Leah Bartczak, who won a placement at Brighton Photo Biennial as a Projects Coordinator, ponders the difficulty of mapping out your future when you work in an industry like the arts but explains how thinking about the long-term helped her land a big promotion just a few months into her first arts job.
Realising that you want to work in the arts is a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing to feel that passion for art to the extent that you want to be around it all the time. A teeny, tiny part of you is saying, however: “Why can’t I feel this way about accountancy? I know how to become an accountant… I’m not so sure how to work in art.” Art careers are complex pathways, carved out by individuals for individuals.
During my placement, I was invited to blog about what I hoped to gain from being involved with the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme. A fair question, but surprisingly difficult to answer. I struggle to outline this exactly as I feel that if I wanted a clearly defined future, I would have been less likely to choose to work in the arts than other sectors.
School, college and university all encourage us to think about the future. In fact, I thought about the future so often during university, that when I left and began in my bursary role at Brighton Photo Biennial, I experienced an unfamiliar sensation called “living in the present”. I was keen to cling on to this; to avoid thinking about the inevitable end of the 12-month placement; to not feel that anxiety about what happens at the end of this year; to pat myself on the back for getting a role in the arts and to enjoy every second of it. To see where the wind would take me! To live for the moment!
Day one of my job rolled around and my employer asked: “How do you strategically see the bursary impacting on your future career plans?”
Bump. Back to the future.
And a crucial moment, as it turns out. Getting straight back on the horse (since we’re not far enough into the future for hoverboards), I started thinking about how you balance enjoying work in the present while planning for the future and have discussed this as often as possible with people I’ve met through work. The question had poignant timing and has led to me learning about more creative types of career aspirations such as portfolio careers and considering options such as undertaking several roles on a part-time basis. Being asked about the future has served as a reminder to me throughout my placement so far, that this is just the beginning.
Thinking of the future has also opened doors for me in another way. As our General Manager went on maternity leave and discussions began about the complexities of recruitment, I took the opportunity to ask the Director if I could act-up in her absence. After training and a thorough handover, I now am indeed the acting General Manager of the Brighton Photo Biennial and enjoying the responsibility.
It’s hard to say what you wish to gain from an opportunity that you are still undergoing and for a long time after the placement I expect to see the impact of the contacts and practical skills I get from the job. The placement was a boost to my confidence when I was initially recruited, but the legacy of it will be that it is a constant reminder of being in a privileged position and to continue to look at the landscape around me for opportunities.
See more videos from the Brighton Photo Biennial 2010 on YouTube