“Every artist wants to be able to devote themselves full-time to their practice, and if you can end up like that, that’s brilliant,” Bridget Sterling, Director of Axle Arts says, iterating the dream of every creative. But unfortunately, we live in a society where the arts are undervalued and this often isn’t the case. Artists don’t get paid enough. Nor are they able to spend the time they would like to focus on their practice because they need to find other means of income.
It’s a sobering thought for our creative arts graduates who are entering a world where the mean annual income for artists is £16,150, a number well below the minimum income standard deemed necessary to live, with only £6,020 of that coming from their artistic practice. These are the statistics coming from Arts Council England in their latest report and “the conclusions coming out of it are really shocking and it’s really scary reading”, Bridget comments. This is the concern that lies at the core of my discussion with her about the three-day course she’s running for creative arts graduates in June 2019, which she hopes will help students to overcome this daunting career prospect.
We can bemoan the government and society as the problem, which has its own definitive part to play, but we can also start changing the way we view the artistic career path and stop approaching it solely as a practice-based career, but rather as multi-faceted with allied careers. “The fine art world, and even universities, still look at it as though your practice comes first and anything else is like a second or third string to your bow, something you do to support your practice” she explains. “Stop thinking about it like that,” she says vehemently. “This could also be a career that deserves respect. Give it that which it is due and consider it as a potential allied career. And it will become one. You might even find that it ends up earning you twice what your fine art practice does. And you’re giving them both the same time. It’s just a different way of thinking about it.”
This is the purpose of Bridget’s employability course, ‘Managing a Creative Career’: to support and prepare creative graduates to develop a career that will allow them to devote themselves to their artistic practice as well as earn a sufficient income. Taking place over three days, the course is a series of workshops designed to help facilitate graduates from creative arts courses into business and self-employment by helping them to examine their driving forces and key transferable skills. The course will also deliver basic ground work in setting up and supporting good business practice for self-employment in creative arts careers. This will cover establishing a good workflow; administrative systems; databases; financials; marketing; press and PR; the importance of networking; legal and ethical considerations; and maintaining good mental health. This final area is particularly important to Bridget: “There’s a term that is being coined ‘creative burnout’ and it’s a very real thing and it’s far more prevalent in the creative industry than anywhere else. So, we need to look at it and this is what day three is about.”
Bridget isn’t there to lecture, nor to give another lesson in building a portfolio, writing a CV or applying for residencies and funding. This course is about experiential and inter-participant learning: “I’m there just to nudge and to steer from behind, not from the front” she says. Bridget is there to facilitate and to help you personally identify your transferable skills which you can apply to a realistic and holistic career path in the arts. With a PR diploma, fine art degree from Kingston University London and an MFA from Bath Spa, she’s navigated the creative path and found herself in the commercial fine art world, where every single skill that she thought so disparate, suddenly came together and the whole was important. This is when she began to think about the industry link between galleries and fine art students and the idea of an allied career: “students have been surprised when I’ve said to them, ‘have you considered an allied career in commercial fine art.’ Because it’s not something they think of,” she says.
Bridget is appalled at how artists are still so undervalued in 2019. She is passionate about how she can help the graduate body step confidently into the next phase of their careers after graduation. “I’ve ascertained that there is this incredible need to help build a bridge for students that are moving from education – with this lovely, cosseted and supported environment – into being an artist which is invariably alone, self-sufficient and self-directing – and I’ve identified that there’s not enough of a bridge there. And I want to help build one.”
She completely understands how helpful it can be to hear how somebody else made it in their career, but also how frustrating it can be. Through her workshops, Bridget wants to show you and help support you through that journey, not just tell you how to do it. She’s also passionate that this course is something to further the knowledge that students have already gained at university. “I don’t want to repeat what they’ve had at university. I really want this to be unique. I know what the students are lacking, because I was talking to them at workshops and teaching them (whilst I was running the work experience programme at Bath Contemporary). And from a business perspective, I know that they didn’t have the faintest idea about databases and capturing clients. From the very first person who expresses an interest in your work, whether you’re a designer or an artist, you need to data capture them and you need to start to build that now. It’s the simplest thing, and it doesn’t take long to impart, but… it’s so important.”
Leaving university as a graduate is a huge life achievement but once you put those three or four years behind you, it can feel like jumping into the deep end without a life ring, especially as a creative arts graduate. Bridget is warm, extremely passionate about helping you and has minefield of knowledge about the fine art and creative industry. Her course is fully funded by The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) so you don’t need to pay a cent. It is a three-day course in June offering three blocks, all you need to do is register and put down a refundable £20 deposit to hold your place. Click here to book your place online now. You can find more information about in the leaflet below.
Managing a Creative Arts Career
Main House, Newton Park campus,
Bath Spa University, Newton Saint Loe,
Bath BA2 9BN
18–20 June 2019
24–26 June 2019
27–29 June 2019
10:00 – 16:00
Bridget Sterling is a gallerist, curator and educationalist. She is Founding Director of Axle Arts, an artist-focused, predominately online gallery based in bath, representing artists across disciplines and at various stages of their careers. Prior to this, she was Gallery Director of Bath Contemporary in Gay Street, where she developed a successful work experience programme over four years for fine art students, in collaboration with Bath Spa University. She sits on the Bath Committee for the Prince’s Trust as their fine art consultant.
We love art and we are serious about its importance in our culture and society. We also love that it enriches our lives, our homes and our relationships – and that everyone can access and own it if they want to. We are here to help with both. Axle Arts sells genuine and original artwork across media from artists with something to say, whether that be comment socially or politically, a journey into expression or simply a hedonistic exploration into materials. We don’t adhere to fashionable trends in art and we don’t support selling signed, numbered or hand finished reproduction (giclée) prints. We celebrate art and the artists who make it, with all it represents and encompasses.
Words by Jemima Ung
Featured Image: Bridget Sterling, Director of Axle Arts