Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Stories abound about college and university graduates who, months and even years after graduation, cannot find jobs. They should have a chat with Dr Margaret Wyszomirski, a lecturer in the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy, Ohio State University, USA.
She could give them some very useful tips, many of which she shared with her audience in the talk 'Considering Skillsets Necessary for Creative Workers, Industries and Education' at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) in October. The occasion was the EMCVPA's 2013 Rex Nettleford Arts Conference.
I found the segment on 'Spotting Work Opportunities in the Performing Arts' particularly interesting and, after the presentation, interviewed her on that topic.
Finding the opportunities, Dr Wyszomirski said, requires a network as well as "a very good sense of context". To get the latter, she suggested that the graduate ask him or herself a series of questions.
You could, she said (and in our conversation she used 'you' a lot, as if addressing her performing arts students), usefully enquire about the kinds of things being produced and try to find out "where you're going to end up". However, she advised, "you don't start there". The initial question should not be what is going on in your field, but how do you find out what's going on there.
She identified three ways. First, you could ask performing arts practitioners and teachers. She said, "You go to people who are in that field, people who are your peers, and people who teach about the field. These people have a much broader, deeper sense of what's going on. They have a wealth of experience. Sometimes they also have a longitudinal sense, stretching over a long time period, so they can say it used to be like this and it's now like this. These are people who are giving you indicators - look here now, keep your eye on this."
Second, Dr Wyszomirski said, you could get information from people who do research in performing arts. "There is a wealth of audience research on why people go to the theatre or dance," she added. She then gave two illustrations indicating that research could lead the graduate in unexpected directions. "One of our orchestra people," she said, "did a study that found that an unusually high number of people in the audience went because they were hoping to gain transcendence - the sense of being so engaged by the music that you went outside of yourself."
And a survey by a museum (in Ohio) which started off with the assumption that people went to museums to learn things and have an educational experience found that, in fact, "they really went for a social experience with others".
Dr Wyszomirski also advised graduate job seekers not to confine their search to the professional performers in their field. Amateur musicians in the community orchestra, for example, could belong to networks that could be of help. "The thing a lot of people don't realise is that in almost any kind of community in the performing arts there's always someone who is professional at some level, whether it's the director of the community theatre or the choreographer or, in music, the conductor," she said.
Pointing out that community performing groups often want new works to produce and, for example, a new composer could benefit, Dr Wyszomirski continued: "Being in a community group doesn't mean you're not getting professional contact. The more you understand this, the more you can spot opportunities."
Professional associations, like the Jamaica Intellectual Property Organisation, she said, were another source of information for the job seeker. She said that many of those organisations allow student membership and she advised new graduates to join up.
"Go to their conferences," Dr Wyszomirski said. "They often offer professional development or workshops about things of interest. You really have to take seriously the idea that you are in an ongoing learning profession, a dynamic profession."
She added: "The more you expose yourself to a large cross section of the field, the more you meet people with different components of it and the more you get a sense of what's going on in the field."
I also asked Dr Wyszomirski about the skill sets necessary for arts scholars and creative workers. The first, she said, was the artistic - this could be a creative or a performing skill.
The second was a skill in organisational management. Dr Wyszomirski cited examples as marketing skills, fundraising skills, skills in writing proposals for grants, and skills in planning. "Many performing arts students don't know what a business plan is," she said. "It's foreign to them."
Third and fourth, respectively, she said, the performing artist needs technological and entrepreneurial skills. Dr Wyszomirski was making the point that artists often have to set up their own small businesses.
Probably the least apparent of the skills needed by the artist, she said, are political and social efficacy. Because artists constantly get into situations which don't suit their plans, they need to learn to negotiate for change with policymakers in both organisations and in government.
Dr Wyszomirski said "you might be performing in a community centre which is closed at a certain time and you can't get to do your performance. How do you get them to keep it open? This is small-scale social and political efficacy."
Dr Wyszomirski ended her list with a sixth skill set, education and training and teaching. Since many artists end up with teaching as their second career, they need to get formal training in that field, she said.