Building a portfolio career

Studying at the University of Nottingham can open doors. An Art History degree is a passport to a career in museums and arts organisations, publishing and journalism, and beyond. But government funding cuts, growing digitisation and the worldwide web mean that different ways of working are now required for a career in the creative sector. Technology is changing fast, and so is the society that we live in. Happily, you can carve out your own niche with a ‘portfolio career’, which means building a portfolio of multiple strands to your career.

If you enjoy doing different extra-curricular activities at university, such as curating art exhibitions, writing for the local newspaper, or volunteering with young people in the community, it could be a fulfilling path. This route is ideal for creative and flexible people. While studying for a degree in Art History and English, I took my first steps towards a freelance portfolio career as a publishing professional. In my final year, I got on the telephone to Penguin Press to arrange work experience that summer. There, I met a brilliant editor, who listened to my ideas and answered my questions. I was fortunate enough to secure a marketing role soon after graduation.

The next year, I flew to Toronto for an internship at the Canadian Art Foundation. This was an excellent opportunity to gain experience of putting together a magazine. Working for an international organisation not only offers valuable insights, but also gives you an edge in the job market. Back in the UK, I did a postgraduate course at the London College of Printing and worked at the Times Educational Supplement – a great place to learn. A portfolio career has enabled me to communicate, collaborate and contribute my skills as an editor and writer in the world of museums. I have worked for the Royal Academy of Arts’ magazine and The Architectural Review, and reported on exhibitions for the e-journal Studio International. As a book editor, my projects include monographs on the Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo and the contemporary artist and environmentalist Kurt Jackson.

Like an artist’s portfolio, you can consider a portfolio career to be a collection of different pieces of work. But instead of being for purely aesthetic ends, these are designed to meet the practical requirements of clients. A portfolio career might include contract roles, part-time jobs, freelance assignments or temporary holiday work. Which means that you can even take steps towards your career as a student. Here are a few words of advice: manage your time well. Create efficient systems to help organise the multiple strands of your career. Imagine it as a jigsaw puzzle that must be carefully pieced together to create a coherent story. Make sure that you network with arts professionals, so you can discover the pros and cons of your chosen path. And like a genuine work of art, speak with an authentic voice.

Nicola Homer (BA Hons Art History and English, 2001)

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