As part of our Student Insight blog series, Ifeanyi Awachie, MA Global
Creative & Cultural Industries (2016-17) offers an honest insight into her journey in the creative industries so far.
Ifeanyi at AFRICA SALON 2016 at Yale
Hey! I’m Ifeanyi. I’m a Nigerian-American writer and arts curator. I did my Master’s in Global Creative and Cultural Industries at SOAS in the 2016-2017 academic year, and I’m currently working in the creative industries in London as well as on my own creative platform.
The thing about choosing a creative career path is – there is no path. You have to mould your education, jobs, and experiences into the creative life you want to live. Try doing that while being a working-class, black immigrant – it can be really hard to find examples of people with your experiences and perspective doing the work you want to do.
That said, my experience trying to find creative work and launch my own platform in London has been challenging, enlightening, but ultimately positive. A big part of the reason I came to SOAS was to develop my business, AFRICA SALON, a global events company curating contemporary arts festivals at the intersection of academia and the creative industries. I started the platform in the States and came to SOAS to study African arts and culture more deeply. I chose my course for its practicality – for one of our modules, students can do an internship in the creative industries for credit. I used that credit to work on my company. One of the projects I assigned myself was to host one of my festivals at SOAS. I curated an event called ourselves + others: african feminist re-CREATIONS at SOAS, which took place on November 25. We had a full house, the speakers and performers made our audience swoon, and so many people told me
that the space I created is needed in London. The festival was a kind of taste test for the
potential of my business, and the results were promising.
While planning the festival, I learned about the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, a work visa that allows international graduates to stay in London and start businesses. It sounded perfect for me – I want to launch AFRICA SALON in London, and of course, keep living in this fabulous, hectic city. After a two-round application process that included pitching my business to a SOAS Enterprise panel, I was endorsed for the visa.
Ifeanyi and Kenyan creative duo 2ManySiblings
Though I would be starting a company, I needed a way to support myself. I’d practically been applying for creative jobs since the moment I got to London, but no one seemed to be biting. I learned that roles at the organisations I wanted to be part of were extremely competitive, and I started to get discouraged. Then one night, I was at a party, talking to a Nigerian guy about my interests, and he suggested that I get in touch with his former boss, the director of TAFETA, an African art gallery. I visited the gallery, and the director and I hit it off. I started spending more time there, going to exhibition openings, even proposing a collaboration between TAFETA and AFRICA SALON. Though that project didn’t pan out, the director eventually offered me a job. I was pumped. I was passionate about the talent of the artists the gallery represented and excited to work for an organisation where I felt represented as a Nigerian and an African arts enthusiast.
Like many creative jobs, the gallery role was a great fit, but wasn’t going to pay me a lot. As a young, broke creative, you need to find creative ways to make money; I am constantly doing research to do just that. That’s how I learned about the SOAS Santander Scheme. If, as SOAS student, you find a great position, Santander will put in a certain amount of funding that your employer then has to match to bring your pay up to living wage. With the Santander funding, the gallery was able to offer me a paid internship as Trainee Gallery Manager.
My position at the gallery was to be short-term, so I kept a lookout for jobs. One listing I found made me stop in my tracks. It sounded perfect for me. It more or less outlined the work I did through AFRICA SALON and at the gallery, and sounded like exactly the type of experience I’d like to have next. But I was sure I wasn’t going to get it. It was at a big arts institution, and I’d been burned by those all year. I put a lot of work into the cover letter, but I knew I needed to do something extra to make myself stand out. I scanned my mental list of people I knew in London and reached out to a friend that I thought might have a connection to the institution. She did. I met her contact for coffee. That conversation gave me a better sense of the organisation, and while the person I met had no power in the hiring process, I could tell I had made a positive impression on her, and I crossed my fingers that that would count for something.
I got the job. I now work as Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. It’s early days, but the role feels like one in which I can make valuable contributions, and the environment feels closely suited to my interests. Next year, I’ll be working full-time at the ICA while developing AFRICA SALON. It feels really good to look back on how things have come together, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to relax. I’m always looking for ways to improve my work, elevate my brand, and stay on top of my various projects and responsibilities. I hope my experience gives you some ideas, but remember – no one can really tell you how to be the creative you want to be. In my opinion, all we can do is seek out those personal connections, be scrappy and resourceful, and keep hustling.
Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert firstname.lastname@example.org.