What I wish I knew about arts office jobs

A lot of spaces I’ve been in lately have been in the spirit of “hacking” – on how to assimilate in an industry filled with problems. I don’t care for building “resilience” because it’s not that I’m not * Ed Miliband voice * tough enough. I’m not the problem. There are structural barriers in place that prevent me and others from being the best version of ourselves. This is for those who might be new, and especially if they’re the first in the family to have an office job.

1// Expand your network and join a union – especially if you work in the West Midlands. I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t worked in a toxic workplace. That sucks. It should never be a rite of passage.

2// Protect your time. Protect your breaks, protect your holidays, and even protect having self-reflection time on a regular basis. There are so many things that will chip away at time you need to look after your head top, so please be stubborn about protecting your peace. Even if that means blocking off time in your online calendar every week or every month to think about how you are, what you’d like to work on, and what’s been anxiety inducing, and what you need help with.

3// The best managers are the ones who say “don’t come and die for your job.” They’re the ones who will remind others to take breaks, annual leave, and to not stay later than intended. It’s one of the ways you realise that there’s power in role modelling the kind of work culture you’d like to see.

4// When people say that they’re “at capacity”, it just means that they’re unable to take on more work. This could be because there isn’t enough time in the day, they don’t have the headspace for it, or they just don’t want to for whatever reason. It’s a reason that means “it ain’t that deep” when you’re a freelancer. It’s the best phrase to use when your plate is full, but you don’t want to say “no” to everything to future work with them.

5// The worst jobs are the ones where you feel like you’re anticipating the hysteria/anxieties of your colleagues when it comes to moments of crisis. It’s a lot of calculating you have to do just so it feels like there’s some calm somewhere just so the work gets done. That gets exhausting quickly, and I feel like people who are minoritised feel this quite heavily. That’s because when there aren’t enough people who are like you in your workplace, imposter syndrome kicks in, and you feel like you have to “over” deliver to prove your worth. Saying “yeah sure thing, no worries!” to fixing problems all the damn time is the path to burn out. (Ladies, we need to stop this!) The best phrase you can use against this is asking your managers “what solutions would you suggest?” The burden shouldn’t be on you to constantly fix things all the time. They hired you, not Olivia Pope.

7// Chasing financial stability in the arts feels like chasing the unchaseable. The Runnymede Report on The Colour of Money had me shook because I saw so much of my family’s history in it. And coupled with the gender pension gap too – oh man. So please keep your head high, especially when people with diversified assets, mortgages, and generational wealth scoff at BPOC freelancer rates. When people do huff and puff about it – especially when they don’t have BPOCs as permanent staff – they’re absolutely part of the problem on why there has been a talent drain in the creative industries. We’re “expensive” because life in the UK is so expensive.

Image from @JuniorCartxer on Twitter

8// If someone is moving mad, or there’s problematic pay, is it “gossip” if they’re just warning you from their own experience? No. Silence is how industry BS continues.

9// When institutions are talking about their “could be better” record on diversity (lol), you realise that it’s not just big policies that led to their historic inaction. It’s the sum of little and big decisions which bake into things that they’re not aware of. If you’re someone who is minoritised in the workplace, sometimes, especially when it’s weighing on your conscience, you gotta summon up the energy of a mediocre Trump and say your thing.

10// The importance of passing the good will on. That’s because the ones you want to be like are the ones who made the time to talk to you, to help you feel comfortable, and answer your questions about the industry. When we’re talking about the sum of little and big decisions, this is something that you’re a part of. You can model a soft, gentle world within your sphere of influence. And hopefully others will take notice, and thats one way of building community.

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