Breaking In (September 2021)

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Chaired by Johanna Taylor (Open Space Producer at Improbable), Timi Akindele-Ajani (Freelance Filmmaker and Photographer), Cynthia MaiWa (Creative Producer at Ffotogallery, Wales) Isabel Gaya, (Curator at Arctic) and Francesca O’Brien (Freelance Set Designer and Prop Maker)

 

Johanna Taylor

Hi, everyone. My name is Johanna and I’ll be hosting this session of Breaking In, which is run by the Education and Skills team at the Creative Industries Federation. Today’s event has been designed to help support a wide range of young people from those interested in freelancing who may be unsure on how to begin, to those looking for permanent positions in organisations. Every other month, they’re Breaking In to bring together a new panel of creative sector professionals so that you can find out the reality of a career in the creative sector.

Before introducing the panel, I’ll just introduce myself. My name is Johanna, I am the Open Space Producer at Improbable who are a theatre company that work mostly from a place of improvisation. I produce their Open Space events, which are unstructured conversation events. We facilitate them on behalf of other organisations, and we also do more theatre sector focused events, which we’ve been doing for the past 16 years. We are always led to the same question which is what are we going to do about theatre in the performing arts? As well as my Open Space work, I’m also an independent producer working mostly in new writing, dance for film and audio drama. It’s varied and I go with whatever sparks my interest.

Today, we’re joined by: Timi Akindele-Ajani who is a freelance filmmaker and photographer, Cynthia MaiWa who is a Creative Producer at Ffotogallery, Wales, Isabel Gaya who is a Curator at Arctic and Francesca O’Brien who is a Freelance Set Designer and Prop Maker. I’ll let them speak and they can tell you a bit more about themselves and what their job titles actually mean. Timi, do you want to start?

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

Hi, everyone. I’m a filmmaker and photographer, and I kind of oscillate between the two depending on what work is available. Film tends to be a bit of a slower process so photography became a thing that allows me to maintain creativity because it doesn’t require as many resources to make stuff. I’ve been working professionally as a freelancer for coming up to five years now, so I’m still relatively new to it. I’m happy to be here and hopefully give some insights and advice that’s helpful to everyone on the call.

 

Johanna Taylor

Cynthia, would you like to go next?

 

Cynthia MaiWa

Hi, everyone. My name is Cynthia and I am a Creative Producer at Ffotogallery, Wales. Ffotogallery is an independent organisation, we are charity funded and we run exhibitions, festivals, and actually we’re in the process of creating our fifth edition Diffusion Festival, which is a month-long festival of exhibitions and symposium talks which are on photography and lens-based media related topics. As a Creative Producer, I work with photography artists, and it’s hard to describe it in a nutshell, but I’m happy to answer any questions, whoever has any. And thank you for being here.

 

Johanna Taylor

Thank you. Isabel, do you want to go next?

 

Isabel Gaya

Hi. My name is Isabel and I’m an Art Curator at Arctic. So, we’re an art consultancy who work with young and emerging artists, and we just try and give them as much exposure and fair pay. We also design collections for hospitality workspaces. I’m happy to answer any questions as we go along.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice. And Francesca?

 

Francesca O’Brien

Hi, everyone, thanks for coming. It’s lovely to meet you all. I’m a Set Designer for the fashion industry and a Prop Maker for the film industry, and I’ve been doing it for almost seven years now. I used to work predominantly in the fashion industry, designing catwalk shows, window displays, working for photographers like Tim Walker, Inez and Vinoodh, Paolo Roversi, and Craig McDean, to name a few. I’ve worked on films for Disney, Warner Brothers, MGM and made props for those. So, if you have any questions, let me know.

 

Johanna Taylor

A really impressive group of people, I’d say. The first set of questions that I’ve got are more around education. So, did you go to university? And, if you did, was your degree related to the work that you do now or was it in a vastly different field? And how was that journey? Francesca, do you want to answer that first?

 

Francesca O’Brien

So, I studied Textile Design. I did a mixture of fine art, textiles, and mixture design, in Ireland, where I’m from. And although it’s kind of different to what I ended up doing, I think it was like an underpinning for my interest in materials and processes. So, it kind of taught me way of thinking and it was a good guide to develop my own intuition and creative process.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice, thank you. Timi, do you want to answer?

