The Careers Adviser

'How can I help people through my art? What is the best way into the HR and PR industries?'
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The Independent Online

Painted into a corner

Q. I have been working for a management consultancy for 10 years, now solely in graphics. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a postgraduate diploma in painting. I have had several exhibitions and have also sold work. I would ideally like to earn a living making my art. But I do need to earn extra money. Is there paying work in London that is art-related? I am interested in helping people through art, and I would consider volunteer work in order to gain experience.

A. Helping people through art calls to mind art therapy, in which therapists undertake postgraduate study and psychotherapy to help patients through the practice of art.

A slightly different emphasis - more on pure art, which in itself has a therapeutic effect on patients - is involved in the work of a body of people involved in interdisciplinary research and educational initiatives in the arts and medicine. They are encouraged by evidence that the therapeutic effect is real, resulting in physical changes to the body - patients recover more quickly after listening to music, for example.

Durham University has a research body - the Centre for Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine - which leads the way here, but London has the longest-established arts and health network; the Arts in Health Forum (info@lahf.com) represents all major hospitals, and is working outwards to primary care and community projects.

The larger hospital trusts usually have a health and arts co-ordinator, and there are of course artists placing their work in health environments. Regional officers of the Arts Council should also be aware of local work. Voluntary (at least to start) or even paid work in this new growth area might well be possible.

No easy options

Q. I am 26 and work as an assistant accountant. What I really want to do is work in public relations or human resources. What courses are available? Are there other routes, such as apprenticeships?

A. Both these areas are very competitive, so to convince anyone that you are committed to working in either, you need to research exactly what the jobs might involve and then pursue one avenue with some passion.

It's always best to try to find people to talk to - there are common misconceptions about jobs, and this is often the case in human resources. People feel it's a relatively "soft" job contributing to workers' development - you do help in that, of course - but there are thornier issues, such as redundancy, to deal with too.

As Christine Williams, membership and development manager for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development ( www.cipd.co.uk) puts it, HR also has to show that it can make a sound business case and contribute to the bottom line. This isn't often a great strength among HR staff, as she readily admits, so she suggests that you exploit your own accounting skills and try to make yourself useful to your own HR department (if you have one), perhaps on a single-project basis at first.

Once you've proved your enthusiasm, you can start to find out how you can work towards the professional qualification you will need. Formal apprenticeships in either area don't really exist, but in both, if you haven't a degree, work experience can be a route into full-time employment, with time spent in the area to put towards a qualification. The routes into PR work are explained on www.cipr.co.uk.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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