DodgeDraw installation shot, Chicago, 2009, courtesy Joshua Sampson
"Why do I have to have a pub job to hire a studio?" Chris Casali has heard this question too often. To answer it, the head teacher at the St George School of Fine Art at the Sydney Institute of TAFE NSW
and fellow teacher Rose Harrison have put their focus on how to prepare graduates for arts industry-based employment. They came up with a six-month arts administration internship program. Here’s how it works.
It’s online. It goes for 18 weeks. Two days a week is spent in work experience and that time at work replaces the face-to-face component of the course. The art school finds the industry placements, which come from local councils, galleries, arts health organisations and museums. Keep in mind that this is a pilot program but so far, so good. "Most of our students are graduates of the arts wishing to gain real work knowledge and experiences to help make them more employable as well as test the type of career they may wish to pursue," Chris Casali explains. "By the end of this training the students will have created an e-portfolio that demonstrates their workplace experiences, achievements and networking opportunities. Qualifications are helpful but it’s the experience that brings them to the course. The placements are important; it’s about having those hours in the workplace."
All the students in the pilot program have backgrounds in the creative arts and design industries. Registrations for the internship can be tailored to suit other creative and non-creative disciplines, with dancers, filmmakers, writers, actors and community workers all in the mix. And it’s not just for people who live in Sydney, news of the program has spread to Iran and China. Those applicants want to either study online and do work placement in their own country, or travel to Australia and source skills, knowledge and experience that will be used to develop sister programs abroad. It’s a matter of knowing where you want to go and working backwards from there to get the composite skills, qualifications and experiences to help you make it.
"We’ve all got to prep ourselves for the future," says Chris Casali, "as do artists, and anyone else in whatever kind of work they do. Getting art students onto a computer can be a challenge, but I say to them, ‘it’s not about the computer, it’s about you." Rose Harrison concurs. "We teach anything to do with being an artist in a business environment. Even a small thing like presenting a workshop needs business skills, from creating online ads and writing the blurb to doing the spreadsheets to track the finances, it’s all applying business skills to arts practices."
Chris Casali mentions one student who knew exactly how to make the course work for her. She lives in the Blue Mountains and wanted to start a small gallery and artist retreat of her own. Knowing she needed to learn how to run an arts business, she enrolled at the St George School of Fine Art into the Arts Administration Internship program and was placed with the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum at Faulconbridge. Here she could see how things are done and easily complete the coursework online and receive mentoring support. Her business posed no threat to the National Trust gallery but she was a local and the people there were happy to help. That student has recently opened her art business and is better placed to make it a modest success because of the course and especially the placement.
"As far as I know we are the only ones placing arts administration students in the workplace," Chris Casali says, not with any authority but to the best of her knowledge. "It’s an extension of working in vocational courses by gradually introducing the idea of the artist needing the easel and the spreadsheet. I tell my students to look at ways to combine their art practices with creative employment opportunities. I have studied and now work with creative people who run galleries, develop community arts and health programs, run creative workshops and numerous other creative businesses that support their creative practice or interests. You can’t walk away from your arts practice, it stays with you, so you have to know how to be smart about doing it."
We are all familiar with the fact that very few artists can support themselves from their art alone. "People who are passionate aren’t scared of the figures [about the prospects of artists surviving on their art alone]," says Chris Casali. "And traditionally people who became artists had strengths but they weren’t in business skills." Now an artist is a small business. Rose Harrison agrees: "Being who they are, a lot of artists don’t have the experience of working in a group or have the skills of even simple office etiquette."
It works both ways. "Businesses are keen to employ conceptual people," Chris Casali has found when she was getting this course up and going. But on the other side, making your art your business can be creative too: spreadsheets for finances work in a creative environment and in a business environment, she says. "Artists have to know how to market themselves. There’s multi-skilling in everything we do. Everyone has to keep up these days."
Pulling beers is certainly less challenging for an artist than the skills and abilities they will need to perform as a small business or arts worker, but it goes back to Chris Casali’s observation that "you can’t walk away from your arts practice, it stays with you, so you have to know how to be smart about doing it."
Being smart means doing work other than your arts practice. It means managing yourself in all sorts of ways, whether that is by keeping track of finances, creating a social media profile, developing and using networks, and taking extra courses, such as the Certificate III in Arts Administration at the St George School of Fine Art.
Perhaps it’s not what you imagined when you first knew that you had no choice but to be an artist, but very soon most of you found out that there had to be more behind you to give you the time to keep your art going. And that being the case, as an artist it makes a whole lot of sense to be working where the art is.
In the clip below, a photographer discusses his passion for his work with the rider that sometimes other work must be done to keep the passion alive.