Dear readers of behind the curtain,
This is a warning for those of you at university, who are about to graduate. This is a warning, because I never received one. It is also a very heartfelt and deep expression of the anger I feel towards the unfair and impossible “opportunities” of getting a job in the arts after university. It is for those of you who are not in the position to be funded for a year at least to work for free after coming out of university with thousands of pounds of debt, and most importantly, a call for change.
When I studied Art History at college, art for me seemed to be so ACCESSABLE; it was a forum for discussion, an intellectual and equal platform upon which I excelled because I just loved learning about it so much. It wasn’t something I had grown up with (the closest we had to art in my house was those photographs of pebbles you get from Argos that go in the toilet), but it was something I grew into and loved.
After getting an A at college, I furthered my studies of Art History at the University of Manchester. I also did well here, graduating with a high 2:1. My GCSE’s are also all A*’s, A’s, and B’s. To those of you who are graduating with an arts degree- burn your results. They don’t matter. After being told that your grades would get you somewhere in life, I’m afraid I’m going to have to reveal to you that it is a big lie. If you want to work in the arts, then after university your chances of getting a job are related not to your grades, (which you’ve been told all the way through years and years of education), but instead to your financial position.
It doesn’t matter if you have a 2:2 or a 1st, it depends on whether you can work for free. It depends on how much your parents earn; whether they can support you. For those of you who don’t know how it works, I’ll lay it out to you. If you want to work in a gallery, for a magazine, for anything vaguely creative after university, you have to do an “internship” for 6 months in order to gain “experience”. Without this “experience”, people won’t even look at your cv. You can’t just apply to a gallery with a degree, (even though you’ve just paid 9 grand for it, no! that’s not good enough), you have to have at least a years “experience”. This “experience” is only available to those who can afford to work for free. Go to artshub.co.uk or artsjobs.org.uk. Every internship is unpaid, and every job listed with a wage requires you to have an internship on your cv.
This “internship” however, is not an OPTION, but a PRIVILEGE. It is for the very very tiny percentage of people who are able to live in the most expensive city in the UK (most galleries and headquarters are in London) on no wages for at least a year. How is this fair and accessable to all? Why did I waste my money on a degree, and my time on an education which is going to get me nowhere simply because i am not financially supported by anyone other than myself?
With the 15% cuts the arts that the government announced in March, it is not surprising that galleries, theatres and the like can’t afford to pay anyone. But I never thought it would be this bad. I never thought I’d be sitting writing this from a reception desk. I was always told I’d do something amazing because I worked so hard at school, college, and university. But when you finish, if you don’t have the money to pay your way in, it seems you are left out. I write this as somebody who is left out, and I write it as somebody who has finally realised that it just isn’t fair.