How does an art and design graduate emerge into a sometimes unwelcoming world? Susan Jones says that help is at hand.
It’s that time of year when for around 4,000 art and design undergraduates doing well in their final degree show is pretty much all they are concerned with. The culmination of four years of juggling part-time work with study and debt, what they are going to do next is probably not on their minds at all. New art graduates emerge into a crowded, sometimes unwelcoming world.
It’s a myth that all new graduates are young – increasing numbers having worked before taking a degree. They have higher professional expectations as they embark on a visual arts career. A good few are already blogging, discussing how their final year is panning out while profiling themselves within the wider arts sector, thus increasing their chances of work and career development. Artist Jean McEwan says: “Comments from and interactions with other artists is the reason I'm blogging. I want my research to be as much a conversation as a fact-finding mission.”
Once graduated, artists need professional development opportunities through events, not only to enhance their skills and capability to pitch their projects to the right organisations and improve their chances of getting grants, but also to enable them to meet other artists and extend peer networks. Jacqueline James, based in the north east of England, confirmed this: "Sometimes it's hard knowing how to navigate the art world so face-to-face events are very helpful."
Activism to secure fair employment conditions is a vital aspect of any artist’s life nowadays
New artists often need some very practical help. For example, Claire Mills, who graduated from Norwich in 2012, said: “When graduation comes I'll be left without a studio and without a screen print workshop on hand for free.” With many artists finding it harder to make a living from their practice, there is a growing need for guidance on setting fees and writing contracts, so that they are able to negotiate professional terms and conditions.
Over a quarter of new artists every year take advantage of a-n’s free online twelve-month subscription that we provide through participating universities. Once graduated, artists can move into our Artist + AIR membership, giving them free public liability insurance that enables them to take on freelance work and access jobs and opportunities. They can engage with peer networks through our online blogs and access literally thousands of visual arts critical texts, articles and images on our website including Signpost: guide to stepping out as a new artist.
Another member-only benefit is the chance to apply for our bursary schemes. These are designed to give small amounts of cash support for self-determined mentoring and advice, visits to groups and networks, and experiments in collaborative working.
Activism to secure fair employment conditions is a vital aspect of any artist’s life nowadays. Through our membership, we regularly consult artists about their needs and ambitions. They can take part in UK-wide surveys and consultations such as the Paying artists research and campaign. When research revealed that fees to artists were plummeting and that very few galleries were even covering artists’ expenses for a show, our AIR Council set about leading a campaign to change that, meeting with Arts Council England and industry bodies to make the case for fair and proper pay for artists when putting on exhibitions in galleries that are publicly funded.
With many artists finding it harder to make a living from their practice, there is a growing need for the tools and advocacy arguments that enable artists to negotiate professional terms and conditions themselves. Supporting this self-determination and representing artists’ interests to government and arts policy-makers is something that we have done since we began, way back in 1980.
With over 18,000 practising UK artists as members and more benefits in the pipeline, new graduates need support to make, fund and find work, share and exchange knowledge and network with their peers and get themselves established as an artist.
Susan Jones is Director of a-n The Artists Information Company.