Young people into arts sector employment

From 2007 to 2015, I worked as the Young People’s Programmes Manager at the National Portrait Gallery. This included running a series of free activities onsite for 14 – 21 year olds outside of school hours, setting up a Youth Forum who ran peer-led activities and advised the gallery on how to become more youth friendly, and creating outreach projects that targeted harder to reach young people, such as LGBT youth groups, homeless young people and teenage mums.

As a natural progression from this, whilst covering a maternity post as Head of Education at the South London Gallery (SLG) from 2016 to 2017, I set up the gallery’s first traineeship. This was for a project called Open Plan, funded by Freelands Foundation, with the aim to have a series of twelve month paid traineeships with the recruitment advert stating: we are particularly interested in individuals who are from backgrounds under-represented in galleries and who are looking for alternatives to studying at university. This first trainee was based in the education department, in particular working on the Open Plan project based on the three local housing estates which included working at Art Block with local children and young people. I left the Gallery just after the trainee started but have been in touch with him and staff across the past year to find out how the traineeship has been developing. The SLG has recently advertised for the second phase of the training programme for Open Plan, now called the Residents’ Programme Assistant, and in addition a heritage trainee role, called the Heritage Programme Assistant, to coincide with the opening of its new building at the former Peckham Road Fire Station.

Shortly after leaving the SLG, I was approached by Art on the Underground to set up a paid traineeship for them funded by Arts Council England, as part of the programme Underline: Art & Music for the Victoria line. In contrast to the SLG this traineeship was for two people, over a shorter period of up to two months, whilst working as hands-on makers on the Clay Station project with ceramic artist Matthew Raw and collective Assemble. The project had two main aims: to pilot a new way of working with project participants for Art on the Underground, recruiting two short-term trainees in partnership with Create Jobs; and to support with the production of tiles for the Clay Station project – the refurbishment of a disused kiosk based near Seven Sisters Station. The two trainees were provided with clay induction training, followed by hands-on making experience including learning the skills to create and fire the bespoke tiles. In addition they were required to support their own learning by completing a trainee diary, to meet weekly with their mentor (which was me), and to go on research visits. The traineeship culminated with them designing and making their own tile. The key things learnt were that the trainees would have liked longer on the project, paying the trainees including travel expenses enabled a broad range of participants to apply, and making sure that there were opportunities and support beyond the traineeships was key, via the partnership with Create Jobs.

I enjoyed doing it – it didn’t feel like a job!

The Clay Station trainee feedback

Thank you for running the traineeship – I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I hope Art on the Underground keep this going on other projects for other young people to get involved with.

The Clay Station trainee feedback

Since 2017, one of my other freelance roles has been working for The Photographers’ Gallery as evaluator of their Programme DEVELOP: Preparing for a Career in the Photography Industry, funded by an anonymous donor. As its name states, this is a careers focused programme exposing the young people (aged 14 – 24) to a broad range of possible jobs in the photography industry, many of which they weren’t aware of beforehand. The three key aims of the programme, which were exceeded in year 1, were that a minimum of 70% of participants attending would: positively increase their perception of their own future in the photography industry; gain new knowledge and skills related to obtaining a career in the photography industry; and leave sessions with the intention of applying these new knowledge and skills. In addition the programme participants needed to be mainly of economic, social or educational disadvantage, assessed by filling out a bursary form to obtain a free place. Some of the older and more regular participants from year 1 of the programme have been offered paid work though setting up a group of paid Ambassadors for year 2. In addition one of the young people I am tracking, through regular phone conversations, has also gained paid work outside of the programme as an assistant photographer, utilising the skills, knowledge and contacts gained during DEVELOP to achieve this.

In second year at uni and this talk was more helpful than all my lectures combined.

Participant feedback

Thank you for opening my eyes to careers that exist within the photography realm. I truly appreciated the advice and words of encouragement you’ve given us.

Participant feedback

In a more recent freelance role I have been carrying out research for Freelands Foundation to make recommendations for a paid internship programme, based in their new Chalk Farm space, with the aim for it to run for twelve months starting during 2019. The research has included thinking about terminology – internship, traineeship or apprenticeship, whether it should be full or part-time, the length of role, when to run it during the year, what to pay, who to target, should they be local, and what should be offered as part of the internship including training and employability skills. Learning from my previous experiences and looking at other examples that exist in museums, galleries and arts organisations we have also been discussing what could be different and exceptional about what is offered at the Foundation.

In conclusion, I plan to continue to contribute towards diversifying the art sector workforce by exposing a wide range of young people to potential careers in the arts, and by recruiting for internships or traineeships, in particular for those who have not gone to university and also see themselves as under-represented in the sector. As this is not something that I can achieve alone, I am looking to set up a network for organisations working on similar programmes that support young people into arts sector employment with the aim to connect both staff and individuals who are interns, trainees or apprentices, as I believe that this specific network does not currently exist. If you are aware of an existing network or are interested in being part of this new network please contact me at .

achel Moss
Freelance Consultant