A career in carnival

,  3 February 2011

Chris Slann, Sharon George and Helen Davenport work and teach at the Carnival Learning Centre on the Isle of Wight. They spoke to Creative Choices about the varied skills needed for a career working in carnival.

Learning skills for carnival

Chris Slann

"The Carnival Learning Centre is about raising standards and education in subjects relating to carnival. So that can be costume-making, it can be African drumming, it can be samba, it can be salsa, it can be steel pan. So the whole genre of arts skills associated with carnival.

"If people want to go into the carnival world, you have to use your brain. Market yourself, think about what you're making, and run it as a business."

"There's a lot of adults not involved in adult education on the [Isle of Wight]. So the carnival has been a good catalyst for re-engaging people back into education and back into community life.

"The courses that we've developed range from a Level 1 course in carnival, which is 20 guided learning hours long, to the Level 3, which is 120 hours of study.

"The course is divided into three units:

  • Skills development
    Learning the basic skills. So there'll be a unit in using foam as a medium in creating costumes, pattern-cutting, sewing.
  • Research
    A theme is given out, a commercial brief, and each of the learners has to act as a self-employed person. They have to research a theme, they have to present drawings to the client.
  • Creation
    Creation of the costume that the client has chosen.

“The accredited courses that run do offer clear progression routes for people to move through, and people move into employment or further education. We've had about a 50 percent success rate in moving people onto different career paths.

“Quite a lot of people have moved onto being teaching assistants or technicians in schools. We've had two people move onto university in Portsmouth to do a fine art degree. So the progression routes are quite varied, but they all come back to carnival at some stage.

Getting skills to succeed in the arts

Chris Slann

"In the arts sector, but particularly in the carnival sector, it's something that people don't take on board. They do have to have those ancillary skills – those marketing skills, those budgeting skills, those report-writing skills – if they're going to make a career out of carnival.

"Carnival is set to be a big driver on the Isle of Wight and across the nation as we move through the Olympic game period.

"We're in the Cultural Olympiad at the moment, there is meant to be carnival activity throughout the towns, villages and cities of the country. So that will be a big opportunity for artists to be involved, but also a big opportunity for people who are prepared to train the community in the carnival skills to get involved.

“If carnival is going to be sustainable and if there's going to be a legacy from the games, there has to be that passing on of skills - from artists to teachers to trainee teaching assistants to the community at large, so those skills can be maintained and the level of standards can be constantly enhanced."

Textile artist for carnival

Sharon George

"I'm a textile artist, but mainly constrained working with carnival, with costumes, teaching and making carnival costumes.

“If carnival is going to be sustainable, there has to be a passing on of skills - from artists to teachers to trainee teaching assistants to the community."

"I just went the traditional art college route and got involved with textiles. I always loved costumes and making stuff, and so carnival is a good way of getting involved, in that you can make costumes, but you can also make pieces of art as well. It involves lots of things, it's 3D, it's structure, it's fine art, it can be anything you want it to be.

"This year has been a really busy year for me. We've probably made in the region of 120 highly-skilled costumes which have gone into shows and everything, plus teaching - I've done quite a lot of courses.

"We've been all around the world, we've been to Italy, we've been to Nice and performed, we've been to Finland, all to do with carnival. And all these places we go to, they always want us to come back and teach or to pass on our skills.

"At the minute it's just really busy, it's just not stopped this year. When we work, we work long days because we've got so much to produce."

Costume designer for carnival

Helen Davenport

“I'm a carnival costume designer, maker, producer. I do everything from A to Z.

"Carnival has been a good catalyst for re-engaging people back into education and back into community life."

"Because I've got a few skills, I'm not just in one area. I can do headdresses, costume, sculpture, art, paint. I put a lot of the art into the costumes as well. Because of this, I get asked to do different workshops and teach to other people, so I'm not just stuck in one area.

"If people want to go into the arty kind of carnival world, you really do have to use your brain. To market yourself, to think about what you're making, and also to run it as a business."


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