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How do I get a job in the arts?

Well, there’s a question. One I’m sure a lot of young people and perhaps parents, teachers and careers professionals would like to know the answer to.

As we head out of the Leeds Creative Skills Festival week, I would love to be able to give you my top 10 tips guaranteed for success, however, as much as that would be fantastic click bait for our socials, it’s just not that simple! The arts are far reaching and beautifully varied – as are the job roles and the people that do them – and so the routes in are varied too.

Written by Catherine Hayward.

If you speak to those that have worked at Leeds Heritage Theatres for a long time, such as Alan Dawson (Head of Technical and Estate Services for 20+ years!), he’ll explain how he and his mate arrived at Stage Door one day ready to work and were immediately given jobs as stage hands. Alan has worked here ever since. But that approach just won’t work anymore, and even the idea of working with the same company for so long (‘jobs for life’ as my parents’ generation would talk about), is becoming less and less common.

Which leads to perhaps a more pressing question – why would I want a job in the arts anyway? Surely working in the theatre means long hours, low pay and little job security, flitting between short term contracts? Well, not necessarily.

Those of us lucky enough to work in the sector (and yes, we are lucky) can’t survive on our passion alone. In fact, the creative industries* employ over two million people in the UK, and the number of jobs in the sector is growing at three times the UK average, with a projected further one million jobs being created by 2030. The sector contributes £101.5 billion to the UK economy – more than car manufacturing, aerospace, life sciences, and oil and gas combined. A far cry from the notion of a jobbing actor, working part time in a bar.

‘Actor’ is just one job role out of thousands encompassed by the creative industries. Leeds Heritage Theatres employs over 250 people across house management, box office, marketing, PR, digital, finance, HR, electrics, housekeeping, programming and, of course, learning and engagement. A diverse range of job roles that require a diverse range of people to fill them.

*Creative industries here refers to the nine sectors (Advertising and Marketing; Architecture; Crafts; Design, including Product, Graphic and Fashion; Film, TV, Animation, Radio and Photography; IT, Video Games and Software; Museums, Galleries, Heritage and Libraries; Music, Performing arts, Visual Arts; Publishing).

A woman in front of a merchandise stall holding up a SIX programme

Our Sales and Merchandise Supervisor, Jessica Davison

Tara Thompson watched a TV monitor at the sound desk

Technician and Stage Manager, Tara Thompson, watching the monitor during Panto at The Varieties

Robb looks into the camera surrounded by cinematic ephemera

Robb Barham, Operations & Programmes Manager at Hyde Park Picture House

At a recent Q&A panel with industry experts, as part of the Leeds Creative Skills Festival, we discussed the skills needed by young people keen to enter the sector. Communication, teamwork, problem-solving and empathy – alongside a love of the arts and a positive attitude – were the recurring themes across the varied organisations represented. These are all skills that young people can develop and evidence through activities in and out of school, such as sports, project-based coursework, youth theatres and youth clubs, creating social media content, and online gaming (yes, it is a job – XR Games and Rockstar are both based in Leeds). Crucially, not one panel member stated that previous experience in an arts organisation was necessary.

But that’s not to say it’s easy. Breaking through to get your first job in the arts can feel daunting. So, whilst I may not have a top 10 tips list for you, here at Leeds Heritage Theatres we’re dedicated to making careers in the arts more accessible and opening the doors to our industry. Through the work of our Learning and Engagement, and the wider, team, we strive to increase young people’s awareness and understanding of the creative industries, in the widest possible sense. We deliver a comprehensive programme of careers workshops and projects in schools, including one-off theatre tours focusing on job roles, workshops that develop industry skills through practical activities, mock interview workshops and projects that challenge students to respond creatively to a live brief.

Leading the Grand Futures network of arts organisations, Leeds Heritage Theatres has supported the delivery of the Cultural Exchange Project, co-ordinated by the Geraldine Connor Foundation, working with 20 students from Leeds City Academy, with little previous experience of the arts. During the week, students had the opportunity to meet creative professionals at work and explore the sector through practical activities such as programming, marketing, costume design and gaming.

Two people leaning over a desk using lighting equipment.

Students from Leeds City Academy learning about theatre lighting techniques as part of the Cultural Exchange Project 2021.

Through our projects with schools, the Learning and Engagement team actively seek to work with adults that support young people when choosing their career options – be that parents/carers, teachers or careers advisors. We want to tell you about the jobs available and the skills we’re looking for, and we want to support you to guide your young people to successfully build and evidence those skills. Because if more young people (and the adults close to them) understand about the wide-ranging careers available in the sector, the long-term prospects and the skills needed, then slowly we will open up the industry and make those first steps into the creative workforce more transparent and less daunting. Which is good for both young people and our industry.

So how do I get a job in the arts? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider how we think about ‘the arts’.

Think widely about the options in the sector and the transferable skills that are needed. There are many exciting creative roles off-stage at the theatre, and in the wider creative industries, that offer good pay and career prospects. Think beyond actor and performer and you might just discover your new dream job.

Read some of our ‘In Conversation With’ blogs below to find out more about our team members’ journeys into the arts.

For more information about careers workshops and projects with Leeds Heritage Theatres and the wider work of our Learning and Engagement team, visit our Take Part page, email learning@leedsheritagetheatres.com or call 0113 391 7783 or 07738 267757.

Leeds Heritage Theatres Engagement Fund

Every year, we work with over 10,000 young people across the city, in schools, youth groups and other sessions to help them build skills, confidence and pride through our creative learning and engagement programme. All donations to this fund will help us to continue our work and reach more people across the Leeds City Region.

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