Creative Arts


Main information

The creative sector encompasses an enormous range of talent. It contributes more than £50 billion to the economy. This briefing aims to support those seeking a career as an artist, maker, or performer.


This briefing aims to provide some useful tips for all artistic and performance-based careers, as well as specific advice for the commonly requested careers below:

  • Acting
  • Art (Visual)
  • Craft
  • Creative Writing
  • Dance
  • Design
  • Film directing
  • Music
  • TV Presenting

See ‘What are the entry points?’ for specific advice for each of these areas.

Prospects has a more detailed list showing the huge range of artistic careers (from animator to medical illustrator, to textile designer and many more); even this list just scratches the surface of the creative sector.


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

  • The importance of providing evidence of talent (e.g. a showreel/portfolio/published work)
  • Unstructured career paths
  • Self-employment, freelancing, casual and contract work
  • The importance of self-promotion
  • Relatively low levels of job security
  • Working around other more stable sources of income (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


Rarely will formal ‘work experience’ or ‘internships’ be advertised for artistic or talent-based roles. You need to investigate, observe what’s already happening and be pro-active to gather experience.

The few advertised opportunities are scattered across websites, and many aren’t ‘internships’ but competitions, events, awards and other ways to gather experience (e.g. the ‘creative briefs’ on IdeasTap). Use this briefing to bookmark lots of websites and sign up for emails or follow them on social media to keep up with new opportunities as they emerge.

There are lots of 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.


  • Test-drive your talent, getting involved in productions, societies, shows and showcases
  • Start to create an online presence for your work: start a blog to showcase your writing, start a YouTube channel to show your film clips, Flickr for photography…
  • Join or start local groups to find similar people to share tips and advice with. Listen to their thoughts on your work
  • Connect with people outside of Oxford; try to get press coverage for events you’re involved in, research college alumni, invite relevant speakers to your society
  • While at Oxford, you have easy access to talent, funding (JCR/MCR at least) and venues – start something up!
  • Keep a record of useful people that you meet (e.g. on LinkedIn), and share your ambitions with them – you never know what they might be able to help with
  • Create some projects just for you – set yourself a challenge which will help you keep going with your creative development


  • Research the skills you might need – read current vacancies to see what those hiring tend to specify
  • Check out requirements of professional membership bodies to learn what’s required
  • Read about your craft, research courses and/or tuition, and practise to learn what might help you improve


  • Tell people about what you do. “I am a _____” is a powerful phrase
  • Keep a record of what you’ve done, and ask for permission from the creators of any film/photo/text-based materials that you might want to use in the future
  • When you’re ready, get pro-active! Audition, blog, tweet, post, enter competitions, establish artistic collectives, join projects, assemble collaborators, volunteer – whatever’s suitable for your area!
  • Make sure that any material you use to promote yourself makes it easy for anyone to:
    • a) Find out what you do and where you work
    • b) See more examples of your work
    • c) Contact you



Professional actors need to be talented, resilient, skilled and self-disciplined. Being taken on by an agent (Equity can advise) who will represent you can be an important step, but before this stage there are often many months of training, practising and proving yourself, getting headshots, showreels, contact sheets, auditions and extra work.  Most professional actors will have some form of professional training. Actors, on average, spend about 80% of their working life not in paid acting work so it’s important to be realistic and develop other plans for work too.

Further Study For Drama

  • Drama UK – the Conference of Drama Schools (CDS) has recently merged with the National Council for Drama Training (NCDT). It accredits courses, which range between 1 and 3 years. A new Guide to Professional Training (including funding information) is available on this site.
  • If you’re not sure about committing to training, keep an eye out for short courses, such as Theatre Royal Haymarket’s free one day courses for those aged 17-30

Useful Websites For Acting

  • Prospects – careers advice and information
  • Get Into Theatre - jobs based in theatres aimed at those starting out
  • Equity - free downloadable factsheets
  • The Stage – jobs, auditions, advice and news
  • Mandy – see ‘Castings’ and ‘Noticeboard’
  • Spotlight – useful ‘how do I become a…’ advice
  • Casting Call Pro – free to create a profile as an actor
  • Shooting People – subscription-only (£25/yr student membership), industry database


This covers those who are looking to work in two dimensions (such as canvas forms, photography), three dimensions (sculpture, glass, installation) and four dimensions (moving images, performance).

