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UCL Connect: Creative Thinking in the Cultural Sector

10 July 2017

On Wednesday 21 June, UCL Connect hosted its final Professional Networking Event of the academic year, celebrating creative thinking in the cultural sector. The event, chaired by journalist Mark Lawson, featured debates and discussion from a panel of distinguished alumni including, Emily Pringle, Head of Learning and Practice Research at Tate; Gina Koutsika FMA, Head of Visitor Programmes, Events and Exhibitions at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew;  Writer, Director and Curator, Sharna Jackson and founder of Deckchair Productions, Harry Brünjes.

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Taking place at London’s October Gallery, the event was attended by over 50 UCL alumni, staff and students who took part in a lively debate, followed by an evening of drinks and networking. The evening played host to a range of professionals, whose careers span across a multitude of creative divisions, and focused on the panel’s experience of the opportunities and challenges faced by those working within the cultural sector.

The discussion covered a broad range of topics relating to the sector, including a key question on creativity and whether this can be seen as an inherent or acquired trait. “There is a common view now that everyone is creative and that all you need is a laptop and a phone to access that,” explained UCL English alum (1984) and journalist Mark. But the panel were keen to dispel this idea, emphasising the idea that creative ability should be considered as much about hard work and dedication as it is about natural talent. “Everyone has the potential to be creative,” suggested Emily, who graduated from UCL with a PhD in Art and Design in 2008 and has worked for many years as an artist, education and researcher in a range of cultural settings in the UK and internationally. Based on her own experience of working within the realm of art, her belief was that “you need a skill and to persist if you want to be creative. It’s about getting up in the morning, treating your skill like a job and taking it really seriously.” 

This was a sentiment echoed by film director, writer and producer Harry Brünjes who, having produced over 600 films with his company Deckchair productions, noted, “It’s about figuring out the way to do the job you want to do without anyone giving it to you. You’ve got to make it happen for yourself.”

Linking in with the theme of cultivating creativity, the panel also discussed the value of networking as an important means to develop your skillset and create opportunities. “I think networking is great, it just has to be facilitated in an environment that makes it as fun and relaxing as possible,” IOE Media, Culture and Education alumna Sharna (2009), who works across digital, arts, publishing, education and entertainment, noted. Crucially, they stressed that in order for networking to be successful, it should be as accessible and inclusive of many different kinds of people. “It has to be as open as possible,” stressed Mark. “I think you have to be as open as possible, because networking in this country can often mean having known someone before.”

The value of being able to approach an employer with first-hand experience was also something that the panel felt was particularly valued in the many different professional streams within the sector. “Coming to university is one thing,” said Sharma. “But having the confidence to go out and do something is another. You should join clubs and societies and make use of the internet.” This was supported by Emily, who argued that “when we’re looking to recruit people, we look for people who are really self-starters.” Indeed, for Gina, who graduated from UCL Museum Studies in 1992 and has worked at numerous London institutions, the message to the next generation of cultural professionals was clear, “Take every opportunity that is available to you and don’t wait for your perfect job. Grab any opportunity that comes along.”

UCL Connect is a professional development series offering a range of speed networking, panel-based events and workshops throughout the year. Open to all current students and alumni, the initiative also offers free online mentoring through the Alumni Online Community (AOC) and a host of other opportunities.