Arts@Work: Converting Degrees into Careers

A challenge that besets many idealistic arts and humanities graduates is how to translate their degrees into real working careers. How does a talent for creative writing blossom into becoming a playwright, or a passion for reading into organising a literary festival? To help address these quandaries, King’s College London’s English Department, the Film Studies Department with the help of the Careers and Employability Service and a special grant from the College Teaching Fund, offered a two day careers workshop entitled Arts@Work, running from 28th-29th June 2012. Its aim was to use interviews, talks and workshops to give students the chance to quiz a range of arts professionals on how to use their degrees in future careers.

As a student in the English Department, the programme seemed ideal for me, as it was composed of people working within both film and literature, featuring organisations such as the National Film and Television School and literary charity English PEN. Each speaker outlined their own career routes, some reassuringly honest about their initial lack of direction. Their advice was to look for work experience before graduation to get ahead, with the workshops providing an opportunity to try out such jobs. These included creating short screenplays with student screenwriter Fran Poletti, and being set to organise a children’s literary festival by English PEN Events and Development Officer Julia Ziemer. Each session reminded everyone of the realities of the world of work: how can your idea be sold to its audience? How much will it cost, and where will this money come from? Clearly, to have a successful arts career, graduates need to have creative passion but fused too with critical analysis – skills fostered in that all-important humanities degree.

Students planning a children’s literary festival with Julia Ziemer from English PEN. Photo: Susie Christensen

One highlight for me was Sarah Crompton, Arts Editor at the Telegraph. Friendly and open, with a touch of glamour that came with her slick of red lipstick, she talked about her early ambitions in ballet, before realising journalism could be the real avenue to make her passion for dance into a job. Sarah had also rifled through the archives to showcase what makes a really good review: whether it was a recent article on a dramatic dance troupe’s particular form of Tanztheater, or a piece on the 1999 film Ratcatcher, Sarah noted that each had their own alchemy of opinion and expert knowledge, concocted into a compelling creative narrative. The reviewer too, as for other careers, needs to have both critical proficiencies and a fascination with the subject, in order to create a successful work that has its own stimulating power.

We were provided with much food for thought in these sessions, as they also touched on how the transition from university to work can be one of uncertainty and compromise of personal creative ideals. Extra-curricular experience was emphasised as highly valuable in getting that first job. But the combination many humanities graduates already possess of genuine interest in the arts with developed communication and analytical skills is also important to a successful career in this industry – the allure of which was clear for both speakers and we as the participants alike.

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