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

Yeah, I did go to university. I studied Film Studies, which fits into what I do now but in a way is also really different because anyone who does Film Studies will let you know that there’s no actual practical filmmaking aspect involved in most Film Studies courses across the country. So, throughout my whole tenure at university, I didn’t pick up a camera. At least not once during my course or for anything for uni; it was all theory based. That being said, I won’t say that it wasn’t helpful to the work that I do now, it was very helpful. Some people say that you can get a lot of the technical knowledge for free on the internet, which I think is where I learned a lot of my skills. Whereas theoretical knowledge, which is of varying use, who knows, might be a bit harder to come across, at least directly from the vast resource of the internet. But one thing that university did give was open the doors for what cinema, filmmaking and the arts could be. I went in with a really limited view and I came out with a much broader scope of what it could be. So, that’s my story about university.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice. I think that’s a really good point about the internet being such an amazing resource and it can probably make you feel like you don’t need to go to uni. But it’s probably good, because it’s infinite to have those people in the know that can at least point you in the right direction, which I think is probably a good thing that you get from uni. Isabel, do you want to go next?

 

Isabel Gaya

Yeah, I went to university at Goldsmiths. I went after two years of just teaching English as a foreign language and then decided that I wanted to do something a bit more creative. So, I did Art History and I think that was the springboard to just everything that I’ve done so far, it kind of put me in the right mindset for what my future career isn’t.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice. And yeah, that kind of feels like, that idea that you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do from the get-go. You can kind of meander a little bit if you want or you can meander a lot. I know loads of people that have gone through all sorts of different sectors and different jobs and are amazing at all of them. Cynthia, what about you?

 

Cynthia MaiWa

 

Yeah, I also went to uni. I did Documentary Photography and it’s sort of similar to what I’m doing right now in my job.

 

Johanna Taylor

Cool, thank you. I think that’s really interesting, for those people that are at uni, to kind of get an idea that there doesn’t have to be a direct correlation between what you study and what you end up doing. And I think it’s just really important to study something that you’re really interested in and it doesn’t have to be like, ‘Oh, that’s because I want to do that thing’. And so, the next question is: what were your main lessons that you learned from university, or during your first year of work? Let’s start with Francesca.

 

Francesca O’Brien

So, I was going to say, to apply for any awards, bursaries, and any sort of opportunities that you might not feel like you’re going to be the winning candidate for. It’s a great opportunity to just go for things. I remember, in my final year, I applied for some research bursaries and stuff like that, and I never thought that I’d get them and I got a couple. That was a big eye opener of funding for things that you want to pursue further, maybe after university or even during university. Just having the confidence to go for them, just give it a go because loads of people don’t apply for those things and they don’t even know about them. Make the most of the facilities. I think I didn’t notice that after you leave university you don’t have access to like a woodturning lathe or weaving looms – things that are free and in abundance when you’re in university, but then they’re kind of more difficult to find when you leave. And then the last thing I’d say would be to fill up your well of knowledge and make the most out of the university library. I still actually go back to my university library, when I go back to Ireland, because it was such a great resource for developing my own language and finding artists, designers and stuff that really resonates with me. And I remember I had a really good DVD archive of unusual, bizarre films and television programmes and it was really great. So yeah, it’s to make the most out of everything, soak it up like a sponge.

 

Johanna Taylor

I think that point about the grants, awards and stuff is a really good one. And I think that’s something that people will skip over quite easily, as you said there’s lots of people who don’t apply. How did you find out about them when you were at uni? If someone’s studying now, where would they look?

 

Francesca O’Brien

I think I found out from my university tutor. There were some specific ones, there’s one called the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust and that was a specific one about researching. I wanted to research more about the South Pole and expeditions there. So yeah, I think lots of research online and then maybe tutors or people that have graduated that you might know or, depending on your field, maybe a career guidance counsellor. Although mine wasn’t great when I was in university, but maybe something like that. Most people that enter don’t think they’re going to win so it’s not unusual to feel that way.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice. Thank you. Timi, what about you?

