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How to get a job in the arts

Time for a career change? How about working in the arts sector?

By Lizzi Easterbrook (Former Content Producer (Learning and Participation))

22 January 2017 at 12.24pm | 2 Comments

If you wake up on a Monday morning with a deep sense of dread, is it time to think about a switch to the arts?

There is plenty more to working in the sector than treading the boards or picking up a paintbrush.

'We have a wealth of opportunities for people with experience in administration, law, technology, finance or HR as well as carpenters, metalworker, prop-maker or sewers', says Sarah Foxlee, Work Experience and Training Co-ordinator at the Royal Opera House. 'Crucially, we also offer the opportunity to work in one of the best arts organizations in the world.'

While the Royal Opera House, Tate, Edinburgh Festival or the National Theatre might be among the first ports of call for aspiring arts employees, it’s often worth looking at smaller, more agile companies who will often allow you to turn your hand to lots of different areas and offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in the sector and try a range of roles. Available positions are regularly posted on listing sites such as the Guardian jobs and social media feeds including Arts JobsArtful Jobs and The Dots.

So, how do you make the move once you've found the ideal position?

When applying, make sure you focus on your transferable skills and what new perspective you can give to the organization – this could be from both your personal and your professional life. Stella Toonen from YPiA (Young People in the Arts) recommends developing and highlighting some of the the skills that employers in the creative industries most value including project management, creative problem-solving or fundraising. She also stresses the importance of initiative and demonstrating a genuine understanding, and passion and motivation for the art form.

Competition for job opportunities in the arts is high so it is undoubtedly a tricky sector to move into but Suzi Broadaway, Careers Adviser at the New College of Humanities advises people to 'do as much volunteering as possible to demonstrate your passion and to get a taste of what it’s like to work in the chosen field'. There are a multitude of volunteering opportunities available, from regional companies and arts festivals to national organizations producing major events.

Volunteering is not only useful to bolster your CV but it might help you work out what area you want to work in, and what skills you need. Toonen also highlights the importance of regular, longer-term volunteering opportunities too and points out that these often lead into roles or through their contacts. Building a strong network quickly is also hugely helpful if you're moving from a completely different career.

If you do decide to undertake some volunteering, make sure you use the time to get a strong understanding of the different parts of the business and their organizational needs. It’s also a good place to start building your network and knowledge but do take care that you're not taken advantage of and take some time to acquaint yourself with the law around paid/unpaid work:

'Be aware that volunteering is not the same as an unpaid internship', say Pauline Tambling of Creative and Cultural Skills. 'If an organization is requiring enough of you to satisfy the legal definition of "worker", then you are entitled to be paid.' Many internships are paid at the London Living Wage rate, including all those offered by the Royal Opera House.

There is also often a misconception that all those that work in the arts are a certain type of person but this has never been less true. All organizations, regardless of size, will employ a range of people with different professional and personal backgrounds, as well as ways of working. There are however, some characteristics that unite them:

'The people who succeed are people who want to get stuck in, who like to work in teams and can mix with all levels of people in a friendly and approachable way', says Suzi Broadway. Tambling echoes this view by saying that people must have an ability to collaborate across disciplines, work with other people and respond to immediate challenges and Foxlee advises applicants to be tenacious – the arts can be competitive but very rewarding!

While the arts sector is a wonderful place to work, make sure you are prepared. The hours are long, the pay is often less than in the private sector but the rewards, passion and the energy are unparalleled.

Find out more about employment opportunities at the Royal Opera House

By Lizzi Easterbrook (Former Content Producer (Learning and Participation))

22 January 2017 at 12.24pm

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged advice, Arts Council England, Arts Jobs, careers, employment, jobs, National Theatre, Tate, tips

This article has 2 comments

  1. Jacqueline Reining responded on 22 January 2017 at 9:27pm Reply

    I have recently retired and looking to do some volunteering in theatre.
    How do I go about applying at The Royal Opera House?

    • Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer) responded on 23 January 2017 at 3:54pm

      Hi Jacqueline,

      Thanks for your comment and for expressing an interest in volunteering for us. You can send a CV or an outline of your interests and availability to
      We are not currently recruiting for volunteers but we will keep your details on file for when we next have a recruitment round. Just so you know, our volunteering opportunities are on an ad hoc basis and we tend to seek people who can volunteer over a long term basis.

      All best wishes,

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