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What are the biggest challenges facing Early Career Creatives today?

Date Created: 14th Mar 2022

Stone in sand with engraving reading 'Artswork inspires'.

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Motivation, self-confidence, time management, focus, support, and assessing risk are common themes for any freelancer.

As experienced practitioners we bring our own lived experiences to the table, and rather than make assumptions about the challenges the younger generation are facing, we realise it is time to listen.

Artswork’s Professional Development Team recently hosted a focus group to find out the real challenges early career creatives feel today. Artswork Kickstarters* were invited to take part in a 90 minute online session to explore their views after undertaking our new self-guided course, Artswork Inspires.

In exchange for their time, they were offered a further 30 minute 1:1 mentoring session to focus on their career development in the arts. This is part of APDs research development that will inform new course programming.

So, what happens when you pause and listen?

You are gifted real insight to make smarter informed business decisions. On a support level for the participants it can be the realisation that others experience the same challenges; that you are not alone.

Thoughts from the facilitator – Lisa Gardner (Artswork Professional Development Admin and Communications Officer / Botanical Artist)

Logging into the session I wasn’t sure what to expect, would the participants feel comfortable enough to share? Had we planned enough? The team decided on a flexible plan for the session, allowing us to be reactive to the thoughts generated in the session. We had also pre set up a Jam Boards (online shared tool) this was so we could receive both verbal and written feedback and pre-prepared prompts.

Here are a few things I experienced that may help you with your own focus groups:

  • Set the tone, it is important people feel heard. Have some guidelines for how the session will be delivered, and how feedback will be shared.
  • Listen out for repetition, key words that jump out, this can help you identify a trend
  • Don’t be discouraged by negativity, listen and see what is really going on, where does the challenge stem from, treat it as an opportunity to explore how you can help support this.
  • Provide an opportunity for informal discussion; pauses in the conversation can be a good thing.
  • Don’t step in too soon. There may be an idea that has been swimming round that is difficult to articulate. Being in a room (even a virtual one) with peers, these ideas may start to develop as people bounce off each other.
  • Start a conversation that prompts what people think and feel, this will help you to deliver a better service.
  • Remind yourself why you are conducting this research and to listen. As a facilitator it can be really easy to jump in with your own ideas or steer the conversation to line up with what you are already thinking.
  • Ask questions about the decision making process, why do people do the things they are doing. For example ‘What drives you to want a career in the arts? What is your motivation and what does that look like to you and your unique circumstances?
  • Ask about their fears, start to identify both the practical and sometimes self-imposed barriers.

At Artswork, when we start to design a new course we begin with our audience, who are we supporting, what do they need, what are their challenges. As part of the session we also invited the participants to design their own courses, no right or wrong ideas just ones to explore. What would these courses look and feel like, from the cost and the delivery platform to who they want to see leading the course.

This was a behind the curtain look at how a course is put together, with some of the participants also looking to create workshops, we hope this was a useful experience for us all.

I would definitely encourage this as a way of working; from the very beginning, make sure you weave in those feed-in opportunities at each stage of development. It is a two way process, we invested our time and were gifted rich insights into the real challenges young people are stepping up to today.

Thoughts from Participant – Lisa Thurbon (Artswork Communications Officer / Acrylic Artist)

The idea of beginning a creative career in a world where thousands of established artists are just a click away is daunting, but Artswork Inspires helps to build a path that’s tailored to you, not the path already trodden. As a young person, I was excited to be invited to take part in a focus group to share and listen to challenges of early career creatives.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but approached with an open mind. We were guided through structured activities to prompt conversations and ideas, allowing everyone to share their thoughts on how Artswork can support other creatives facing the same challenges. Some interesting aspects were covered, such as how to price our artwork / time spent, where to build networks, who to reach out to for support, and when to spend time on our passion vs our ‘money-making’ job.

With conversations flowing, the energy in the Zoom call was so positive and passionate – our feedback and time as young people was not only appreciated, but it was also a value exchange. In return for our input, we were offered 1:1 mentoring sessions specifically to discuss our own creative career aspirations. This is a really nice personal touch for an exchange, and I’m looking forward to my session with Lisa G later this month.

The feeling of having supported and shaped new course programming for Artswork APD while also having shaped my own future creative career is fantastic, and, if you’re interested in developing anything with an audience of young people, hold a focus group to see what your target audience really need from you… but don’t expect their time for free; ensure you have an authentic and relevant incentive/value exchange.

Artswork Inspires is the first self-guided course of its kind that the Artswork APD team have created, and by listening to the challenges of young people we’ve informed our decision making and planted the seed for more ideas and ways to support early career creatives. Keep an eye on our news page for the latest updates.

*info about Kickstarter… Kickstart is a government funded work based learning programme. A 6 month initiative that provides support, training and mentoring alongside real employment opportunities. The goal of the programme is to provide employability and confidence skills to young people who are struggling to find meaningful work in a challenging time.


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