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

I said a bit about university and what I was able to get from it, I’ll probably focus a bit more on the first year of work. So, I was quite fortunate in that I graduated in July, and I was able to get a job next March, which even though some people might think is a long distance, the reality is you can go ages after you graduate without finding any kind of work and, nevertheless, work that’s in the field you actually want to pursue. So, I was quite fortunate I was able to get my first job as a Junior Video Editor at a production company and I was able to bolster my skills that I had before entering the world of work. One thing that I did learn though is that I was absolutely rubbish, and I thought I was better than I thought I actually was. But that’s the lesson that you have to learn, I think, in that first year of work. It doesn’t really matter how many skills you’ve acquired from the internet, or from other places of education, it’s all about the application of those skills. And if you don’t know how to apply those skills in a way that is fitting of your creative industry, you’re not going to find progress. You’re still going to bump into things, make mistakes, do the wrong thing and that’s not to say that you need to be perfect in that first year, that you need to be able to get it 100%. It’s more to say that you have to learn in that first year how to actually be someone who is now in the industry, as opposed to someone who was learning about it, and they’re very different things. A perfect example is me working as a Junior Video Editor in this company. Usually, when someone watches a video with me that I’ve edited, I just press play and it’s a bit jittery because it hasn’t fully rendered or whatever, and the person sitting with me, because they’re my mate, they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s fine, don’t worry’. But if that’s someone in a production company, whose time is very limited, you can’t just press play and it’s all jittery. They’re going to say to you ‘I’ll come back when it’s really to watch’ and leave. The trick of the trade is to render out that clip before you ask anyone to come and see it. So, it’s that kind of stuff, like learning how to actually work in the industry, I think that’s the most valuable thing. I think that first year is learning how to actually be a functioning operative in the creative industry you work in.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, I think there’s lots of unspoken rules, or most that kind of come out when you start working. And I think one thing that would probably be good is to be really patient with yourself when you graduate. You know that the environment between school and professional work is going to be totally different and you are new, but you’ll figure it out eventually. Just keep learning. Isabel, what do you think?

 

Isabel Gaya

Yeah, I agree with both those points, massively. You didn’t know what you had at the university library until you didn’t have it anymore, I was thinking about that today. But for me, the first year of uni, I lacked so much confidence and I think I had to channel it somewhere else. So, I did quite a lot of volunteering in galleries and free internships, which you shouldn’t do, but just getting that work experience up because it’s a very competitive industry. A lot of people are trying to get in and I just think, like Timi was saying, about just learning how to be in that workplace. You have to ask questions; it’s about having the confidence to gain that experience. And also, lots of faith that it’s going to be okay. I think gaining experience is really vital because a lot of these jobs, which everyone’s going for, they want so much experience but you’ve just come out of uni. And it’s like, how do you balance that? I just think getting into those galleries ASAP was probably one of the best things that I could have done.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, I did a bit of unpaid work but it was while I was still at uni so I had the cushioning of my student loan. I think that’s normally a good thing to do, if your course allows that kind of time around it. I did volunteering at arts festivals and things like that but it was just really good stuff to put on my CV. Cynthia, what about you?

 

Cynthia MaiWa

I couldn’t agree more with what Francesca said earlier about applying for grants and awards. I think that’s really important; we miss it a lot as artists. And it’s not the only way but one of the best ways to get exposure, and for people to see what you’re doing and to remember your name. Also, being open minded. Francesca said something about being a sponge, I think that’s really important as an artist, you shouldn’t be closed minded and should welcome opinions from different people. Know your opinion but sometimes you never know what you’ll get from someone else.

And then networking, especially amongst your peers. We sometimes forget that the person who you’re studying with is also an artist, and they can offer information on your project and on your own work. So, I think that’s also another important point, peer to peer mentorship. And more of this [online events], because sometimes we don’t think about joining Zoom and listening to others. I would have loved to when I was in uni and had this opportunity to meet people who are working in the industry and are doing the job that I’m doing right now, to learn from them. So, join more things like this, clinics and all that.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice, all really good advice. So, I think three of us are London based and two aren’t. But I think a lot of times with the creative industries, it feels like it has a metropolitan bias, or are sort of drawn to big cities, a lot of the jobs are kind of focused there. Do any of you have any particular thoughts or considerations around that? And how that has shifted with everything going online, I think it’s particularly interesting now. Cynthia, do you want to answer first?

