Lila Azouz has four years of experience as an Instructional Designer where looks to combine her artistic and eLearning skills. Currently, she is an Online Blended Learning Developer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. In this role, she develops professional development training for faculty and works with them to develop blended learning activities. She also worked for the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering where she designed and developed online learning. She has a master’s in Educational Technology and a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.
Making the transition from student to the workforce is full of uncertainties and challenges, but this can be even more difficult when holding a fine arts degree. The arts and culture field is one filled with ambiguity and non-linear career paths. It is not as clear-cut as other disciplines such as engineering or medicine where there exist certain standards and conventions.
According to the Culture Sector Fast Stats article published in 2004 by Cultural Human Resource Council of Canada there are three general characteristics for those working in arts and culture fields: they are highly educated, they often deal with life-long self-employment, and they usually earn low incomes compared to others with the same levels of education. These factors can potentially cause a great deal of frustration and pressure if students are not properly prepared for such realities when leaving university.
This poses the questions: How can fine arts students effectively prepare themselves for life beyond university? Why should a fine arts student learn business skills?
Searching for a job once out of university is not as easy for fine arts students because they often do not go on to work for just one organization. Instead they become free-lancers, start their own business, work for a small organization, or a combination of all the above. Self-employment accounts for more than half of all ‘creative jobs’ in the culture sector. Self-employed individuals often hold multiple roles simultaneously and these types of careers can be defined as portfolio or protean careers.
A portfolio career is characterized by working at multiple jobs and for multiple employers, whether as part-time employment, temporary employment, freelancing, and/or self-employment. Portfolio careerists are not bound by one organization. Flexibility is key but it requires these individuals to constantly look for work.
The protean career is similar, but it is distinguished by the fact that the multiple jobs and roles held do not all have the same weight. Within a given time span, the protean careerist can be working as an administrative assistant, contracted to do graphic designs, and be paid to photograph events. To succeed in such a career these individuals need to be able to adapt, to self-motivate, and to be willing to always develop their skills and to learn new ones.
Hence, being prepared for a life of self-employment or a portfolio/protean career is vital. One way of doing this is ensuring that fine arts students develop not only their artistic skills but also their business and entrepreneurial abilities. These should not be viewed as opposites or a form of selling out. Artists are often faced with having to sell their work/skills or looking for financing, whether it is selling a painting, pitching a script, or looking for funding to make their film.
From personal experience, when I graduated with my fine arts degree with a major in filmmaking and design for the theatre, I was not prepared for all the business related aspects. As most of my artistic jobs were contracts, I had to learn how to deal with taxes, keeping receipts for deductibles, learning how to market myself, and ways to fundraise projects.
Due to the nature of a career in arts and culture, I highly recommend that fine arts students take courses in business and entrepreneurial skills. This is probably one of the most essential skills artists and cultural workers will need to know considering that more than half are self-employed, work for small organizations, or open their own business.
Look for programs or courses offered by the faculty of business or take a minor in business to add to your portfolio. Seek out workshops, seminars, and courses that will teach a variety of business and entrepreneurial skills. Focus should be put on how to promote professional and technical skills, how to sell artistic work, how to negotiate contracts, how to file taxes as a self-employed, how to develop a business plan, how to write for grants, and other essential professional development skills that will make the transition into the workforce more successful.
Too often, when fine arts students graduate they are left struggling with how to begin their careers. As one third of fine arts graduates will be creating their own work, it can be very daunting if they are unprepared. Getting the right business and entrepreneurial skills will help provide fine art students with a leg up to achieving their career goals.