funding include strict criteria around nationality or residency status.

Representation

Eventually you may need an agent to represent you. To find an agent, it’s advisable to use make a list of agencies operating in your region and research them to see if they are well equipped to support the kind of work you want to do. Use recommendations from other performers too, and then make a targeted approach to a well-chosen shortlist. Remember to include:

  • Professional acting headshots (black and white and colour, theatrical and commercial)
  • Your CV, tailored specifically to acting which includes an image of you, a list of acting credits, as well as information on your skills, accents, role playing ages, height and so on, plus your training or acting classes.
  • Details of your Equity membership and Spotlight membership
  • Showreel

Visual Art & Design

As well as developing your work and techniques, it’s advisable to begin building your understanding of the industry. Work experience, work shadowing or voluntary work – at galleries, private collections, design collectives, design agencies or similar -can help furnish you with greater awareness and contacts. Proactively creating opportunities to show your work is advisable, and developing ways to raise awareness of your work online is important.

To gain work and commissions, you might want to see our resources for ‘Creative CVs’ .  To see more of what employers are looking for, check out ‘The Ideal Candidate’ – a collection of 28 interviews with organisations that hire designers. There is also an infographic on entry points and career trajectories for designers.

Further study

Formal training and qualifications are common amongst those who work professionally in the field, although individuals with lots of talent but no qualifications can also emerge. In fine art, there is an approximate correlation between higher prices and the artist’s qualifications. Investigate further study options using Prospects Postgraduate Study webpages.

Creative writing

The best way to get into creative writing is… get writing! Self-discipline is a key skill, and learning how to motivate yourself and produce work is vital.  Ways to get published include being accepted for representation by a literary agent (the most common route), self-publishing online, or through contact directly with commissioning editors. Very few publishers accept unsolicited scripts.

Further study

The relatively recent rise of MA Creative Writing courses has delivered a number of publishing success stories. Often these writers’ ‘discovery’ arises from the end of year showcase (a website, printed document or physical event) which draws the attention of the publishing industry. Although the MA is certainly not a requirement for a career in writing, many successful graduates cite the showcase and the peer review throughout the course as the two key benefits; check for these carefully in assessing courses.  If you’re not sure about the full MA, short courses are available from organisations such as the Arvon Foundation, which also has bursaries available.

Entry points for other creative areas

Craft

For many areas of the craft world it can prove challenging to make a substantial income, as the labour cost in learning and making each piece can outstrip the sale price of some media. However, 5.6 million pieces of craft were sold in England in the past year, representing a larger market than that for visual art. Those that do make a successful career in craft often also run workshops, negotiate arrangements for regular commissioned pieces or develop good networks with stockists and customers for their products.  Craft ‘apprenticeships’ (formally or informally) are often used to pass on skills for a growing craft business.

Generally craft skills are learnt through specific short courses, or through tuition or shadowing from a professional who currently practises those skills. Further information on courses, apprenticeships, jobs and studio space is available from the Crafts Council.

Dance

30,000 people are employed in the dance sector in the UK, although only 2,500 are performers. Most of these enter the sector following professional training, and performance roles require peak fitness. A dance career, like a sports career, is therefore time-constrained, and organisations like the DCD support dancers to transition to the many non-performance roles in the dance sector. These range from tuition and teaching to company management, arts management more generally, dance therapy and community work. These roles can also be accessed without a background in performance, although some (such as dance therapy) do require specialist training.

Council for Dance Education and Training provides accreditation for dance training, and lots of information on course providers. Funding can come through the government Dance and Drama awards for some courses, as well as institution bursaries.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

All jobs are different, but common characteristics in this field are:

  • Attention to detail in your work (e.g. seen in your showreel/portfolio/website)
  • Adaptability, to navigate unstructured career paths
  • Entrepreneurial skills to support self-employment, freelancing, casual and contract work
  • Confidence to pursue self-promotion, pro-actively telling people about what you do
  • Lots of initiative, drive and flexibility (sometimes low job security, but high autonomy)
  • Time management skills to pursue your creative output around other sources of income (this is known as a portfolio career).

Portfolio careers

Many in the sector take some form of other work which allows them to pursue their creative ambitions as well as providing some financial stability.

Consider what kind of supporting role(s) might:

  • Allow you time to pursue your artistic ambitions
  • Provide skills or networks that might help you in your work
  • Be satisfying work, relating to your interests/skills/values
  • Support your backup career plan.

Getting experience

Finding advertised work experience

There are advertised opportunities online (see the ‘External resources’ section of this guide), but to find great experiences you’ll often have to be more proactive and contact individuals and organisations to enquire further. You’ll notice that many opportunities aren’t internships but competitions, events, awards and other ways to gather experience (e.g. the ‘creative briefs’ you might see on Hiive). Sign up for alerts and emails from sites like this (and also CareerConnect) to keep up with new opportunities as they emerge.

There are many unpaid experiences out there. Read advice from Creative Toolkit published by BECTU, the media and entertainment trade union. Even if you decide to take unpaid work, you should know the guidelines that are published to support National Minimum Wage legislation. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

10 tips to proactively build experience

  1. Get involved in groups, societies, shows and showcases in Oxford or your home region
  2. No society or group? Start one; outside ideas and feedback help you develop
  3. Research college alumni and industry figures who you could contact for advice or talks
  4. Speculatively contact organisations (see ‘Useful websites’) for experience opportunities
  5. Keep in contact with useful people that you meet (e.g. on LinkedIn)
  6. Tell people about what you do. “I am a _____” is a powerful phrase
  7. Volunteer to support other artists’ projects for insight and perhaps a favour in return
  8. Create some projects just for you which will help you develop your work
  9. Try to get press coverage/recording for your events, ask for permission to use it yourself
  10. Create an online presence for your work: use websites/blogs/social media/crowdsourcers: make sure it’s easy for anyone to know what you do, see examples and contact you

Useful work experience for…

…Acting

  • Get involved in student productions – start by exploring the Oxford University Drama Society website.  The Drama Officer for the University also advertises career-related events, so make sure you sign up for their email newsletter
  • Investigate open auditions, sign up with casting agencies for extra work in the vacations
  • Without further study or paid work behind you, you may initially be limited to voluntary opportunities. These can still be a good way to get some skills, but be selective to make useful contacts in areas that are particularly relevant for you.