 

Cynthia MaiWa

I am based in Cardiff, Wales. I actually struggled with that question when Naomi was asking me but I think now things are online, it’s easier for you to get more opportunities. Remote opportunities especially, even if you’re based in Wales and you’re looking for a job in London, it’s easier for you to get it. But at the same time, I did say that in Cardiff and Wales, it lacks a lot of diversity, there’s not so many jobs that are suited for people within the diverse community. So, I’m sorry if I don’t have the right answers right now but that’s all I can offer at the moment. It’s good that we have most of everything in the virtual world, I guess.

 

Johanna Taylor

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. I think it’s just your opinion and that was a good answer. Francesca, what about you? Because you’re not based in London, I don’t think.

 

Francesca O’Brien

I am based in London but I think my answer to this would be that it depends on the type of person you are. I was raring to move to London as soon as I left university, like really excited, but I know a lot of people that maybe prefer a different style of a creative lifestyle. I know someone that lives in New Zealand and has a vineyard and makes wine, has a much slower pace of life and lives in the countryside. That suits their creative output and their kind of market, their tufting wall-hanging person. So yeah, I think it depends. I think there’s lots of great things about living in a city, lots of opportunities, an abundance of work or those kinds of opportunities that are often financially dependent because you have a higher cost of living. Whereas, if you live in maybe a more rural or smaller town, there’s opportunities there for you to form a collective, to find spaces that are being used. I know people that have set up cooperatives or collectives of artists in old tower blocks or in an old charity shop. One of my friends did that and because they had a lower cost of living, it meant that they could spend more time honing their craft while either working in hospitality or working in other galleries, or whatever else. So, I think it depends on the type of person that you are, and whether the city hub or somewhere a bit smaller suits you.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, I think that’s really fair. I think as well though, probably partially, maybe it’s affected by or depends on your role, the kind of work you do and the particular sector that you’re in. If you do stuff that’s really sort of collaboration focused, it’s probably easier to be closer to the other people that do what you do, but also with the internet, it makes a lot of that much easier. So, moving on and thinking about advice specifically for the two years of students that have had their education, mentoring and creative opportunities curtailed slightly by COVID. What would you say to them, to advise them to make up for lost ground? If you agree with that term? Let’s go with Isabel.

 

Isabel Gaya

Yeah, that is devastating but I think, during my time at university there was still the strikes going on, we had two batches of strikes and half COVID. So, I can kind of relate to that feeling of not feeling that you’ve got the full experience. But in a way, I just think it’s what we’ve all been doing for the last two years of just keeping calm and moving forward. I think you can use the resources and find university resources and support and reach out to peers. I don’t know if you can make up for last time, that might be really good.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice, thank you. Cynthia, what do you think? What would you say?

 

Cynthia MaiWa

Again, I think I would say, talk to your peers, just what Isabel has said. I think it’s really important, especially within the photography industry, I know Timi would probably know about this, it’s really important within the projects that you’re making, that you keep talking to people about it. It will help you articulate your own ideas and also someone might have something interesting to share to you. So, just keep talking about your projects and what you’re doing and share your work and show it. Instagram is not the best possible way to share your work because there’s a validation issue around it and mental health, but I do advise you to create a website and start applying for these grants. That would really help.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice, so just keeping going is really the theme here, isn’t it? So, Francesca, what do you think?

 

Francesca O’Brien

Yeah, I think that the kind of lost ground phrase, it didn’t really sit that well with me. But it’s true, it’s

been a difficult time, especially for students, I think they’ve been hit really hard by it. I was actually talking to my mom the other day about this and she made a good point and said that COVID can’t affect talent and ambition and drive. It can take away a lot of different things, time being one of those, but you still possess the talent and ambition, and everything that you had before it came into our lives. So, just kind of hold on to that, and remember that you will still be a success and you’ll still be able to achieve all the dreams that you want. Also, I think Timmy and Johanna, you both kind of touched on the idea that your career is not necessarily just an upward trajectory, and that sometimes it can be up and down or you know bits and pieces, until you get on the path that you want to be. And sometimes you get onto the right path, and then you’d like to change gear. So, I think to not just think about it that way and to think in more of a longer-term view, that our career is our lifespan and that two years actually isn’t as much as it might feel at the time.

