Any emerging artist will tell you it is difficult to break into the Arts industry, yet from what we heard at the panel discussion How Does Your Arts career Grow?, it doesn’t get any easier. Being part of the Arts industry means a life very different from a 9-5 job, where work is separate from the rest of your life, where you spend your nights doing your own thing, and when stress levels remain at a constant rather than rising to predictable peaks. It is agreed; a career in the Arts should only be undertaken for love - not money.
The discussion, facilitated by Christie Anthoney, AC Arts Creative Director, and supported by the Adelaide Festival Centre and Green Room, focused on several recurring themes, money being the most salient. At least two members of the panel of five have experienced and continue to experience financial difficulty. Brigid Noone, a well-respected and established artist, continues to live on an income far below the norm, taking on teaching and curatorial work to support herself, as well as selling her paintings.
Ianto Ware makes many jokes about his lack of a career and its accompanying payments. He went from many years as a student, finding his niche in cultural studies, then moved on to create the festival FORMAT which aims to enact culture live, rather than standing back to analyse it. He is now Project Manager at Renew Adelaide, which once again isn’t a lucrative venture, though his passion for their projects is apparent when you broach the topic with him. Not making money is something he seems to accept, or at least, it doesn’t bother him enough to stop doing what he’s doing.
Time is money – or in these cases, time spend pursuing your art isn’t money, while time spent working is. Edwin Attrill, the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild’s new Artistic Director calls himself “An artist who writes grants”. He bemoans the hours spent away from his theatrical work, producing other shows and writing grants so that he and others can fund their artistic ventures. He has been swamped in administration this year, since it is the first time in 15 years that the Guild has had an artistic director. He is planning for next year’s productions, which he hopes will see an outpouring of creativity.
Brigid is a firm believer that an artist’s need to work creates a good life balance: ”Employment is like vegetables. I don’t like them but I have to eat them.” She wishes she had more time to paint, but knows that she needs time away. She describes being an artist as “relentless work”.
Annette Tripodi, Operations and Program Manager for WOMADelaide, took some time finding her place in the industry. She graduated from university with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and absolutely no idea what she wanted to do. She got her first job as a PA and hated it, so went travelling for three years around Europe and experienced many European festivals. She returned to Australia – under duress when her VISA expired – with a determined focus to work for the Adelaide Fringe. The only applicant able to write a press release in 20 minutes, she got the job in Fringe publicity and marketing for the next three years. Still not a fan of media work, when she got the chance to be program co-ordinator for the Come Out festival, she discovered her passion. For the past 14 years she has worked for Arts Projects Australia, and has been Operations and Programs Manager for WOMADelaide for 11 years, not planning to move on until they kick her out.
At this point, the panel realised that none of them have any idea what’s next for them. Thus is the nature of the Arts industry – doors open and close, and you jump through them when you’re able.
Onto the importance of networking, the panel discussed the benefits of Adelaide’s small size and relatively low cost of living for creating large and supportive networks. Ed termed it a “cosy” Arts scene, in which he got his first major employment on the basis of a recommendation from a director he had briefly worked with, to a director who had never seen his work. He commented, “Your ability to cooperate is how you get work.” Annette also highlights the importance of reputation in Adelaide, warning that if you tarnish your reputation by being difficult to work with, then you’re in some trouble.
Over her time in the industry, Annette has built a Chicks Drinks email list that goes out to over 200 women. She says its a great way of advertising any available jobs, or people who need somewhere to live, or for charity ventures. They have monthly drinks, and each month new links are made.
Brigid also relies on her unofficial network, built throughout her career; “Networking happens naturally between like minds and interests.”
The industry has other drawbacks which may present problems to newcomers. Alongside poor pay, more is expected of artists than other workers. The mental and physical energy required is “tantamount to self-abuse,” Christie quips. The industry expects its workers to go many extra miles for their job, so it is difficult to stop yourself from over-giving. Ianto says that commitment to co-workers is very important, since you need each other’s support in those crazy times leading up to productions or festivals. From his own experience, Ed says that a successful manager is not one who comes up against problems, but one who overcomes the problems that inevitably arise. Building a supportive team around you is vital for this.
Now to fiscal matters. The panel raises the question “How do you sell yourself and your ideas?” The entire audience audibly squirms at this question. They know it had to be asked, but they hate it.
The Internet and social media is discussed as an effective way of exposing yourself in the Arts, as it’s easy and cheap to establish an online presence or portfolio. The bottom line of audience development is being constantly engaged and connected though many different avenues. Ed offers a positive interpretation of publicity to counter the negative feeling in the room about it – “Publicity creates culture. Theatre is more than what happens on stage. If you can make publicity interesting you start to achieve your aim goal – making people think.”
Other top tips for getting out there:
- Never be rude or harass people
- Take on feedback!
- Expect to make a fool of yourself at the start - learn from it
- Claim your costs - take the time to understand tax, and learn that you are a business
- Volunteer! This helps make many personal contacts and gain experience
- Be content with small steps
- Invent your own ways of working
To develop this last point, if you want to be a promoter, help promote your friends. If you want to be a writer, write about what your friends are doing. Start from your localised group of contacts then slowly work out of your comfort zone as you gain experience.
Remember also that money is just an indicator of value. It is not value itself. It is nice to be paid for your art, as it shows you it is valued in a commercial world, yet its worth goes far beyond this.
Employment in the Arts has hugely increased in the last 15 years, alongside the increase in festivals. Yet the panelists are uncertain about the future of the Adelaide Arts industry – on some days they see hope, on others the struggle is overwhelming. Though, if the turn-out to this panel is any indication, there are plenty of young artists out there who are willing to keep battling for their passion.
Adelaide Festival Centre and Carclew Youth Arts
How Does Your Career Grow?
Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Date/Time: Monday 31 October, 6.30pm