Creative industries to take centre stage during recession

Budding artists are benefiting from a concerted drive to put the cultural industries at the heart of the UK's economic recovery.
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The Independent Online

It's every parent's worst nightmare. Your child comes home from school looking dreamy and announces: "Mummy, I have decided to become an artist."

In a climate where architects are retraining as teachers and even accountants are upskilling, the very idea of slogging out three years at art college only to starve in a garret might not seem so appealing. But last year, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), released a report stating that the UK's creative industries will take centre stage as a major contributor to the British economy over the next five years.

But how are budding artists going to manage, and what resources are there to ensure that Britain's future Tracey Emins and Damien Hirsts get the support they need? Huddersfield artist Robert Walker, 32, is one such bright young thing. Working in the fields of 3D, paintings, live art, advertising and large-scale wall pieces, he has worked as a sometimes-struggling professional artist for 10 years.

He is beginning an MA in international design practice at the University of Huddersfield this month to convert his experience into something more marketable. "During the last decade I have initiated all my own projects and exhibitions," says Walker. "But the Masters offers me the chance to adopt a more mature approach to my own practice."

On the day of his first interview Walker was offered a place with the Crim Collective, an internationally acclaimed group producing work for galleries, bars, fashion boutiques and film, founded by University of Huddersfield senior lecturer Paul Heys. "The offer to join this seemed like a guarantee of recognition for my own practice," says Walker.

In West Yorkshire, where Walker is based, there is a fair amount of support for the creative industries. "The Cultural Industries Development Agency (CIDA) is really active here," he says. CIDA was set up in 2000 to offer creative individuals and groups support and to increase cultural diversity. It runs schemes such as its Creative Cash programme, which offers artists help with managing money, finding customers, developing marketing ideas and networking.

Walker believes the support is there for young artists but says he would like to see more creative energy within smaller towns without councils getting in the way. "It's not always easy to visit Brick Lane for inspiration," he says. "Europe seems to manage it – I'd like to see more in this country of how creative energy can stimulate the local economy."

Medeia Cohan-Petrolino, a curator on the Emerging Artists Programme at University of the Arts London, says the economic climate is good for young artists. "If an emerging artist is making good work and being reasonable about their pricing there are still collectors willing to buy it. We just wrapped up Future Map 09, which is our annual best of the degree show exhibition (with prices ranging from £125-£9,000) and attendance and sales were fantastic"

To this end, the University of Arts London runs a variety of schemes to support artists including workshops, seminars and podcasts, which aim to give aspiring artists the skills they need to become independent and successful businesses.

There's also Artquest.org.uk, a one-stop artist's resource including information about putting on your own shows, pricing work and residencies. They even have a lawyer available to help artists with contractual issues.

If you're a struggling artist, Cohan-Petrolino recommends running a studio gallery. "Having a studio can become more than just where you make work," she says. "It can become where you show your work, so use it wisely. And in a climate where galleries are wary of taking on new artists, do whatever you can to be seen."

She explains that putting on independent shows – or taking part in group shows – is a great way to keep your work in people's consciousness. "Even though it seems like they don't care, galleries and collectors do keep an eye on things, so don't stop inviting them, they will eventually come. And you are being watched, you just don't know it."

Walker agrees and is a firm believer that the most cost-effective way of targeting clients is through Facebook, Flickr and blogs. "Using what's available on the net instantly brings your target market closer," he says. "Usually most of what's going on globally is woven between the same clients, designers, book publishers and agencies. Once you notice this you can promote yourself more effectively."

Artful websites:

University of the Arts London (www.arts.ac.uk); CIDA (www.cida.co.uk); NESTA (www.nesta.org.uk); Artquest (www.artquest.org.uk); Crim Collective (www.crimcollective.co.uk)

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