Wednesday 5 April, in the unusual location of Hope Park and Martyrs’ Parish Church, an incredible line up of speakers engaged in an intriguing conversation about arts and work, in this year’s edition of the On The Rocks Arts Industry Panel. The panel was composed of seven professionals from different fields of the arts industry: Jeffrey Black, acclaimed international opera singer, Colin Bradie, Program Manager for Time to Shine, Vincent Forster, young international documentary filmmaker, Fiona McDougall, Exhibitions Manager/Art Curator for The Scottish Parliament, Melissa Reid, Founder/Editor of the Quotidian Literary Magazine and writer, Jack Ridge, Keeper of Conservation for the National Galleries of Scotland and Gill Tasker, Book Marketing Manager at Publishing Scotland. Chair of the panel was Sam Haddow, a young Doctor in the School of English with extensive experience in theatre.
Representing the great variety of possibilities the arts industry offers in terms of job opportunities, each speaker talked about his or her background, including education and relevant experiences, reflecting on their journey and giving useful suggestions to the audience.
Inevitably, there were some common points between the introductory speeches, but one thing stressed multiple times was the fact that there is no right or linear way to get into arts, especially when it comes to deciding what to do after graduation. Talking about his personal experience, Jeffrey Black underlined that ‘you never know who is going to be listening or watching you’, something Vincent Forster highly supported, encouraging the audience to be more open to sharing their projects and ideas, also as a way to make them clearer in their mind. In this sense, he talked about the importance of networking, mingling and attending festivals, events, and panels of all sorts, as a way to approach people from the industry and talk to them personally, to get real insights and maybe, with a bit of luck, unexpected opportunities.
The discussion about the problem of unpaid internships and the socio-economical issues in the arts certainly offered significant food for thought. Gill Tasker underlined how unfair ti is that art is available only to people who can afford not to be paid since the majority of internships in the arts industry are on a ‘voluntary’ basis. While stating the importance of making art as a necessity and not merely for the money, Jeffrey Black, but also Jack Ridge, stressed the importance of promoting it on a national level, not merely as a form of entertainment, but as a vital element in the everyday life for its huge benefits on mental health and society’s welfare. Through a clear and strong statement coming from the industry, authorities might understand that arts truly matter and that more investments are fundamental in order to make them available to as many people as possible.
Hearing from professionals with so much experience, extremely open to questions and ready to provide the audience with real advice, was a great opportunity for all of those interested in working in the arts. Events like this are real treats and the On The Rocks committee did a wonderful job putting together such a varied panel.