Seeking Opportunity: Networking and Volunteering

Jun 17, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss

Advice & Experience

Seeking opportunities is something many of us have been encouraged to do from an earlier age, whether this be joining an extracurricular club or learning a new skill. It soon becomes clear that ‘going above and beyond’ is often necessary to get noticed, a difficult reflection but an arguably unavoidable one for those wanting to excel amongst the creative competition. Many young artists are driven by a fresh passion and naturally keen to develop their craft, thus this prospect of grasping opportunities can be an exciting one. 

Learning through professional experience should go hand-in-hand with an academic curriculum as the benefits cannot be underestimated. To be considered for a likely oversubscribed job vacancy, your CV should demonstrate a genuine commitment to the industry alongside formal achievements. Investing in your future through networking and volunteering opportunities are just two aspects that can support your career in this way.

The performing arts industry is a surprisingly small and tight-knit community (admirable considering the vast artistic output it achieves). At University I was told that ‘everyone knows everyone’ and any doubt I had over this statement was overturned once I entered the industry myself. It truly feels like this when you hear countless connections between staff and companies! A lot of work relies on word-of-mouth recommendations and this is where the importance of networking is vital. From attending exhibition events to milling around the Sadler’s Wells foyer, there are opportunities to spark conversation with fellow dance enthusiasts. Projecting yourself in these situations is not always easy, but over time will expand your confidence and refine your ambition. Digital platforms such as Facebook groups, The Dots and LinkedIn undoubtedly aid such networking in the arts and can be utilised wisely by artists looking to collaborate with others and/or promote themselves.

Volunteering is something I also wish to touch on as it is a great way to get your foot in the door with a specific company, as well as pimping up your CV. With many organisations operating on a tight budget, offering your time is likely to be an attractive proposal: killing two birds with one stone by demonstrating your dedication, as well as reducing their staffing pressures. As a volunteer, you will likely be given small administrative tasks and be moved around departments to assist where needed. This type of support can be of huge benefit to you as the balance between responsibility, demonstrating flexibility and having the capacity to observe colleagues will provide a more complete understanding of the company’s operations. Working in this way will uncover whether the duties you have been involved with excite you or actually don’t feel quite your thing: both are equally useful reflections for a developing artist.

It needs to be said that although volunteering is beneficial and somewhat expected in the industry, it certainly does not offer a level playing field for young artists. Being able to work for free relies upon a stable financial situation as well as abundant spare time, which obviously vary hugely amongst a generation seeking opportunities at the same time. Therefore naturally many formal unpaid placements and voluntary positions are filled by a similar demographic. I believe this to be an issue that the industry needs to urgently address, especially as it is clear how these opportunities advance candidates in later job prospects. Developing more accessible routes, on top of existing programmes, for young ambitious artists to gain experience would be a step towards the diverse workforces we need.

In short, my advice from personal experience centers on both grasping what is there and also having the confidence to create your own experiences. Do not always wait for job adverts to appear, why not get in touch directly and introduce yourself. Use your spare time wisely, whether working a part-time job to fund your creative projects or improving your fitness in the studio. Conducting yourself as a headstrong, yet approachable, professional will bring a host of benefits, some subtle and some undeniable, but all accumulate towards opening doors for your next steps.

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