By Frances Grant, Yellow House Post-Graduate Curatorial Fellow
What does it mean to support young, aspiring artists and writers? Oftentimes, I wonder how such support manifests in academic and arts communities. Based on my lived experiences and those of my friends, the promotion of young creative professionals has been lax and counterproductive. Students are usually taught that earning a high grade point average and graduating with honors will prepare them for the present-day art job market. Yet, unfortunately, that assertion is incorrect.
Since I obtained a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree, I have been floundering around, struggling to find work. A gig here, a gig there, but they are not enough for me to afford the cost of living. I never have enough experience for this or that job and the only way to acquire that coveted experience is to take on internships, the most notorious unpaid position. Young professionals like myself are all too familiar with the concept of career gatekeeping that prevents us from progressing beyond Internship Purgatory. This stagnation of occupation development in part stems from educational institutions not giving students of the arts the resources and tools they need to navigate the job market. It is all well and good to instruct students in how to write an artist statement or a thesis, but it would be much more useful to teach pupils how to fashion an impressive resume, cover letter, or grant proposal. Rather than having students focus solely on scoring high on standardized tests, high school students should also be encouraged to apply to fellowships and residency programs. Instead of simply giving students advice on how to form a robust portfolio, institutions should also emphasize the importance of professional networking and exhibiting artwork outside of school functions.
As I recall my past academic and professional involvements, many of my instructors and supervisors would praise me for my writing abilities. When I was younger, I would merely respond with a small “Thank you,” but now in recent years I have begun to retort “Thank you, but how can I make a living on my writing?” There usually is not a substantive answer to my question. At best, there are mentions of temporary freelancing ventures and, at worst, they will sermonize on the merits of internships. Rarely has anyone offered me a position or has directed me to a secure job at their organization. The lack of a meaningful response or job offers based on my merits have left me feeling failed by the institutions that I had once thought would secure a successful future for young aspiring creators.
Fortunately, Voices Unearthed is indeed a ray of hope for ambitious young artists and writers. The students featured in the exhibition will be able to include this event of great significance on their resumes. This exhibition has given them the opportunity to connect with experienced professionals who can give them the support they need in this pivotal turning point in their lives. Yellow House is making clear efforts to embolden burgeoning creators to begin forging the foundation of their future career pursuits. I stand by Yellow House, as the budding organization shares my commitment to ensuring that aspiring professionals can pursue a fruitful career in the arts.