 

Johanna Taylor

So, it’s keeping kind of future focused and not forgetting about your end goal, though it is really, really difficult. I’ve been playing with the order that I’ve written down and now I’ve forgotten where I am. Timi, I think you haven’t answered yet.

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

Yeah, I think I really resonate with what Cynthia said about your peers and the idea of perseverance in the face of. I think, as a creative individual, you have a responsibility to the work that you make in a wider sense. And just being a creative individual, you have a responsibility, or at least a drive to just keep making stuff, regardless of what’s going on, regardless of what the situation is and regardless of what your circumstances are. Probably a bit tough, but it is true. I feel like COVID has been perhaps the most awful experience a lot of people experienced in their lives. But at the same time, it’s provided so many new avenues for how we experience life and the world. Everything is different now and there’s just lots of opportunity for creative exploration and figuring things out, within the bounds of being confined to smaller spaces, to our homes. It’s very specific in terms of how I’ve tried to survive the creative onslaught that COVID has given us. I think the main thing is that in spite of what’s happened, it falls to us to remain creative, not in the hopes of making something amazing or world changing, but just in staying true to the idea that you are someone who wants to create things and make things and produce output. So, as long as you can keep that muscle, because it is a muscle that you have to keep going, as long as you can find a way to keep that going then hopefully that can help you ride out this down period or not feel like you’ve lost too much time.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, I love that idea of creativity being a muscle that you just have to keep working, just like anything else. And I guess just keeping connected with people in however way you can do it. Also, that idea of no one being able to take away your talent I think is gorgeous.

So, thinking about everything that you’ve just said, do you have any advice that you would want to give to young people, that maybe have a small amount of experience so far? Let’s go for Francesca.

 

Francesca O’Brien

I would say so many things. Don’t be afraid to be the new person, I would say often graduating you feel like, ‘Oh, I don’t have any experience’ or you feel like the underdog. Especially as a freelancer, I’ve just started a new job at the moment and as a freelancer, there’s so many times I started a new job. I’m getting used to introducing yourself, proving your worth and kind of showing who you are as an individual. I think it’s something that you learn by just doing it over and over again. So, that is kind of something to bear in mind, that everybody does all the time so it’s not unusual. I would say be dogged and I kind of don’t really take no for an answer lots of times, not in a pushy way but as a creative opportunity to see if people employ you. For example, my first job when I was in university, I really wanted to work with a set designer called Shona Heath. I had emailed her 20 times during the year and I never received any reply. So, I wrote her a letter and sent her some pieces from my graduate collection, little embroidered badges and stuff like that, and I got an email two weeks later asking me to work on a short film as an intern. So, I think doing something that’s outside of the box, like a lot of people, myself included, there’s so many emails that sometimes you don’t get around to, intentionally or not. If somebody doesn’t reply to your email, just send another one. So, I had worked for Shona for five years and then I wanted to get into the film industry. I didn’t know anyone in the film industry and it’s quite a notorious industry to break into, it feels very closed when you’re on the outside. So, I bought Kays catalogue, which is a production manual full of telephone numbers of people in the film industry so I would cold call to like 80 people and eventually got a job. I mean, slightly embarrassing sometimes but also, I think, why not? You’ve got nothing to lose and I had lovely chats with people along the way.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice. What I’m taking from that is persistence beats resistance, and I love everything about it. Timi, what about you? What’s your piece of advice?

