Developing your career journey

 4 July 2012

As well as being a visual artist, Alison Sharkey has worked as a professional development guide and outreach officer. She talks about the importance of developing and maintaining skills.

“Creative thinking is central
“Creative thinking is central" - Alison Sharkey, Visual Artist

Working as a professional development guide

“At Creative Skills in Cornwall, I saw creative practitioners – everyone from painters to dancers to designers– for one-to-one sessions.

“These lasted about two hours and are pretty intensive. People used this time in different ways. Usually it’s a chance to talk through their ambitions. It can be a way of working out where you need to go with practice and career.

“I also organised The Cornwall Visual Arts Forum, which is a series of events to bring artists in the region together. I helped manage a residency programme called BUILD, and we also ran a seminar programme, so I helped with the organization, promotion and running of these.”

Developing skills alongside a creative career

Before becoming a professional development guide, Alison worked as an Outreach Officer for Cornwall Library Services.

“Go and get the experience you need, be creative, determined and realistic about how you get to where you want to be."

“I worked for the library service for three years part-time which helped fund me through a Fine Art degree. I had an outreach post that developed projects for the library working with ethnic minorities and Travellers in Cornwall.

“Having my own practice as an artist was important. This does bring a useful perspective to the job. The part-time job I’d had with the library proved I could manage projects, work well with others and work on my own initiative.

“Before that I’d done voluntary work at an art centre which had inspired me to pursue my career as an artist. In my 20s I’d done quite a bit of work in the community/social work side such as being a housing officer with the YMCA and working as a volunteer for a homeless organisation.

“These things helped develop my skills with people, learning how to give people time and space to work issues through, similar to what I do now with artists. When working in a homeless shelter 15 years ago however I would never have thought it would lead to using those skills in the way I do now.”

The importance of professional development

“On starting work at Creative Skills I had to intensively research what was going on in the creative industries in Cornwall. I was pretty confident on the visual side but I needed to have a good grasp of film, theatre, writing and design, the list was pretty daunting.

“This involved lots of reading and researching and meeting up with organisations and people who could help bring me up to speed. I took an evening course in basic counselling skills and this really helped to make me aware of my strengths and weaknesses when working with people as a guide.

“My visual skills for design, I had brought with me through my art practice. I taught really by collecting other designs and using these to start me off. I signed up for online tutoring in InDesign and this really helped me get the basics.”

“Professional development is at the centre of everything I do. Every year I have a one-to-one session for myself done by a colleague. These have always moved me on, helped me make difficult decisions about what I want and what I need to drop or put more time into.

“I do thrive on learning new things and particularly enjoy going to bite-sized intensive courses that last a day or two.

Advice for developing your skills

“My career history had been mainly led by a curiosity for remote places. Employment has been eclectic: from cleaner in an outdoor centre to working in a plant nursery.

“Ten years ago there was no planning, just seeing where life took me. Looking back I realise I had been constantly acquiring skills and experience that were useful, despite not having a clear objective in mind.”

Alison has the following advice for anyone looking for work in the creative industries:

  1. “Qualifications such as counselling can be useful in many careers. Get experience in managing projects, so you can prove you can work with a budget, manage your time and think creatively.
  2. “Doing voluntary work and getting internships can be a great way of developing broadly useful skills. Bear in mind your route might not be direct you may have to go via unexpected places.
  3. “Creative thinking is central. As well as being relaxed, able to get on well with people, being positive, enthusiastic, and sympathetic, open minded, reliable and committed.
  4. “Be ambitious. If you see a job, a role that you would like, find out what they ask for, what does the person already doing it have in terms of experience, then work back from there.
  5. “Go and get the experience you need, be creative, determined and realistic about how you get to where you want to be. Sometimes these things will happen in a straightforward way and fall neatly into place but more likely it will be a varied unexpected journey, you may not have come across your dream job yet so keep an open mind.”

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