Julia Mascetti talks about her year in the arts industry so far. She studies Music but is currently doing a work placement at a classical music PR agency. Although receiving some student loan and bursary, affording to do the placement is still a struggle. As a small arts company, they can only afford to pay travel expenses. It begs the question, in order to give everyone the opportunity to gain vital and enriching experience, should there be more funding for unpaid internships?
The questions, “What do you do?” or “Where’s home for you?” have been causing me a bit of an identity crisis recently. I live and work in central London, but I’m still a student at Leeds, with friends and emotional roots there. A year in industry is a strange time – even when I’m immersed in work and London life, in the back of my mind I know I’m doing this temporarily, and in five months I’ll be uprooted from everything I’ve built here and plonked back into the student lifestyle of getting up late, spending all day reading in my pyjamas and somehow conjuring up a 12,000 word dissertation.
It seems so far removed from my life now, catching the tube to work in a warehouse-style office that used to belong to Playboy (we’ve kept the bunny on the door), with glass desks, macs and a Jura coffee machine. I study Music and I’m midway through a year in industry at a classical music PR agency. Things I used to be terrified of doing, I now hardly think about and my CV has gone from pitiful to quite promising, actually.
My colleagues are mostly women under 30 and they have made me feel welcome, just as much a part of the team as they are, though we differ in one area: God knows they don’t get rich working in the classical music industry, but when we go out for a drink after work, I’m the only one who’s secretly worrying that their card will be declined. My work pays £400 a month expenses and I receive half a means tested student loan and half a Leeds bursary. When you consider rent, living costs and transport in London… it doesn’t add up. I cope fine thanks to the occasional bit of extra work and the generosity of relatives at Christmas, but I’ve still become friendly with the bottom end of a hefty overdraft.
It’s a huge problem, particularly for those aspiring to work in the arts. I salivate when my peers on scientific years in industry discuss their £15k salaries, but I don’t begrudge my workplace (much) for not paying me more because the money simply isn’t there.
Unpaid internships are how things are working at the moment and if Leeds stood against it, all it would do is put its students at a disadvantage. One of the reasons why the year in industry is so great is that it’s an equaliser: I won’t be able to work for £400 a month when I graduate, so it allows me to ‘get the unpaid bit out of the way’ with the support of a student loan and bursary. Pity both of them have been slashed in half, and what I’m left with is slim pickings.
I’ve had plenty of people telling me that if I was going to moan about working unpaid, I should have ‘done something more useful.’ I have as much right to study Music as someone with a rich mummy and daddy to pay the bills. The arts are for everyone and I am determined to do what I’m passionate about and what I’m good at. This year has shown me the plethora of interesting and worthwhile things I can do with my ‘useless’ degree and how invaluable my placement will continue to be in helping me get there.
It is vital that all arts students have the opportunities I have had. As a bursary recipient, I was able to enjoy my first two years of university without worrying about money, so I’m baffled that the University which was so generous to me has suddenly decided that I don’t matter now that my learning takes place off-campus.
Arts placements are just as important as those in science or finance, unfortunately they usually don’t pay enough for us to support ourselves. And for all you people running for exec, if you promise to campaign for larger bursaries for those on unpaid/low paid years in industry, you’ll widen opportunities for many. And you’ll have my vote.