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

I’d say, if you can do any work to remove your own sense of self-worth from the things you make, do it as soon as you can and really stamp it in. Even I, to this day, still struggle, and probably will always struggle with the idea of someone not liking something that I’ve made. But what makes it easier is that I’ve done a bit of work to feel like, okay, you don’t like this, that doesn’t mean that you hate me, that doesn’t mean that I’m worthless, that doesn’t mean I’m an awful artist, it just means you don’t like this. And the sooner you can do that, the sooner you’ll see your creative output get better and grow faster, and just be able to produce more work. The fundamental part to becoming better at something is to just do a lot of it. I feel like for me, when I was younger, I would just paralyse myself with the idea of someone not liking something that I’ve made to the point that I wouldn’t actually make anything. And then finally, I’d muster up the courage to make something and then it would be crap, I’ve just spent two years planning and making this thing and it’s not good. But if I was like, ‘I made it, I did the work, you didn’t like it, but on to the next thing’, I wouldn’t have wasted two years spending time making this thing perfect, and I’m not in a place where I can make something perfect because I’m 21 years old or younger. I needed to grow more as an artist and spend more time doing the work itself and learning the lessons from the mistakes. So yeah, I’d say as soon as you can try and disassociate your personal wealth as an artist, or maker, from what you’re making, because then you’ll be able to make more. And most of the time if something is bad, nobody cares anyway so you can just shelve it and make something else, that’s what I’d say.

 

Johanna Taylor

I think everything has its time; you can always go back to that shelf. Maybe it was just too soon to hold on to it. Isabel, what about you?

 

Isabel Gaya

My advice would be experience. Lots of different experiences were on my side. So, a bit like Francesca cold calling, I had my draft email that every Saturday I’d just bombard every gallery that was in London with, and then eventually, I got this volunteering. It was once every two weeks, they reimbursed for travel and I was there on and off for about two years, quite dedicated to it because even though you’re sending out all the emails, it’s quite disheartening how little get back to you. So, I just kept going on at this and then eventually I got a job at the cafe that was next to it because they were like ‘we can do something for this sad little girl’. And then basically I met this artist and we got chatting, and I ended up doing most of his social media. So, I just think with those stories and stuff, just don’t give up. All those experiences can lead to something and it looked good on my CV.

 

Johanna Taylor

And I think that’s not just right at the beginning, that idea of just sending out lots of emails. As a creative that will be your life, especially as a freelancer, or for myself as a producer, I spend so much time emailing people being like, ‘Hey, we’ve got this new project, are you interested?’. Most people will just totally air my emails and that’s fine, try not to take offence. Cynthia, what’s your piece?

 

Cynthia MaiWa

I think I’ll paraphrase what everyone has said and for me, it’s consistency. I think, today, there’s so many photography images going out. I think it becomes really stressful and annoying for someone like the young people who are studying it. And they think that maybe their work won’t be important in two years’ time or tomorrow because these photographers who are amazing are still making work. So, I guess if you remain consistent in your own work and you believe in your own project, but at the same time you keep sharing it, I think you’re doing a good job.

 

Johanna Taylor

Thank you so much, guys. I think that was all such amazing advice and I’m sure that everyone on this call really appreciates it. We’ve been sent through a few questions from the audience so let’s have a look at those. So, the first one is from Anna and they ask: is social media like LinkedIn enough to build strong connections with organisations in the UK and the US, if I’m located in Europe? Does anyone have any particular feelings towards this one and would like to answer?

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

Yeah, more so than ever probably. Before the pandemic it was a bit more bricks and mortar, in terms of the interactions. People used to meet face to face to go for coffee so they could talk about ideas, which just seems so ridiculous now. So, I think now more than ever, you can form relationships with institutions outside of where you’re based, digitally and virtually. Whether LinkedIn and social media is a good way to go about it, I don’t necessarily know because, for me, social media is definitely something I dip my toe in and out of with a frightening level of inconsistency. But I think, LinkedIn is an opportunity to meet the person behind the organisation and social media is an opportunity to meet the person behind the organisation. If you can form a relationship there, it’s much better than bringing you in, speaking the good gospel of your name to the organisation, and you just reaching out to them directly. So maybe from that angle, it could work.

 

Johanna Taylor

I agree with all of that. Does anyone else have any follow up thoughts?