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, shows at studios 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.

Further Study For Art

Formal training and qualifications are common amongst those who work professionally in the field, although individuals with talent but no qualifications can also emerge. There is an approximate correlation between higher prices for pieces and the artist’s qualifications.

Useful Websites For Art


From making classical instruments to contemporary jewellery, from stonemasonry to restoring tapestries, the world of craft careers is broad, but typified by individual skill, and hand-making techniques. For heritage-related craft skills there is currently a resurgence of career opportunities thanks to a programme from the Heritage Lottery Fund titled ‘Skills for the Future’, which centres upon making sure that traditional craft skillsets do not die out, by creating paid training opportunities for new members of the profession.

For other areas of the craft world, it can prove challenging to make 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 are sold every 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.

Further Study For Craft

Generally craft skills are learnt through specific short courses, or through tuition or shadowing from a professional who currently practises those skills.

Useful Websites For Craft


The best advice for aspirant creative writers is…  get writing! Self-discipline is a key skill, and learning how to motivate yourself and produce work is vital.  Building your reputation and legitimacy in order to convince a literary agent to consider your work is highly advised. This could be through amateur writing awards, publication in magazines, journals (including student press) or reputable websites. Recommendations from contacts in the publishing world and through networking are really valuable – you might want to consider forms of work experience which could build your network in this way.

Further Study For Creative Writing

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).

Useful Websites For Creative Writing


30,000 people are employed in the dance sector although only 2,500 are performers. Most of these will have some form of professional training (see below) and performance roles require peak fitness. There are however, many other roles ranging from tuition and teaching to company management, dance therapy and community work.

Further Study For Dance

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 and institution bursaries.

Useful Websites For Dance


Encompassing many different specialisms (graphic design, digital/multimedia, furniture, fashion, textile, interior, industrial, product and exhibition design), design careers can involve freelance work, starting your own business or advertised jobs for organisations both big and small. There are many more advertised roles for design jobs than for other creative careers, particularly for the digital space.

Starting to build your portfolio is key, as is creating material that showcases your skill to a potential client or employer. See the resources on our website and Pinterest for ideas that turn the simple CV in Word on its head.

To see what employers are looking for, check out ‘The Ideal Candidate’ – a collection of 28 interviews with organisations that hire designers.

Further Study In Design

Although jobs are sometimes won by the strength of a candidate’s portfolio of previous work, it is more common to have design qualifications and they can often help career progression significantly. Look at exactly what the course contains, the balance of computer and non-computer design (and what will suit your interests) and where graduates go on to work. If you’re not sure about a fully fledged degree course, many art schools offer short ‘taster’ courses (e.g. UAL).

Useful Websites For Design


There’s lots of opportunity to explore the world of filmmaking at Oxford – whether it’s creating a short trailer for an OFS production, or entering a creative masterpiece in Cuppers. We’re often asked about the transition into working professionally in film, and the short answer is that industry experience is everything.  Although there are some structured programmes into production roles in TV (such as the BBC’s Production Trainee Scheme or Channel 4’s Production Trainee Programme)  to work in the film world often relies upon those who’ve ‘worked their way up’ from support roles, while working on their own projects or learning new skills through specialist training courses.

Useful Websites For Filmmaking


Those interested in becoming a professional musician should first read the careers information available on the website of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which showcases a wide range of roles within music, with realistic advice for each.  Those considering performance roles should realistically assess their ambitions with a music tutor or professional before beginning to attend auditions.  Roles are advertised most commonly on each organisation’s website (e.g. at the Liverpool Philharmonic) as well as some of the websites listed below.

Further Study In Music

The majority of musicians will have trained and honed their skills for many years and many will have degrees and postgraduate study in the field. This is not a pre-requisite, and many professional musicians succeed without higher education qualifications. However, building skill, exposure and reputation is key – and further study can be a good way of achieving this. For some routes (such as composition) postgraduate study is particularly common. Conservatoires in the UK operate a similar applications process to UCAS for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses: see CUKAS.

