An innovative professional experience program connecting arts students with companies like Macquarie Bank, Artspace and Hello Social is transforming the traditional internship.
“There’s this notion of a starving artist, that you can’t find employment as an artist. We want to dispel that idea,” says Dr Kim Snepvangers, who manages the UNSW Art & Design Professional Experience Project (PEP).
PEP has partnerships with more than 1000 hosts, businesses and organisations, including galleries, contemporary art institutions, public art projects, leading publishers, graphic design and advertising agencies, film studios, theatres, not-for-profits and corporates.
Snepvangers, a UNSW Teaching Fellow, has brokered partnerships and helped create art projects with the likes of Macquarie Bank, Network Ten, Longina Phillips Designs, Kaldor Public Art Projects, Bec and Bridge, DMG, Reebok Australia, Luna Park and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Projects can range from developing pop-up art installations at festivals and events to creating animations and graphics for online educational content, she says.
Exposing yourself to a professional environment and having the opportunity to get your foot in the door before you’ve even completed your degree is incredible.
A similar program has run for 25 years in the Design program at UNSW, where there is a more clearly defined industry and career trajectory, she says. “What’s innovative about this new program is that we’ve expanded it to Fine Arts and Media Arts.”
Snepvangers says the program is more than an “old-fashioned internship” as companies and organisations are searching for very specific skill sets related to user-experience design, design thinking, social media, digital platforms, media production, animation and immersive environments.
“The involvement of these companies and mentors signals to us that they really want to assist the next generation of creative talent in Australia. It’s not just ‘We have a job and you have someone who can fill it’. It’s a more reciprocal relationship.”
Snepvangers says the program creates “pathways to employability” for students by helping them gain new skills and real-world work experience under the guidance of established practising professionals. It is also designed to accelerate the growth of students’ professional networks, help them learn how to work with clients and encourage them to think outside the box about their career options.
Some students may think of themselves as painters or animators, but they haven’t yet been exposed to a wider view of what that means in different contexts, and they may not understand that their skills are in demand, she says.
“There are so many non-traditional ways our students can use and adapt their skills,” she says. “What we are trying to do is help them with the exchange of the knowledge and skills they develop in their Design, Fine Arts or Media Arts degrees into not only the creative sector, but a range of different industries.”
Snepvangers is the recipient of a 2016 UNSW Strategic Educational Fellowship Grant. Her research is focused on how students can develop their professional identity and social networks through independent, critical reflection.
Renny Beazley, a fourth-year Media Arts student, hopes to become a video editor. Her placement as an editor’s assistant with Sydney-based Chief Entertainment exposed her to all the ins and outs of video production.
Beazley said she worked on commercial and corporate productions and developed her skills both on-set and during post-production.
“I learnt everything from camera assist, data wrangling, managing sound checks and continuity to helping edit the final product. Being in a professional environment you have a responsibility to be organised. A major positive learning curve at Chief, which instantly helped me as a creative professional, was the organisation of workflow and projects,” she says.
At the end of the placement Beazley was asked to stay on part-time with Chief Entertainment while she finished her degree.
“The PEP program is so beneficial,” Beazley says. “Exposing yourself to a professional environment and having the opportunity to get your foot in the door before you’ve even completed your degree is incredible.”
Snepvangers says another student described how the placement literally turned them from being a “kitchen hand into a creative professional”. She hopes other students will have similar outcomes, landing jobs and growing as artists, thought leaders and innovators.
With changes to the course structure in Art & Design, PEP has become a compulsory core course for fourth-year students enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons), Bachelor of Media Arts (Hons) and Bachelor of Design (Hons).
Students need to complete 150 hours of professional engagement, which can take the form of a placement with an industry partner or working on a project-based activity with a business, gallery or arts organisation.
Students can organise their own placement or view a range of creative project opportunities but they can also develop and pitch their own ideas. The project is meant to be self-guided, and students are responsible for making contact with the company and showcasing their work through online portfolios and Linkdin profiles.
Snepvangers highlighted the outcomes of the program at a recent UNSW Learning and Teaching forum, Towards 2025: Inspiring Learning.
For more information on PEP click here