…Creative writing

Building your reputation and legitimacy in order to convince a literary agent to consider your work is highly advised. Ideas for this include:

  • Start a blog for your writing, sharing ideas and snippets to keep you practicing
  • Joining student groups such as the Failed Novelists’ Society or Oxford Poetry Society
  • Submitting pieces for publication in magazines, journals, including student press, such as ISIS, CoffeeHouse
  • Submitting pieces of original writing for student theatre or film productions
  • If you’re interested in screenwriting you might also want to explore FilmOxford’s screenwriting training and group
  • Start college literary/writing groups or journals
  • Keeping an eye out for volunteering at the Story Museum, or with creative writing charities
  • Researching the publishing industries – work experience in a publisher or literary agent may be a useful insight
Getting a job

Word of mouth

The Creative Skillset research survey found that 23% of those in the creative media sector found their first job through word of mouth, and so confidence connecting with people in the industry is vital. See our guide to networking, and develop your self-marketing online.

Website searching

Make sure to set up alerts and saved searches on a number of relevant opportunity websites (see our ‘External Resources’) section.

You’ll see that a few websites, particularly ‘casting call’ sites and similar, charge applicants to apply to vacancies that are listed there.  This is a reality of the industry, unfortunately, but you don’t need to sign up to all of them!  Start with the free ones, and try ‘free trials’ on some others to decide if it’s worth it for you.

Bear in mind that vacancies are likely to attract high numbers of applicants, and your application materials will need to be competitive.

Creative CVs

CVs for the creative sector often look very different to a traditional CV, with a focus on providing opportunities to showcase your talent. See our resources for ‘Creative CVs’.

Freelancing and entrepreneurship

Often creative professionals will find that they’re self-employed, invoicing other people for their work as they win opportunities/business. You may want to read our guide to Freelancing and Entrepreneurship to learn more.

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

In the creative sector only 36% are women, only 5.4% of the workforce is from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic Background (BAME) and between 1-5% of the workforce has a disability (Creative Skillset Employment Census 2012).

Shape Arts campaigns for access to the arts for those with a disability and holds details of opportunities year round.

SEO London and Creative Access support those from under-represented ethnic backgrounds to secure internships and graduate jobs in TV, Film, Music, Radio, PR, Publishing, Theatre and Journalism.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our Resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

General creative careers resources

  • Creative Careers (2nd ed), Elaina Loveland, 2009
  • Contacts 2014 The Essential Book of Contacts for the Entertainment Industry, Kate Poynton (ed), 2014
  • Creative CV Guide, Jan Cole, 2010

Acting

  • So You Want To Go to Drama School?, Helen Freeman, 2011
  • So You Want To Be A Theatre Producer?, James Seabright, 2011
  • Acting Professionally (7th ed), Robert Cohen, James Calleri, 2009
  • Acting Techniques, Michael Powell, 2010

Creative Writing

  • Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, William Boyd, 2011
  • The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published (6th ed), Chriss McCallum, 2008
  • The Novel Writer’s Toolkit, Caroline Taggart (ed), 2011

Visual Art & Design

  • How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, Adrian Shaughnessy, 2012
  • Becoming a Successful Illustrator, Derek Brazell, 2015
  • The Language of Graphic Design, Richard Poulin, 2011
  • Work for Money, Design for Love, David Airey, 2013

Fashion

  • Fashion and Textiles, The Essential Careers Guide, Carol Brown, 2010
  • Fashion Designer’s Resource Book, Samantha Angel, 2013
External resources

Useful websites for everyone

Useful websites for…

Acting

Art (Visual)

Craft

Creative writing

Dance

Design

Creative bodies & information sites

Funding

Whether you need support to undertake further training, for lessons/instruments/equipment or to enable your career development, there are a few specialist charities and trusts which support artistic endeavours with funding ranging from a few hundred pounds, up to a few thousand.  There may also be support from your college while you’re here at Oxford, either from your JCR/MCR or via competitions or grants. It’s also a good idea to research scholarships and grantsfrom the course provider or from your relevant union or professional association.  You might also be interested in our guide to Postgraduate Funding, or this list of Trusts and Foundations offering financial support for the arts:

Social media

  • LinkedIn groups, all free for anyone to join, include the CreativePool Network, Cultural and Performing Arts group, Creative Jobs group and many more…
This information was last updated on 18 May 2016.
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Posted on behalf of The Internship Office. Blogged by Andrew Laithwaite on May 16, 2016.

A range of micro-internship opportunities are still available for Week 9 of Trinity term.

Applications to these vacancies will be considered by the internship hosts on a first-come, first-served basis, so apply as soon as possible in order have the chance to secure your favoured placement!

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All remaining vacancies can be seen and applied to via CareerConnect.

Please email micro-internships@careers.ox.ac.uk if you have any questions.

Use our 3D printer!

Blogged by John Gilbert on May 10, 2016.

Interested in a career in design? BNP Paribas have kindly given The Careers Service a 3D printer, as a prize for coming first in a national social media competition. It’s free for Oxford students to use – so if you want to try it out, see our 3D printing page for full information!

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