 

Francesca O’Brien

I would say maybe on the opposite side, not that I don’t think what Timi said is really useful and really interesting. But also, I would like to say that I actually don’t have a LinkedIn profile and I also don’t really use social media that much, but I think something that Cynthia mentioned earlier was about fostering relationships with your friends. I often get work; I would say 90% of my work comes from friends that I’ve made on projects. So, the idea that maybe I would have thought as a student coming in is that they’re your competition but actually, they’re the people that will probably get you lots of work.  Not just the big boss at the top, or whatever, the people that you’re working alongside. Often, I’ll get passed on a job because somebody I know can’t do it or they say, ‘I’m not really interested in this job, would you like to do it?’. Then I pass on a job to them when I’m not able to do something, or if I’m on a production, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, we need another person, would you like to come on?’, so a lot of my work actually comes through WhatsApp texts. I don’t really have that many interviews so it’s kind of the other side of the spectrum because I know that lots of other people have interviews, and that kind of more structured approach but yeah, just to say that sometimes it can be slightly more informal once you start to make friends.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, I think those are all really, really good points. It feels to me as if using social media is probably better for getting connections with individuals, as opposed to organisations. So, if you think of an organisation just being a collective of individuals, like that organisation isn’t real, it’s a bunch of people. So, developing strong connections with individual people is probably better because those people will move around, they’ll go to different organisations, they might pull you along with them. So, next question is from Dawn. How do you make sure you meet the right people at university? Who are the right people? Isabel, do you have any thoughts?

 

Isabel Gaya

I’m probably not a good person to ask these, I came up with two friends but they were good. I think probably talking to everyone, maybe engaging like who wants what, and who are the people you can study and focus with. And potentially, there’s clubs that you can join with people who share similar interests. I clearly did not take full advantage.

 

Johanna Taylor

No worries. Did anyone make any friends at university? There’s a question. If anyone has any answers to that question, please do come forward.

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

Yeah, I was hoping I can maybe say something more useful. I met a really nice, creative collaborator at uni but I think one thing that was cool was actually meeting people after uni, who I went to uni with. Because it’s just such an easy in with certain people like, ‘Oh, you went to the Exeter?’, ‘Oh, yeah, I went to Exeter as well. Want to go for a coffee?’. I think maybe it might not be about meeting exactly the right people who are at your university right now but look at the alumni. Look at the people who’ve been to your university and just be like, ‘Hey, I’m a student from this university’ or something like that and be like, ‘Hey, let’s talk. Do you remember that bar? That was fun. Right? I went there the other week; it still smells like sticky floor’ or whatever. It’s an easy point of interaction and I think everyone’s made the point of relationships, relationships, relationships. So, whatever you can do to foster those relationships, I guess it’s that. So, I don’t know about making sure how you meet the right people when you’re there but it’s a network and from that network, you might be able to meet people.

 

Cynthia MaiWa

I agree. I don’t know what right people means but for my MA, we used to have a WhatsApp group and when everyone was finished, they were saying that we should now leave and go our separate ways. I was like ‘No, we shouldn’t, because this is our network and this is a collective of different artists, and I want to have your numbers and I want to know what you’re doing two years down the road’. And these are the people I’m also working with at the moment. So, I think it’s keeping those connections that you have, with your peers, with your friends, whoever that you meet. My mom’s partner says always write their name, their email, and their number, and always remember something special that they tell you. If they tell you they have a dog, and the dog’s name is Charlie, remember that because when you meet them one day, you will be like, ‘How is Charlie?’ and that would make their day.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice, there’s a really good question here so I want to make sure we’ve got time for it. But Anna has asked: how do you become more assertive and less apologetic when you are applying for jobs, and are a young woman with not much work experience? Who would like to take that one? Go on, Isabel.

 

Isabel Gaya

I can really relate to that. For the job that I have now, I applied while I was at university and it was an internship. I recently found three pages of just notes that I wrote all about the company and everyone there. And I just think, preparation, feeling confident and knowing what your objective is and what you want. Even if it’s taking three hours, like the week before or a day before, decide what that is to feel prepared and confident, that’s one less thing you have to worry about. You’ve got that sorted, now just make sure you’re hydrated and you’ll be good.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, I agree. I think especially when applying for jobs and interviews, being prepared is the absolute key for that, just properly reading the company’s or the artist’s website. The amount of interviews I went to that I just didn’t do that and they were like, ‘So, what did we do last year? Did you enjoy it?’ and I was like, ‘Sorry, yeah, I think you’re right’. Going into it knowing that you know it and you are totally worth that job, because you have put that work into it, will help you feel more confident.

