Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Exploring careers in arts and culture

Yesterday was a great day. I spent most of it on a career crawl with 15 U of A students, three alumni and four colleagues from CAPS and the Faculty of Arts. We visited CKUA, the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) and the Frances Winspear Centre for Music & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. We heard from a number of staff from each of these three non-profit arts organizations about how they got to where they are today. Their stories were truly inspirational.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about CAPS’ approach to career development, which emphasizes action and reflection and recognizes the role happenstance plays in most people’s careers. We encourage students to act on their curiosities and the opportunities presented to them even when they are unsure of the outcome. Such action can, and often does, lead to learning about - even creating - new opportunities they wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise. The career stories we heard yesterday once more affirmed my conviction that this is the right approach.

For example, we heard from Mandy who works in sponsorship at CKUA. After working in retail for a number of years, Mandy jumped at the opportunity to take management training courses offered by her employer. She was promoted but found she didn’t really like her new position. One day she was listening to CKUA online at work and heard they were hiring. She applied and got the job even though she had limited related experience. Mandy stressed the importance of showing your personality in the interview because finding people who will fit well within the workplace is a priority for many employers.

We also heard from Laura who is the Exhibitions Manager at the AGA. After completing a degree in Art History, she approached a gallery in her home province offering to do any kind of work just to get her foot in the door. They hired her on a short-term contract during which she learned how to use the gallery’s collections database. When the only other person who knew how to use the database left, she was hired into her position. A piece of advice Laura had for students pursuing a career in arts and culture is to volunteer. Volunteering not only provides valuable experience and connections; it also shows commitment and that you value the arts. Many of the people we met at all three places we visited started off as volunteers in the organizations they now work for or with similar organizations.

At the Winspear, we heard from Phil who is the Communications Manager. He developed an interest in technology in high school and creating websites became somewhat of a hobby. While completing his Bachelor of Music at the U of A, he worked part-time at the Winspear’s box office. He took the initiative to help develop their on-line ticket sales and the rest, as they say, is history. Phil’s career journey demonstrates how a person’s education, work experience, interests and hobbies can influence their career.

We took a break mid-day to have lunch, which was generously provided by the Winspear, and to listen to Edmonton author Wayne Arthurson relate his career journey. He became a fiction writer in Grade 8 when his social studies teacher said he could submit a short story rather than an essay for an assignment. Wayne never looked back and even though getting three novels and a number of short stories published since then has been full of ups and downs, his passion for writing really shone through. He stressed perseverance. While he hasn’t become a ‘man of letters’ he once thought he would become, he has been able to make a career as a writer by combining fiction writing with what he called ‘writing books for hire’ and freelance writing. He likened this to a carpenter ‘banging nails.’ Sometimes a carpenter has the opportunity to create something they are really passionate about and sometimes they just have to bang nails. Or, as one of my favourite artists Billy Bragg says about life – sometime you gotta learn to take the crunchy with the smooth.

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