For lots of people, the idea of a dream job is one that enables them to help people. Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine something that you love to do with a role that meant you were making a difference in the life of someone else?
Becky Waite, a 25-year-old Embroidery graduate from Macclesfield, does just this. She works as an Art Workshop Facilitator at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool, delivering creative workshops in the Blue Room to three groups of adults with learning disabilities. Becky filled me in on the role that keeps her busy from 9am-5pm three days per week.
What was it that attracted you to the job? Had you worked with people who had learning disabilities before?
I have wanted to work in the creative industries since about the age of 14 when I got really into my Art GCSE. I love making things and was naturally drawn towards working with people when I graduated with a degree in Embroidery from the Manchester School of Art. I only had a little bit of experience of working with disabled people before starting the job, but I have a cousin who has Down’s syndrome and so didn’t really have any apprehension about interacting with learning disabled people. I was drawn to the role as I wanted to gain more experience of leading sessions and loved the idea of working in an established and respected gallery.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love working with the groups and find that a day with Blue Room is always joyful and full of surprises. The group members are very creative and produce wonderful work in a very non self-conscious way. I enjoy motivating the group and nurturing confidence. The best thing is to see a group member overcome their initial hesitance and get really involved with an activity; they then feel a real sense of achievement from it. Seeing someone gain confidence and independence from being part of the project is so rewarding. I also get paid to be creative all day!
Which aspects of the job are the most challenging?
The group members have complex needs and sometimes you need lots of patience to deal with challenging behaviour. On the whole, the groups are a dream to work with and are such an interesting mix of people. They are great company and keep you smiling all day. The most difficult thing is fitting all of my planning, evaluating, meetings and general admin into the hour or so at the end of the day after the session.
Has anything surprised you or been contrary to your expectations since you started the job?
Before I started it was hard to imagine how I could keep on coming up with ideas for sessions, I was a bit worried I’d run out of them! Luckily, one thing tends to lead on to another and I always try to draw from the group’s own interests and facilitate their ideas as much as I can. We always create work inspired by the gallery’s programme which is interesting and varied. I love that we can sometimes literally make something from nothing, the other day we made amazing abstract illuminated drawings by photographing ourselves twirling lights around in a dark room. It’s so simple but looked wonderful and the group really enjoyed it.
If you were to offer advice to someone who was hoping to undertake a similar line of work, what would you say to them?
If you are currently doing an art degree, I can’t stress enough the importance of doing work placements. Use you tutor’s contacts to get relevant placements with the education and learning departments of galleries or art departments in schools. Volunteering whilst studying is also really valuable in gaining experience of working with groups – I helped to run a weekly knitting group for mental health charity Mind whilst at University. Local arts festivals also often want voluntary facilitators to do drop-in workshops for families. Try and get as much experience while you’ve got your student loan to live off so you can use your time to (hopefully) find paid work when you’ve graduated. Although I got a good degree, all of my paid work has stemmed from building up a lot of experience of working with lots of different groups.
Becky’s top tips for working in the art industry:
- Look online – websites like www.artsjobs.org.uk and www.full-circle-arts.co.uk (which also does great work in disability arts) are great sources of opportunities both paid and unpaid. I also do community arts projects as a freelancer so I check these all the time for new opportunities. Twitter is also a great source of jobs and opportunities.
- Join AN (Artist’s Newsletter) – you get access to the online magazine with lots of jobs and opportunities advertised. Also, become a member of AIR which provides you with Public Liability Insurance, essential for most freelance practitioners.
- Be prepared to work for free initially, for example at festivals, but once you’ve gained enough experience, be confident in expecting to be paid a professional fee for delivering a quality service. The arts are notoriously underpaid.
- Keep on learning. Participate in other artist’s workshops to learn new skills that will feed into your practice. For example, I did a bookbinding workshop recently. I’ve also recently finished a teaching course; it isn’t strictly needed to be a facilitator but I found it great for my own development as a session leader.
If you feel inspired to go for your dream job after hearing Becky’s story, remember to read my ‘How to Land Your Dream Internship or Job‘ feature.
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