Useful Websites For Music


Opportunities to work as a TV presenter generally come through:

      • representation by a talent agency, often via acting/modelling work
      • working in the industry in another capacity
      • providing a level of ‘expert knowledge’ in a certain area

Create a ‘showreel’ – a compilation of work to prove your suitability. Showreel pieces could be pieces that you’ve produced yourself, been commissioned to make, or have made as part of a job or student project. Web videos are a great way to build up your showreel. Create an online platform to showcase this alongside still photos of you to show your ‘range’ and include your contact details.

Contact casting agents and production companies, as many opportunities will come through word of mouth. Show a polished confidence and drive in your interactions. Ask how and when they might be interested in receiving your showreel, and for any other advice they might be able to offer.

Look out for audition opportunities using the websites below.

Further Study For Tv Presenting

There are a variety of ‘TV presenter’ courses available, which can be useful in teaching technical and performance skills.  Assess the course by asking people in the industry and enquiring to find out how many of the course participants have gone on to work as TV presenters? Although having completed a course is not a pre-requisite, they can be a useful mark of your commitment and professionalism. They can also however be quite expensive, and it’s certainly not the case that all in the industry have used them.

Useful Websites For Tv Presenting


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 grants from the course provider or from your relevant union or professional association.  You might also be interested in our guide to Postgraduate Funding.

Trusts and Foundations offering financial support for the arts:


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.

As well as ensuring you’re networking and self-marketing online, make sure to set up alerts and saved searches on a number of relevant websites.  Bear in mind that vacancies in particular are likely to attract high numbers of applicants, and your application materials will need to be competitive.  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 guide to Creative CVs for specific advice

Watch our video on Creative CVs.


There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. 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.

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 have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Your personal circumstances regarding career choices, and whether you should or need to tell a potential employer about your circumstances (e.g. time out from studies owing to depression or health needs) is very personal. Although there is legislation which informs you of your rights and responsibilities, you may find it helpful to see a Careers Adviser. They can help you talk through your particular circumstances, to decide whether you wish to tell someone about your situation and issues, and – if you do decide to inform a recruiter – at what stage in the application process you might do so. Careers Advisers can also help you decide how to present your situation and potential needs effectively (often termed as disclosure). We have Careers Advisers who specialise in matters relating to disability and diversity. To arrange a discussion about your personal circumstances with a Careers Adviser, please contact our Reception Team on or telephone 01865 274646.

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).

Creative Skillset provides a directory of links to organisations schemes and funding which aims to help address each of these areas.

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

Screen South hosts Accentuate, which is an incubator for ideas and producer and commissioner of projects which challenge perceptions of disability within society. Accentuate also provides practical training and guidance, ignites debate and leads cultural discussion.

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

International students

Frequent changes to visa rules affect international students and recent graduates wishing to work in the UK.  Now, non-EEA graduates are most likely to gain permission to work by being sponsored by an employer under Tier 2 of the Point Based System. DPhil students nearing completion could apply for the Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme - allowing 12 months to remain in the UK to look for and start work or self-employment.  For those with entrepreneurial skills and a credible business idea endorsed by Oxford, Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) allows you an initial one-year’s permission to get your business up and running, with the possibility of extending for a further year.  There are more limited opportunities in other visa categories. For the most complete and up-to-date information, check Oxford University’s webpages or the UK Council for International Student Affairs’ website. You can also email the Oxford’s Student Information and Advisory Service on for specialist visa help.



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

  • Work for Money, Design for Love. David Airey
  • Fashion & Textiles, Carol Brown
  • Fashion Designer’s Resource Book, Samata Angel
  • The Language of Graphic Design, Richard Poulin
  • How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul, Adrian Shaughnessy
  • Creative Careers, Elaina Loveland
  • Exploring Careers in Music
  • The Novel-writer’s toolkit, Caroline Taggart
  • Acting Techniques, Michael Powell
  • So you want to be a theatre producer? James Seabright
  • Acting professionally, Robert Cohen & James Calleri
  • All you need to know about the music business, Donald S. Passman


The following journals may be of interest:

  • Arts Professional, fortnightly
  • Broadcast, weekly & online
  • Press Gazette, weekly & online


The Careers Service has recorded a series of podcasts on various topics.

Online Resources




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Source: Arts Industry