The creative arts are among the most competitive professions. Careers in these fields may focus on performance (actors, dancers, musicians, singer-songwriters), direction and composition (choreographers, composers, directors), the technical aspects of the performing arts (set designers, set builders, lighting designers), or visual design (graphic designers, title designers, photographers, animators).
There are many opportunities for overlap in the creative arts—for example, a costume designer works in both visual design and technical areas, and many directors or choreographers are also performers.
Working in the creative arts in general requires talent, many years of study and practice, a true passion for the work… and sometimes more than a little bit of luck. It also requires an understanding and acceptance of the fact that you’re not likely to get rich. While a small percentage of creative artists do become very financially well-off, the vast majority don't; they pursue creative careers out of a passion for the work itself.
A career in the creative arts isn’t for everyone, but if you think it may be right for you there’s no better time to explore the possibilities than when you’re young, have lots of energy, and don’t have multiple financial obligations. If you decide that the creative careers within the field aren’t for you, you may want to consider a career in arts administration (development, public relations, financial officer, etc.), which enables you to use managerial skills in a creative arts organization.
Finding Internships or Apprenticeships
Internships and apprenticeships are extremely important in the creative arts. In a professional field notoriously difficult to break into, internships provide not only the opportunity to develop relevant skills and an understanding of how such mysterious industries as the film and music business work, but the contacts that will be critical in helping you land that first job. Some areas of the creative arts, in particular the performing areas, are likely to offer apprenticeships as opposed to internships (though sometimes the terms are used interchangeably), and these are likely to be offered only during the summer. 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 Boston with an independent film company or a design firm.
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. There's a $45.00 fee to join as a full member; financial assistance is available to current Harvard College students through OCS. For information contact the OCS front desk.
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 in order to be able to find work. Performers may find it helpful, though, particularly if they don’t believe they have the 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.