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Welcome to the world of work

A few days into the first week in my new job, 52,000 students protested through the streets of London, and around 200 occupied the site of the Conservative party’s campaign headquarters in Westminster. While utterly proud of my achievements and pleased as punch with my new position, I felt a sudden and painful pang of guilt for having the benefit and security of a steady job at a time when the future of an entire generation was apparently at stake.

I couldn’t help but think I had got off easy. A few months later and I know for sure that I’m unbelievably fortunate but I intend to make the absolute most of it, minus the nagging guilt.

Don’t get me wrong – I worked hard to get here. As the first university graduate in my family and the proud recipient of a first class degree, I certainly didn’t fulfil the derogatory stereotype of the boozing, sleeping, lounging student sloth. My course was an intense experience, involving more hours of work than a full time job and constructed like a rollercoaster ride through contemporary theatre, live art, design and installation – terrifying, exhilarating, you do feel a little bit sick when you get off but you want to go on again, this time faster. During my degree, I lived in flux between feeling overwhelmingly empowered (…everyone has an inner artist, if the jobs aren’t there, make the work for yourself, create and express yourself freely…) and overwhelmingly deflated (…there is always someone else more successful than you, “networking” is everything, it’s impossible to make a living in the arts…). While I had the facilities, resources and connections that higher education gave me, I was constantly aware that they were finite and that ever-present doubt would creep into the rehearsal room – is it ever feasible to think I can earn a decent living in the arts? So graduating was understandably a traumatic affair. The prospect of the ‘real world’ didn’t seem so inviting in Summer 2010.

But you know what, it’s January 2011 and despite the pouring rain, London is a much brighter place for me and the ‘real world’ is more exciting than I imagined. The DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursary scheme is certainly a blessing – and a rare one at that – but it just goes to show that there are opportunities for young people in the arts and that the last three years and student debt have been worth it in the end. Who knows how much longer this scheme will run but I sincerely hope it does continue, so that others can benefit from this step-up into the world of work, this incredible opportunity to learn on-the-job and what’s more, make a living from their skills and talents. If you’re reading this as a frightened, shell-shocked recent graduate or as a third year student who gets that sick-y feeling in their gut whenever they think of the future, please be assured that it really is worth it. You certainly can gain employment, skills and respect for what you do following your degree in the arts. You just need to look in the right places, be determined and don’t let your post-adolescent angst get the better of you.

A phrase we can’t escape these days is “in these times of austerity…”, usually followed by some thrifty suggestion or used by an official as an excuse for cutting resources. Well, in these times of austerity, when we face massive cuts across all areas of our lives, including the arts, I think it’s important that we don’t lose faith in arts education, that young people keep their right to a good education in whatever interests them most and that the age of austerity doesn’t dissuade Joe or Jane Bloggs, the anxious, creative, arty sixth-former, from following the path that they want to have a stab at and studying an arts degree. There are plenty of organisations out there that offer support to emerging artists, producers, practitioners or whatever us young folk would like to be called… Artsadmin is just one of those, but it’s a rather magnificent one and it is one I’m mightily proud to be a part of.

Laura is trainee producer at Artsadmin, supported by the DCMS Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme.