Creative Arts

 

Main information

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.

Types of Job

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
  • Filmmaking
  • Music
  • TV Presenting

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.

SKILLS NEEDED

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

  • Attention to detail in producing evidence of talent (e.g. 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 more 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).

 

MORE ON 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.

ENTRY POINTS

ACTING
Professional actors need to be talented, resilient, skilled and self-disciplined. Being taken on by an agent who will represent you can be an important step (the Actors’ Union Equity can advise), but before this stage there are often many months of training, practising and proving yourself, getting headshots, showreels, contact sheets and attending open auditions.  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 is a common route into professional work as an actor. Drama UK accredits courses, which range between 1 and 3 years.  A new Guide to Professional Training (including funding information) is available on this site, as is information on funding opportunities and bursaries available.  If you’re not sure about committing to training just yet, keep an eye out for short courses, such as Theatre Royal Haymarket’s free one day courses for those aged 17-30.

ART (VISUAL)
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 art).

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.

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. There is an approximate correlation between higher prices and the artist’s qualifications. Investigate further study options using Prospects Postgraduate Study webpages

CRAFT
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’. Although the programme ended in 2014, it’s still worth researching craft and artisan opportunities on heritage job board – see our Arts and Heritage guide.

For other 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.      .

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 (most common route), self-publishing online, or through contact directly with commissioning editors. Very few publishers accept unsolicited scripts.

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.

DANCE
30,000 people are employed in the dance sector although only 2,500 are performers. Most of these enter the sector following professional training and performance roles require peak fitness. As a dance career, like a sports career, is therefore time-constrained, 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.

DESIGN
Encompassing many different specialisms (graphic design, digital/multimedia, furniture, fashion, textile, interior, industrial, product and exhibition design), design careers can start with freelance work, starting your own business or agency, or employment within 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 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.

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.

FILMMAKING
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)  most who work in the film world have ‘worked their way up’ from entry-level support roles, such as being a ‘runner’ or ‘researcher’. Those that seek to work as a director or producer, often start by working on their own projects alongside industry experience. Many will choose to take further study, to learn the skills required, and this is a common route, particularly to quickly gather skills and experience in filmmaking.

MUSIC
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 advice for each.  Those considering performance roles with companies or productions 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. the Liverpool Philharmonic) and more useful websites for vacancies are listed under ‘useful websites’ in this guide.

If you’re looking to build a career as an individual artist or group, then the starting points are usually creating more ways for people to get to know you and your work, which is often done alongside other work/study. Many artists will use social media, websites and ‘fanclub’ or crowdsourcing sites to build an audience community online, while gigging frequently.

The majority of musicians will have trained and honed their skills for many years and many will have studied 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.

TV PRESENTING
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

Once you have examples of yourself on camera, 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. Keep an eye on audition and casting websites.

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.

GETTING EXPERIENCE

FINDING ADVERTISED WORK EXPERIENCE

The few advertised opportunities are scattered across websites (see the ‘Useful websites’ section of this guide), but many aren’t ‘internships’ but competitions, events, awards and other ways to gather experience (e.g. the ‘creative briefs’ on IdeasTap). 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

  • Get involved in groups, societies, shows and showcases in Oxford or your home region
  • No society or group? Start one; outside ideas and feedback help you develop
  • Research college alumni and industry figures who you could contact for advice or talks
  • Speculatively contact organisations (see ‘Useful websites’) for experience opportunities
  • Keep in contact with useful people that you meet (e.g. on LinkedIn)
  • Tell people about what you do. “I am a _____” is a powerful phrase
  • Volunteer to support other artists’ projects for insight and perhaps a favour in return
  • Create some projects just for you which will help you develop your work
  • Try to get press coverage/recording for your events, ask for permission to use it yourself
  • 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

 

SPECIFIC WORK EXPERIENCE TIPS 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.

…CRAFT

  • Start small with your work, using sites like Etsy to sell individual pieces.
  • Consider local organisations who might be interested in your work: this could be theatre productions looking for bespoke props, or arts and crafts centres, like Old Fire Station in Gloucester Green. Contact them to see whether there are opportunities to work with them too.

…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

…FILMMAKING

  • 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. Explore the Oxford Broadcasting Association
  • You might also want to look out for courses run at IT services which teach the basics of creating film footage (a common starter course is Digital Media: Concepts of Planning and Shooting a Video).
  • Local to us is FilmOxford which runs low-cost training too.
  • Pro-actively student groups, departments, colleges if they’d like a film made for their website – often they really would!
  • Keep an eye on new student theatrical productions coming out, as they’ll often be on the lookout for a trailer video.

GETTING A JOB

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 opportunity websites (see our ‘Useful Websites’) 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.  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’.

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.

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

Many scholarships for further study in the creative industries seek to improve diversity (a good example are the Toledo scholarships at the NFTS. Check course provider websites to look for funding information.

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

ONLINE RESOURCES

Our guide to the practicalities of Freelance work

BOOKS

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, Samantha 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, Kate Bohonos, Evonne Tvardek
  • 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
  • An Applicant’s Guide to Auditioning and Interviewing at Dance and Drama Schools (2003, but still useful)

ONLINE INTERVIEW FEEDBACK

Our Interview Feedback Database contains hundreds of accounts of interviews, submitted by Oxford students and graduates. The database can be searched by sector and by organisation.

OXFORD CAREERS NETWORK (OCN)

The OCN on CareerConnect is a database of over 1000 Oxford alumni volunteer mentors who are willing to be contacted about their career.  Read their case studies for behind-the-scenes insights into an organisation or occupation, and contact them for more advice and information.

 

External Resources

USEFUL WEBSITES FOR EVERYONE

USEFUL WEBSITES FOR

ACTING

ART (VISUAL)

CRAFT

CREATIVE WRITING

DANCE

 

DESIGN

FILMMAKING

MUSIC

TV PRESENTING

CREATIVE BODIES AND 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 (www.careers.ox.ac.uk/further-study), or this list of Trusts and Foundations offering financial support for the arts:

SOCIAL MEDIA

  • See what our Careers Advisers have bookmarked at www.diigo.com/user/careerslucy/arts
  • LinkedIn groups, all free for anyone to join, include the CreativePool Network, Cultural and Performing Arts group, Creative Jobs group and many more…

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Source: Arts Industry