 

Cynthia MaiWa

I think the question also mentions that you have less work experience, I think it’s important to be very honest about that. Sometimes people just forget to say that ‘I don’t have any experience’ because you feel like it’s shameful but there’s no shame about that. Some companies and organisation like people who are interested in what they’re doing but they don’t have all these experiences, so just be as honest as you can.

 

Johanna Taylor

And I think remembering that some skills are transferable. If you haven’t got the exact experience in that thing, doesn’t mean that you don’t have some really valuable skills that you got through some volunteering, or home life. You might be really good at organising things or have really great communication skills that haven’t been developed through doing that exact thing, but communicating that in the right way, that’s still going to be really valuable.

 

Francesca O’Brien

I think that assertiveness, and that aspect, also sometimes comes in time. I definitely was quite shy or nervous at the start when I first embarked on like the professional industry. So, kind of taking a bit of solace in that and knowing that, okay, if I’m not as assertive as I’d like to be right now, how can I improve on that for the next time? Or I suppose just adapting and reading the room of how things are responded to and then knowing that the next time maybe I can be a bit more firm on my day rate, or how much I’m worth, or how many hours I’m willing to contribute. So, yeah, sometimes it takes time.

 

Johanna Taylor

Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve got time to ask one last question, which is a great one. Are free internships worth my time? From AA. Anyone?

 

Isabel Gaya

No, don’t be exploited. It’s about organising I think, your time and your finances. So, if it is free work like volunteering, just make sure you’re not putting all of your energy into it. But I think you have to demand travel or lunch, you’re a human being and doing work, I think you have to know that worth. But saying that, a lot of experiences might have to be like a one-off freebie out of the goodness of your heart.

 

Francesca O’Brien

I would also say I think that they serve some sort of a purpose, or they have anyway, in my experience. I got my first job because I did an internship. I used to work in a cafe when I was in university and I would save up that money to then go and do internships in the summer for three months in London. When I was in university, me and my friends used to do that and we’d rent like a three-bedroom flat and very often there’d be nine of us in there. And we would see people sleeping on the couch, sharing beds, all that kind of stuff, because we couldn’t afford to live in London, and we were only here for three months to work for free. And when I did the internship that got me into the job, it was on a short film, I lived in a hostel for like a month until I could sleep on my friend’s couch. And although that sounds really rough now, it’s probably something that I struggle to do now that I’m in my 30s, at the time I did love it as well. I remember getting up at six o’clock in the morning, me and my friend looking at each other and being like, ‘This is great’. So, naivety can help but what Isabel said, I think, is a really valid point that you need to ask for things like transport or for something like food, or something that shows that you’re actually not going to be taken advantage of. You’re doing it because it’ll give you a foot on the ladder but clarify a certain timeframe you’re going to work on it, like, some of them might know I’m only doing this for a month and then I’m off. You know, I’ve got the thing on my CV, I’ve got the experience, I’ve done my research of what that job is going to be like, I’ll do it if want to do it, so that it’s not never ending or ongoing.

 

Cynthia MaiWa

I agree. I think yes and no. It’s really important, for our organisation, especially Ffotogallery, when we’re doing festivals we remember the people who volunteered with us a while back or five years ago, and we try and offer them incentives. So, yes, make sure like Isabel said, you have to prioritise your time but also make sure that the organisation you’re working with is aware that you’re looking for a job and what you’re doing, so that they can remember that Charlie is an artist, and so and so and so.

 

Johanna Taylor

Timi, do you want to add anything? This is our last question.

 

Timi Akindele-Ajani

I did have something to add but it doesn’t have anything to do with the question. I was just going to say that Charlie, the dog, is doing really well for himself. Not relevant whatsoever, but I just thought I couldn’t miss it.

 

Johanna Taylor

Nice, thank you. I mean, if it’s worth anything, my opinion on free internships is that it’s a real problem, that the creative industries kind of rely on them a bit to get cheap/free labour and it really does sort of add to the cycle of access issues, I think, and the lack of diversity within the creative industries. Though, I do see how there are good and bad sides to it. I think that’s all we have time for today, for the panel anyway. Thank you so much. You guys were amazing panelists, I thought you answered those questions really, really well.