Be sure to take a look at the OCS publication Working in Arts & Culture (pdf).
The creative arts are among the most collaborative but competitive professions. Careers in these fields focus on performance (actors, dancers, musicians, singer-songwriters), direction and composition (choreographers, composers, directors, writers), technical aspects (sets, lighting, sound), or visual design (graphic designers, title designers, photographers, animators). There is often overlap, e.g. costume designers work in both visual design and technical areas, writer-directors are common, and many choreographers are also performers.
Working in the creative arts in general requires talent, many years of study, practice, ongoing training, a true passion for the work, and sometimes more than a little bit of luck. It also requires the resilience to handle rejections and acceptance of the fact that overnight success is rare. Often it takes time to become financially secure through arts-based work. If you think working in the creative arts may be right for you, there’s no better time to explore the possibilities than at the entry-level, when you have lots of energy and fewer financial responsibilities. Arts administration (development, public relations, financial officer, etc.) is another opportunity to work in the arts and culture sector.
Finding Internships or Apprenticeships
Internships and apprenticeships are extremely important in the creative arts, providing the opportunity to develop relevant skills and an insider understanding of how the film, theater and music industries as well as contacts that could help you land that future employment. Some areas of the performance arts such as acting, music, and dance, offer apprenticeships or special festivals during the summer. For actors, summer can also be a good time to take additional acting classes and submit tapes for open casting calls. Other creative arts fields, such as film and design, offer year-round internships; you may be able to find a term-time internship right here in the Boston/Cambridge area with an independent film company or a design firm. For those interested in the entertainment industry, Harvardwood is extremely helpful; this alumni-created and run organization offers a variety of programming and a member directory to connect students to alumni as well as a summer internship program. There's a $60 fee to join as a full member. If you have extenuating circumstances that make Harvardwood dues a financial burden, please email Harvardwood at firstname.lastname@example.org. For all creative students, summer is also a great time to work on independent projects. Whether it’s writing a screenplay, creating new paintings, or composing new music to share on TikTok, successful artists develop an entrepreneurial mindset and find ways to create their own opportunities.
The majority of employers in the creative arts don’t hire through an on-campus interviewing process. Performers are hired through auditions, and visual artists primarily on the strength of their portfolio. Technicians and arts administrators are hired through a more traditional interviewing process but again, these positions aren’t likely to be found through on-campus recruiting. In the film and music industries, your chances of finding a job will be greatly improved if you’ve completed at least one internship; film and music are industries where networking is everything, and the contacts you’ll make during your internships will be vital to breaking into these fields. Learning to network successfully and comfortably will make your job search much easier.
For other areas of the creative arts, it will be helpful to use directories to locate organizations; websites that post job listings and help you learn more about the organization, its work, and its programs; and both LinkedIn and the Harvard Alumni Directory online database to locate alums in the field with whom you can network. For those interested in the entertainment industry, Harvardwood is extremely helpful; this alumni-created and run organization lists job opportunities and can put you in touch with alums who are willing to serve as resources to help you navigate the process of finding your first job. Harvardwood also has special group programs for writers and actors. There's a $60 fee to join as a full member. If you have extenuating circumstances that make Harvardwood dues a financial burden, please email Harvardwood at email@example.com.
Opportunities exist for performers and visual artists to study abroad. For performers who’d like to work abroad as a member of a theater company, orchestra, or opera company, fluency in the language of the host country will be an important consideration. There are often opportunities for photographers to work abroad as well, though this is usually done on assignment. It’s difficult to find permanent opportunities abroad in the creative arts, but there are many opportunities to intern in arts organizations or in film production companies. Additional opportunities can be found by checking the websites of schools with large study abroad programs, such as Boston University and the University of Minnesota.
Graduate and Professional Programs
It’s not necessary to obtain a graduate degree in the creative arts to be able to find work. Performers may find it helpful, though, particularly if they want to build their technical skills to compete with students who’ve attended Conservatory or MFA programs. Students interested in film may also find a graduate program beneficial if their experience in the medium is limited; in addition, most MFA film programs provide an excellent source of industry contacts. MFA programs are expensive, and many are not fully funded. Those who work in the creative arts are more or less evenly split on whether an MFA is helpful or not; some believe it is, others believe you’ll learn more by going out and doing the work. Before you apply, talk with people in the field, research programs, and ask yourself whether what you stand to gain is important enough to justify the outlay of time and money.
Many internships in the field are unpaid. The Office for the Arts offers an Artist Development Grant to assist artistically promising students in pursuing a project or course of instruction in the creative arts. You may also be able to obtain funding for artistic endeavors abroad through OCS's Summer Funding programs or through traveling fellowships. Upperclassmen should connect with the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Office to explore applying to post-graduate fellowships that can support independent projects and artistic scholarship.