Sean graduated in 2013 from the University of Dundee where he was very involved in extracurricular student projects. He has been working at Creative Edinburgh as a Digital and Programme Coordinator for about a year, and also finds time to work freelance.
You graduated from the University of Dundee in 2013 with a 1st Class BA in Illustration. Can you describe the process of transitioning from being a student, and into degree-relevant work?
Sean: It was a challenging and exciting time. Final year of uni was very focused on creating work and portfolio building, which in turn made me realise that practicing Illustration wasn't actually what I wanted. A degree doesn't and shouldn't define who you are. A degree in the arts gives you great analytical skills, a creative approach to problem solving and then what you do with it is entirely up to you. There is also lots to be done with the resources and network that university provides, to prepare for taking the next step in to industry. I was interested in the extended context of visual arts and design within digital culture - how creatives produce work using digital media and how the arts are communicated to the public, exhibited and sold online. I focused a lot of my energy on extra curricular work, such as curating the mid-year exhibition for the Illustration department and working as an active member of the Student Curatorial team. Use the time wisely to think about what you want to use your degree for and what you can do in your final year to make sure you are ready for the next challenge.
You were a Class Rep and a member of the Student Curatorial Team at Uni. Would you say being more involved in student life was useful in obtaining jobs later on?
Sean: Absolutely. For me, being part of something such as the student curatorial team was vital for making the move from education to industry. Set-up by Curator Sophia Hao, the programme gives students the opportunity to explore practical interests in exhibition design, curatorial practice, exhibition marketing, publishing, performance, events management; if I hadn't been involved, I wouldn't be in the position I am in now... definitely not. It gave me an understanding of what happens behind the scenes and allowed me to hammer down some necessary skills for the CV. It also allowed me to begin building a very valuable network of influential creatives, who were not only great professional contacts, but great friends, too.
Tell us about your experiences of internships - where they paid opportunities, and how did they lend themselves to helping you in your career?
Sean: Interning is a tricky subject, it always has been but now more so than ever it is kind of accepted as something that you must do. There are guidelines for interning, but some sectors are better than others for sure at intern programmes. The first one that I was offered right off the back of graduating, was for a small boutique garment studio, working three days a week screen-printing on to their products. It was unpaid, with not much in the way of training or professional development, or any opportunity to progress. In the end I turned it down, it just didn't feel right. If I may and can give any advice - trust your instinct with unpaid internships. If it feels wrong, just don't do it. It won't be worth the name on your CV. Sometimes an organisation or business can't pay an Intern, so in that situation it should be presented as a structured, flexible position where the Intern receives a valuable, tailor-made training programme. But on a whole after that, for the year following graduation I spent time as an intern with Vancouver-based Gallery/Publisher Project Space and here in the UK, as an intern in Dundee's contemporary arts institute DCA. Both positions were funded and provided me with vital skills in events production, marketing, sales, administration and exhibition design. Both were also a great opportunity to build new networks nationally and internationally.
You've been working at Creative Edinburgh for over a year now. What does a typical day at work involve?
Sean: I'm not sure there is a typical day! We're a small business and as such my role is quite variable between communications and programme coordination. I'm based in a wonderful co-working space in the heart of Leith: The Creative Exchange. When I arrive at the office I start by tackling my inbox, responding to any enquiries, saving inspiring articles, upcoming events and opportunities that I can later send out to our network. (Then I get coffee, delivered by this awesome service called Pact) then it's on to the meaty stuff. I'm all about post-it notes and to-do lists. If I can use a big black marker pen to cross something off, I'm happy! But in all seriousness, it is about prioritising. At any one time I can be working between social and email content planning, events and project planning, website maintenance, administration, membership drive and more. So, getting it all down on paper and then working through tasks one-by-one works for me. But the best (and most tiring days) are those when we have an event. I'm away from my desk and it's all go, picking up materials, setting up a venue, coordinating speakers and suppliers... then actually hosting the event! By the end of it I am usually exhausted, but satisfied at what we have achieved. That's the part I love about my job the most.
You also have creative practice of your own - tell us more about what you do, and how does it fit together with working full time?
Sean: I would consider myself a Creative Producer - it is too difficult to box myself in to one discipline. I'm not sure whether that is a good thing - does that make me a jack of all trades? But yes, I also work freelance on creative events production and publishing. I do one-off zines, magazines, periodicals, publications and have worked with a variety of arts and cultural orgs including Generator Projects, Cooper Gallery Dundee and The Edinburgh International Science Festival. Recently I worked alongside book-maker Cassandra Barron on an interactive piece for Art Walk Porty. My job involves advocating for the creative industries; it is so important to keep my creative practice going outside of work.
Finally, do you have any tips for graduates looking to work in creative industries?
Sean: Dedication and motivation as it's a tough industry to break.
1. If you're still at uni, start thinking about what you want next, now. How will you get there? What experience do you need to do your dream job and how will you get it? As mentioned above, if worthwhile voluntary opportunities and internships are available that will give you the practical skills that you need to get where you want to go, then take them.
2. I know it seems blatantly obvious, but we're in a world where being plugged in online is so important. It can literally make or break you to have a succinct and unique online presence. Establish social media accounts that present you to potential employers and clients in the right way, create a stand-out blog or website to showcase what you do. This doesn't have to cost a whole bunch or be technically amazing... you just need to get the copy and imagery right so that someone viewing it will know exactly what you are about within the first twenty seconds.
3. Finally, the dreaded word... networking. It doesn't have to be boring! But you really need to build your networks. It should be an organic process, so go where you feel that you'll fit in.
You can follow Sean on Twitter: @cellarbelow, LinkedIn and look him up on Creative Edinburgh.