Business of Art | Job Hunting Strategies During the Pandemic

Business of Art | Job Hunting Strategies During the Pandemic
Image Detail: Gabe Brown (Fellow in Painting '18); "Six Hits of Sunshine;" 2016; oil on canvas over wood panel; Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Larchmont, NY

Proactive ways to approach the current job market from industry expert Maria Villafranca.

We’re all in a unique and difficult job market—specifically in the arts. According to an August 2020 Brookings Institution report on COVID-19’s impact on America’s creative economy, an estimated 2.7 million creative jobs were lost due to the pandemic. While there are a number of reasons to be cautiously optimistic, the pace of recovery is still largely unknown. Here are strategies for structuring your job hunting approach during these uncertain times from Maria Villafranca, NYFA Coach and Marketing Director at Design Museum Everywhere. These insights come from her recent online workshop titled “Job Hunting Strategies During the Pandemic,” presented by NYFA Learning.

What Is Your Dream Job?

Villafranca proposes that this question is an important one to ask at all stages of your career, especially now. Conversations around gender and racial diversity and the vulnerabilities around working parents and people with disabilities are top of mind, as are conversations around remote work options. The time is ripe to consider what you’d need to feel safe and valued as an employee. When thinking about your Dream Job, Villafranca suggests asking yourself questions like “What excites you about the work you’ve done or areas you’ve studied? What issues do you care about in and outside of the arts? Is there a specific artistic focus you’re most passionate about? and Where do you see yourself adding the most value?” Think of your answers as an introductory path forward in your career plan.

Creative Jobs In and Outside of the Arts

Creative careers exist both in and outside of cultural institutions. “Many corporations and universities, for example, have collections or philanthropic divisions and most for-profit organizations or non-profit organizations of a certain size will have in-house design staff. Similarly, agencies will have these types of positions regardless if their clients are in the cultural space or not,” says Villafranca. There are a broad range of roles, from creative (graphic designer, in-house photographer, curatorial) to educational (roles at colleges/universities, in arts education, and arts service organizations) and those within arts administration (program management, communications, fundraising/sales, HR/finance). Villafranca suggests considering whether the organization is for-profit or non-profit, and thinking about the size of the institution and whether you’d be a culture fit. 

Image Detail: Brightly-colored painting with layered textures and designs in reds, yellows, and blues. More detailed, delicate lines are at the forefront.
Image Detail: Gabe Brown (Fellow in Painting ’18); “Open Sea Dark Land;” 2017; oil on linen over wood panel; Novado Gallery, Jersey City, NJ

Transferable Skills

Villafranca advises that you write a summary of your hard skills (software, sales/marketing, grant writing, etc.) and soft skills (management, conflict resolution, teaching, etc.) and consider how those skills can be applied to different careers in and outside of the arts. “Virtually any arts job carries skills that can be directly transferred into a different cultural field,” says Villafranca. “For example, if you fundraise for a theater, you can probably do the same for a visual arts center.” In those cases, says Villafranca, you would need to develop some industry knowledge to accompany your skill set.

Your Next Step Job

Due to the competitive job market, Villafranca advises thinking about your “next step job.” This might be a job that you’re overqualified for, but will help you get to where you ultimately want to be. For example, taking a manager-level position when you’ve previously held director roles or an admin role if you were an associate. It may also mean taking a less creative job with creative components. “If it’s not necessarily where you want to end up, these types of jobs can still help you build experience in fundraising, program management, community outreach, and other areas,” says Villafranca. When considering a “next step job,” ask yourself: “What does this job offer me that I don’t already have?” Getting a job to be employed is a simple, valid answer, but there are others that can inform your choices. If you’re concerned about being dismissed as overqualified, consider the narrative that you present in your cover letter and interview. Villafranca advises putting it up front in your narrative and making the case for why the role makes sense for you.

Exploring, Engaging, Networking

“Cultivating relationships is not only important for getting a job, but to really thrive and feel satisfied in your career,” says Villafranca. Consider your current contacts—from people you’ve met earlier in your career to people you’ve met at conferences, readings, and other events—and explore and engage with the industry you’re seeking to enter. Having a grasp of the language used (constituents or communities vs. clients or customers, as one example,) and an understanding of what is currently happening in the field are key to your success in the application process and to being up-to-speed once hired. If you don’t already possess this knowledge, there are industry-specific publications that you can read and subscribe to, and industry organizations and cultural leaders that you can follow. Attending virtual or in-person events or taking advantage of your school’s alumni and career service departments can also help you to stay informed and build your network of contacts. For those with existing networks, be sure to use them! Tell friends, family, trusted colleagues, and former employers (not your current employer!) you’re looking and/or that you’re considering a job change and are interested in learning more about the field, organization, etc. 

–Compiled by Amy Aronoff, Senior Communications Officer

On the job hunt? Find jobs and opportunities on NYFA Classifieds. For other weekly job hunting tips, check out our weekly Monday Motivation posts. You can find more articles on arts career topics by visiting the Business of Art section of NYFA’s websiteSign up for NYFA News and receive artist resources and upcoming events straight to your inbox.

Learn about NYFA Coaching for artists, arts businesses, and arts organizations, and how specialized NYFA staff and industry experts can help you strengthen your professional materials and recommend next steps for furthering your professional goals. 

Amy Aronoff
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