I’m not going to lie, I am writing this post not least because I am a bit uncomfortable about the last piece I wrote being the first thing people see when they land on my blog. It was a pretty hard thing to write but very cathartic and I got the loveliest responses both from people I do and don’t know, thank you. Anyway, time to change up and focus on something positive. There is something really shit happening in my life right now which I’m totally not ready to write about, so this is a good diversion/distraction and also a prompt to recognise the good stuff in life.
I have written at various points about how positive my career change has been and how I enjoy what I do now so much more than what I used to do. And I have touched on what it means to me to finally work in a sector that I care about and fit into. But what is it about ‘the arts’, exactly, that makes it such a good environment to work in? Now, I know I am making a sweeping statement there and there will doubtless be better and worse organisations to work for, but as I have now worked my way around a fair few of them, I am going to go out on a limb here and be a bit sweeping.
A few weeks ago I was talking to someone who, like me, had experienced working in different (commercial and public) sectors before working in the arts. This person works in IT, so technically has the option to go work in a place where there is more money and newer equipment and the whole phone system doesn’t suddenly fail because someone forgot to replace a fuse that was already on its way out over a year ago. So why choose to work in the arts? One of the main reasons he cited was that people who work in the arts are actually themselves at work, rather than shirt-and-tie-wearing, business-speak-spouting versions of themselves. Yes! I thought. That is so true. It prompted me to re-read what I wrote here when I left my old job:
It’s funny how you sometimes forget that your work colleagues are actually real people, that behind the suits and ‘Regards’ at the end of emails and talk of synergy and driving efficiencies and optimising returns, they have real lives full of interesting experiences; that they wear baggy t-shirts at home and say ‘fuck’ and cook dinner for the kids. Now that I am officially an ex-colleague, suddenly people are putting kisses at the end of their emails and telling me quite personal things about their lives, and generally just being incredibly genuine and lovely in their well-wishing.
Who would have known that it is possible to work somewhere where people wear baggy t-shirts to work and say ‘fuck’ quite a lot and put kisses at the end of their emails (hardly anyone ever puts ‘Regards’, thank god – I’ve always hated ‘Regards’) and are generally just themselves, most of the time? And what a glorious difference this makes!
The clothes thing is interesting. I used to absolutely have a work and a non-work wardrobe, and rarely the twain did meet. I’d get changed out of my work clothes as soon as I got home, and as I kicked off my patent heels and swapped my suit dress for jeans and a jumper I symbolically swapped my work identity for my home one. Now, I hardly have any items of clothing that I just wear to work. Which also means my clothes are less boring, because rather than buying smart work dresses and then just putting on the same old comfortable clothes at home, I make more of an effort to look nice in my casual stuff. I’ve always found office wear really dull, particularly for men – don’t get me wrong, I likes a man in a sharp suit, but there is something really depressing about someone being forced to wear a grey, often ill-fitting and uncomfortable-looking uniform day in, day out. Give me a baggy t-shirt any day, if that’s what you feel good in.
I am also glad that I work in an environment that generally appreciates the value of money. A friend of mine often has to fly out to Hong Kong for her job and her travel for a single work trip usually comes to about £5,000. You could run a whole project with that kind of cash, or commission an artist to make a lasting piece of work. Once, the project she was working on was cancelled literally while she was en route, making her whole trip redundant before she’d even arrived. I’m not saying no money ever gets wasted in the arts (we all know that’s not true) – and it is a tough environment and most people are hugely underpaid, which is absolutely the downside – but I personally would rather work somewhere where £100 gets pushed around until it is put to the best use than somewhere where a £5,000 travel bill for an abortive project is just shrugged off.
Then there is the work itself. I never thought I would ever be lucky enough to say ‘I love my job’. No job is ever 100% fun, of course. But I learn new stuff all the time, which is very satisfying. I find the environment endlessly fascinating and love learning more about different art forms. I love taking a nascent idea for a project and shaping it into a coherent funding bid. I love thinking up strategies and trying them out. I love working in small organisations where each decision doesn’t take 18 meetings and countless papers and lots of sighing and tutting to put into practice.
I am romanticising things a little here, of course. No work environment is perfect. There is some sighing and tutting, there is politicking, some decisions do take too long, funding bids can be stressful and frustrating. But overall, really, I do love my job. Work is now a positive in my life rather than something which makes going through a hard time even worse. I will never be someone who ‘lives to work’ – but the fact that my work is high on the list of things I go through in my head to remind myself that it’s not all bad, is something I am very grateful for right now.