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Arts graduates do £7k worth of unpaid work before finding a job, survey claims

Shonagh Manson, director of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, and Kate Danielson, director of Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries. Photo: Hydar Dewachi Shonagh Manson, director of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, and Kate Danielson, director of Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries. Photo: Hydar Dewachi
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Graduates working in the arts work an average of nearly £7,000 worth of unpaid hours before securing a full-time job, a new survey has claimed.

Combined with average graduate debt of around £20,000, the survey indicates the total cost of graduate entry into the arts to be an average of £26,864.

The research was carried out by the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries scheme at the close of its second round, through which 40 graduates were given work and training opportunities in arts organisations across the UK.

These included Fierce Festival in Birmingham, Opera North, theatre company Clean Break, the Donmar Warehouse, Sadler’s Wells and the Manchester International Festival.

About 120 arts professionals, across the 40 host organisations, were surveyed as part of the study, which sought to determine the cost of entry to cultural careers.

The results suggest that, on average, graduates entering the arts worked a year in full or part-time voluntary roles before they were able to secure a paid job, undertaking an average of £6,864 hours of unpaid work.

When they did secure a job, around 60% earned less than the national living wage of £15,000 per year.

Earlier this year, a National Union of Students poll found that just a third of recent arts graduates thought their £9,000-per-year degree was worth the money.

Director of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries Scheme, Kate Danielson, said that for too long the arts had been the “preserve of the white middle classes”.

“What can we do about that? It doesn’t need to be that much, but there aren’t pathways into the arts for people that can’t do free work, because it becomes this tortuous route in,” she told The Stage.

The survey follows the second edition of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries scheme, which focuses on graduates from low-income backgrounds and is funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and the JP Getty Jr Charitable Trust.

The placements were of between six and 12 months, with 58% of the 2016 cohort having their roles extended, some permanently.

“What we’re trying to do with this programme is to show, with this relatively small investment, you can get people started. By making a change now, we will see those results. Unless we do this now, we’re going to look back in 15 years time and there isn’t any difference,” Danielson said.

She added: “All of these surveys and research are a bit depressing. What we want to do is something positive.”

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