Case Study

“I went in thinking that becoming a self-employed creative was something I could never achieve…”

Date published: 16 Aug 2022

Posted by: Stephanie Robertson

Young man and woman in a creative workshop

Elevate is a free course to help young creatives aged 18-30 jumpstart their careers. The course teaches participants a range of essential skills for starting a creative career, including how to write a business plan, build a brand online, and apply for funding.

It also gave young creatives the opportunity to learn from the experiences of established creative practitioners and businesses working across the arts and creative industries – through talks, panel discussions, workplace visits, and a masterclass from renowned artist, Rebecca Smith. Rebecca has worked with brands including Spotify and Jimmy Choo, and musicians ranging from Stormzy to the BBC Philharmonic orchestra.

Elevate prioritises people who have taken a non-traditional route into the arts. We caught up with Holly, who took part in Elevate earlier this year, to find out how the course has helped her.

Young creatives in a masterclass workshop
Masterclass with Rebecca Smith

I was looking online for opportunities within the arts in Nottingham when I came across Elevate. I found it 48 hours before applications closed. I’d been part of a similar course in Newcastle before the pandemic, and I had wanted to make links with creatives in Nottingham. I was born here and moved away to study at Newcastle University, before returning during the pandemic.

I applied straight away as Elevate sounded like a good opportunity to meet people of my own age within the arts and who could potentially be my future collaborators. I was also drawn by the chance to learn about a variety of fields from a range of different people and share ideas. The course content looked really interesting.

When I look back on the experience now, the events I wasn’t so sure about are the ones where I learned the most. I applied to meet other young creatives, but one of the biggest things I took away was the information Elevate gave me about pursuing a creative career, including the talks from established artists. I went in thinking that becoming a self-employed creative was something I could never achieve. And I came out thinking it could be a possibility, with much more of an idea of how to achieve it.

My creative practice is quite varied. I do photography, graphic design, fine art, and illustration. I’ve done a bit of freelance photography and helped people out with graphic design before Elevate, so I was very early on in my creative career.

Young creative read booklets

Elevate stood out for being practical and I learnt actual real-world skills. One of the highlights was the two-day talk led by The Prince’s Trust, which covered the basics of setting up your own creative business, including marketing and finance. I learned so much from that, as well as from the artists’ talks.

It was great hearing about what they do and how they approach making a living. How to focus on what you enjoy, but also how to make money. The two-day masterclass with Rebecca Smith looked at open calls for artists and how to approach them. I walked away with so many titbits of information from Rebecca’s workshops. We also learnt a lot about that during our visit to Broadway cinema. Lee Nicholls is a creative producer there and he was really helpful. Lee writes open calls for artists so he could talk us through what he’s looking for. That made an open call feel a lot more like something I could tackle.

One of the things about the course I didn’t expect was how friendly and open everyone was to questions. I thought maybe the talks would be more like presentations, but they were an opportunity to discuss our thoughts and get information you would struggle to get from anywhere else.

The main point I’ve taken away from Elevate is that developing a creative career isn’t an overnight process, and that it’s OK to fail, successful people go through times when they feel stuck. The artists talked openly about how they’ve struggled and got things wrong, giving us different perspectives on how to tackle it.

My outlook now is a lot more positive. It may take me a few years before I’m self-sufficient as a creative practitioner, but Elevate has inspired me to try. Before the course I saw my creative practice as a hobby, but now I’m more positive I would be able to turn it into a full time career.

Young artists hold up glasses of champagne
Elevate participants celebrate their learning, with Michaela Butter, Suzannah Bedford and Alma Solarte-Tobon

I’ve just moved to London to start a new job, but as soon as I’m settled, I want to continue with my art and make it a higher priority than before. I’m open to a lot of different ideas, including selling my own work as graphic and photographic prints and designing for companies. I also like the idea of doing murals. There’s a lot going on in London so hopefully I can develop my creative career and connect with the arts scene.

I’m trying to find opportunities and ways to get my work out there and meet people. I’m not 100% sure how it will go but I’ll take what comes my way. Elevate has renewed my willingness to put in the work it takes to develop a creative career.

The course gave me the chance to learn from artists who are actually doing it and that’s made me feel like a creative career is something I could achieve. I don’t have friends or family members working in the arts or creative industries, so in that sense, I’m self-taught. Elevate gave me access to the creative world, and through The Prince’s Trust, a whole range of practical resources on going self-employed. Like knowing where to go for grants, advice, and tools I can use in my creative journey.

What I’d say to anyone thinking of applying for Elevate is be open minded. It’s tempting to cherry-pick the talks and workshops that sound relevant to your interests, but I went to every one, even those that I didn’t think would be relevant to me beforehand. Those events turned out to be the ones I got the most out of. People have lives and are doing other things, but investing the time was well worth it.  Elevate has changed my outlook on so much.

Holly’s experience on the Elevate course shows how City Arts works to support and nurture young creatives. People attending the course have gone on to receive Prototype Grants awarded by Near Now, a partner in the project. It will support their artistic development, helping them explore an idea for a new project that could help take their creative practice a step further.