Congratulations! You’ve graduated and are now ready to start your career as a creative or artist…but where to begin? Before taking your next steps, it’s worth taking time to consider where you are and where you want to be after graduation. These five points will help set you up for success in your post-collegiate life.
Get Your Finances in Shape
Take time to consider your financial resources and obligations. Start by taking an honest account of your anticipated monthly expenses. Include everything — rent, student loans, food, toiletries, clothing, healthcare, entertainment, transportation, etc. If you’re planning to relocate, research rents in that area. Compare scenarios: how much will it cost if you live in an expensive metropolis versus a smaller city? Once you know your monthly expenses, it will be easier to determine how much you need to earn. Consider how that translates into job opportunities in those areas. It’s also important to keep your creative needs as part of the equation. For example, places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. have the advantage of being creative hubs, but living expenses are extremely high, meaning artists often have more work pressures that cut into their studio time. On the other hand, smaller cities may not have the caché, but are often less expensive, have more studio space options, and closer-knit creative communities. For creatives, there’s often the option of working remotely for a company based in a large city while enjoying the benefits of living in a smaller one. If you’re on a budget and still want to live in a big metropolis, try to minimize expenses so that you can have more freedom to focus on your creative practice. Having a roommate (or several), sharing an art studio or turning a spare room into your studio are obvious ways to bring down living expenses, but also think of ways you can barter childcare, housecleaning, cooking, or other services for rent.
Once you’ve figured out what you’re willing to spend on your expenses and where you want to live, most grads need to find employment. Start by putting your Inbox to work. Sign up for opportunities listings from organizations like Creative Time or the College Arts Association; set up job alerts from places like MediaBistro or HigherEdJobs. Make sure to check out the Artrepreneur Creative Jobs Board. The New York Foundation for the Arts has robust Classifieds and Opportunities sections mainly for the Tri-State area, while Indeed lists jobs nationally across all fields.
How you’ll do your creative work will probably change drastically from being in college. To successfully juggle “day job” commitments, schedule regular blocks of studio art time on your calendar and make these non-negotiable. Freelancing is another way to carve out time. While not as easily scheduled, freelancers can hunker down in the studio between gigs. Residencies are great options if you want to spend more time focusing on your artwork, and for artists and writers who work full-time or teach, attending a residency during a break can be an incredible shot of creativity. There are residences that will host artists anywhere from a week to several months at low-to-no cost. Some places even prepare meals for their residents! The Alliance of Artists Communities and Resartis.org are both good resources for finding residencies around the world, and this article can help you choose a residency that’s best for you.
Transition from student to professional artist
Transitioning from student to professional artist or creative means having at minimum a resume, artist statement, business cards, and an online portfolio either on your own website or a portfolio site like Artrepreneur or Behance. Make sure to have someone proofread all written materials before sending them out. Online services like Moo can help you create smart-looking, inexpensive business cards.
Being a professional also means showing up professionally. Prepare a brief (~minute) “elevator speech” to describe your work in an appealing and accessible way. Use your social media presence help tell the story about who you are as a creative or an artist, and keep them professional — prospective employers often review candidates’ social media feeds to get a better sense of applicants.
Build your network
School is the first place to start building a professional network. Fellow students may eventually curate shows, write reviews, or be in a position to hire you (or vice versa), so keep in touch. Making connections in your sector may seem daunting but can be much easier than expected. Show up at openings to support your friends and meet other artists. Become a regular at galleries you admire, especially small and mid-size ones. Ask to exchange studio visits with other artists. Join professional organizations or meetups to connect with others in your field. The College Art Association is a good source for those interested in teaching at the university level. For designers, AIGA and the Design Management Institute are good places to start. Don’t have a local organization to join? Start one! Gather a few artists or creatives for an art-focused book club, a regular early morning breakfast gathering to share opportunities, a rotating portfolio review/studio visit club.
Keep learning – even after graduation
Graduation doesn’t mean an artist or creative is finished learning. Take time to develop yourself professionally. From YouTube to podcasts, information is easily accessible at little-to-no cost. Local arts organizations often offer professional development classes. In New York City, for example, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the New York Artists Equity Association offer inexpensive group classes, and the Bronx Museum’s Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) program helps artists learn about the art business. There are also online options, including virtual workshops through Creative Capital and Artrepreneur’s own “Expert,” offering one-on-one mentorship offerings.
It’s important that you know about all aspects of your field. Artists and creatives alike should understand how to read basic contracts or consignment agreements as well as what they can and can’t deduct on their taxes. Artists who want to show in commercial galleries should learn about the gallery business, and if you’re in creative fields, learn about the many aspects of that business — from hiring to pricing. Being knowledgeable will make you a more desirable job candidate, freelancer, and collaborator.
In the creative world, it’s easy to think that opportunities are limited. In reality, generosity is the ship opportunities sail on. Share information, support, and be kind to fellow creatives and artists, and see what opportunities you can create together. Artists have come together to curate exhibitions, start podcasts, share housing and studio opportunities, create residencies. By being generous and taking charge of your professional life, you’ll not only be empowered to think bigger, you’ll have the community to help.
Excited for life after graduation? Questions on anything specific we didn’t cover? Add your questions to the comments below and let the Artrepreneur community help guide you!
Katarina received her BA from St. John’s College (having attended both Santa Fe, NM and Annapolis, MD campuses) and holds an MFA from the University of Maryland at College Park and a Master of Theological Studies degree in Buddhism from the Harvard Divinity School. An avid traveler, she co-wrote two Let’s Go! Guidebooks (India/Nepal and Washington, DC.