Features, Opinion

Finding arts jobs during COVID-19 as college seniors

Graduating art students face uncertainty and an industry in turmoil as many theaters go empty (Felix Mooneeram / Unsplash / Courtesy Image)

Revised (Published in The Bison student newspaper Spring 2021, Original version Nov. 17, 2020)

 “What are your post-graduation plans?”

This dreaded question can easily unnerve even the most self-assured college seniors.

For arts majors approaching graduation in the middle of a pandemic, the question is outright terrifying.

COVID-19’s impact on the American arts sector has been painful for arts students to witness.

According to a Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program study published in August 2020, the economic impact of COVID-19 in the United States has resulted in estimated “losses of more than 2.3 million jobs and $74 billion in average monthly earnings for the creative occupations. These losses represent 30% of all creative occupations and 15% of total average monthly wages.”

Some arts fields have been hit harder than others.

“Creative occupations in the fine and performing arts—which include the visual arts, music, theater, and dance—will be disproportionally affected,” according to Brookings’ study.

COVID-19 has also impacted Oklahoma Baptist University’s home state, specifically.

KOSU 91.7, reporting on the Brookings’ study, stated that “Oklahoma alone saw more than 19,000 jobs lost as a result of the pandemic within the four months analyzed.”

Many Oklahoma-based arts organizations have had to lay off employees.

Oklahoma Arts council’s Executive Director Amber Sharples told KOSU that the Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City has let go of 65 percent of full-time staff.

For young artists, even in the best of times, finding employment in their chosen fields notoriously difficult.

With the challenges of shutdowns and layoffs caused by COVID-19, finding employment in the arts industry seems hopeless.

However, rays of hope are creeping through the clouds of restrictions and rising COVID-19 case numbers.

The new COVID-19 vaccines are slowly being distributed and arts organizations will be able to slowly open back up.

This process will take time.

“If the level of infection is so low that risk is minuscule, you’re going to see back to the normal congregating together, having parties doing that. If we want to get back to normal it gets back to my message: When the vaccine becomes available, get vaccinated,” Dr. Fauci told The New York Times in January.

Basically, the faster people get vaccinated, the faster things like the arts sector, especially, will be able to fully return to normal. And with President Biden announcing his intention for all Americans to be eligible for vaccination by May 1, that may not be a long way off.

In the meanwhile, there are still ways that artists can continue pursuing careers within current safety guidelines.

Oklahoma Film + Music Office outreach and production manager Yousef Kazemi said, “With respect to the current COVID-19 pandemic which has without question impacted many industries, film and television production in Oklahoma continues to grow as our state welcomed one of the first SAG-approved productions in May 2020 when we began re-opening our economy.”

Filmmaking has been ongoing in Oklahoma since then.

“Oklahoma has since hosted over 20 film and television productions,” Kazemi said.

He said there are nearly an additional dozen projects planned to launch between November 2020 and Spring 2021.

 “The increase in production is creating more career opportunities as productions seek to hire local industry members to fill positions on their projects,” Kazemi said.

Many arts organizations have sought ways to continue producing work and raising funds in the face of the pandemic, with varying levels of success.

Artists have explored options ranging from live streaming performances, to displaying arts exhibits digitally, to incorporating face masks into award show performances, to utilizing quarantine “bubble” systems for filming.

The arts industry prides itself on its creativity and the challenges of social distancing has provided it with an opportunity to display just how truly creative it can be.

1). Acknowledge the struggle

Don’t dismiss or ignore the challenges you’re facing right now – it won’t help.

Instead, face them head on, have a game plan, and remember that giving yourself and others grace and love is especially important in times like these.

2). Remember you’re not alone      

The comforting side of knowing that even professionals who have been in the industry for years are struggling, is that it means you’re not alone.

Having a hard time due to the impact of this pandemic does not mean that there’s anything wrong with you, or that you’ll never make it as an artist.

It means you’ll need a solid plan and a lot of patience and faith.

We’re all in this together.

3). Write a stellar resume

List your contact information and relevant education, employment and volunteer experience in an easy to read format, taking up no more than the front and back of a single page.

Focus your list on what is relevant to the field in which you are seeking employment. If you’re looking in more than one field, then make a version of your resume that is tailored to each field.

Make sure to include your skills. Even something like Facebook or Zoom proficiency can be useful – especially in the current, socially-distanced job market.

4). Find creative ways to build your portfolio

Brainstorm ideas for arts projects that you can work on for your portfolio while social distancing.

Try planning solo projects such as painting an art series in a style you’ve never tried before or making your own solo music performance recordings.

Look for online volunteering opportunities.

5). Continue your training

Do your homework, practice, and seek out free online learning opportunities.

6). Learn about safety practices

What the best COVID-19 pandemic safety practices look like varies by industry. So, it’s important to keep up-to-date on current safety guidelines, in order to keep yourself and others safe.

For film, TV and music students, The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ task force’s White Paper and the Oklahoma Film + Music Office are important resources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are valuable safety resources for all students, regardless of their major.

7). Find the best places to search for jobs

Arts industry job listings often won’t appear on more general employment websites like Indeed.com or on Google searches, because these industries tend to prefer more specialized job websites.

Talk with your professors about which websites they recommend for your field.

8). Seek help

Reach out to family and friends.

Talk with your advisors about the best way to craft your resume, where to look for jobs, which organizations to following or join and how to find employment in your field.

Many professional organizations exist to support the arts at the regional and national level, including the Oklahoma Arts Council and Nation Association for Music Educators. So, find organizations related to your major and follow their websites and social medias. If they have a membership program and you’re eligible, consider joining.

If you’re in need of financial assistance due to the pandemic, you may be able to receive support.

“Relief funds are available until the end of the year for individuals who have been impacted through the Community CARES Partners which offers support through eviction prevention, financial assistance and connection with wraparound services, including jobs retraining,” Oklahoma Film + Music Office’s Yousef Kazemi said.

Additional resources can be found at Oklahoma Film + Music Office, the National Endowment for the Arts’ “COVID-19 Resources for Artists and Arts Organizations” webpage and at COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resource.

9). Having a “survival job” is OK

There’s no shame in working in a field outside of your major or in having a “survival job” to help pay the bills while you build your artistic portfolio, including after college graduation.

Taking care of yourself through a “survival job” is an accomplishment to be proud of, as you continue practicing your art and hoping and planning for your future.

10). Prioritize self-care

Speaking of taking care of yourself, make sure to prioritize self-care.

Whether cups of tea, a fuzzy blanket, your favorite stuffed teddy-bear (yes, adults can have teddy-bears!), a comforting TV show or guided meditations, find the methods of self-care that work for you.

Practice positive self-talk and self-affirmations.

 Remember that the OBU Kemp Marriage and Family Therapy clinic offers services available to students and that healthy eating and sleeping patterns help, too.

This is a stressful time and your well-being is important.

As artists, it’s easy to glorify the myth of the starving, depressed artist who somehow magically produces stunning artwork out of sheer genius.

But that’s a myth.

Those of us living in the real world are a lot more productive when our physical, spiritual and mental health are being looked after.

Dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on the arts world isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

We’re in this for the long haul.

So, practice some self-love along the way.