Creative Dundee

Blog: Grit, Gold and Guidance with Ampersand+

James Locherty

In this blog, Andy Robertson from Hot Chocolate Trust considers how our peer-support project, Ampersand+, can make figuring out a career in the creative industries a little less daunting.

We’ve been thinking a lot about grit lately.

The past 18-months have been full of scrapes and struggles, especially for the young people we are privileged to share community with. In some ways, the pandemic has created and then exacerbated a host of unique problems, and in other ways it has merely shone a light on the existing inequalities, injustices and traumas that are all too easily normalised. Shit happens. And yet perseverance, resilience, and outright defiance grow from the rubble, despite and sometimes directly because of these challenges.

It’s hard to work out what you want to do with your life, and it’s hard to know how to get there. Especially for young people, especially in the creative industries, and especially during a pandemic. From the isolation of lockdown and lack of space and resources, to trying to stay motivated through online education, to the loss of entry level jobs and the associated finance and experience required to build confidence and connections.

Even still, young people are full of drive and ambition, big dreams and small hunches pressing them forward. Sometimes all they need are the right people around them at the right time to encourage and motivate. That’s what inspired us to start Meet Your Maker, a series of informal conversations between young people and creatives that little bit further down the road, where they can ask the questions that scare them, find out about the realities – good and bad – of life in the creative sector, and glean a little bit of reassurance and guidance from those managing to survive (and hopefully thrive!) in creative careers in these challenging times.

It’s been great to be able to harness the generosity of our friends from Creative Dundee’s Amps network through Ampersand+, and to begin to join the right creatives with the right young people. In June we were able to pilot this with amazing ceramicist, Steph Liddle, who shared a Zoom conversation with two aspiring young artists. Steph was appropriately grilled, with questions ranging from tax (“what is the deal with that?”) to self-promotion (YouTube channel?), to Steph’s personal favourite – stock (“where do you keep it—do you have a warehouse?”). To hear her talk openly and honestly about freelance realities, living amongst boxes, DIY home photography rigs and fakeittilyoumake-ery (that’s a word, right?) helped them catch a glimpse behind the curtain of their own expectations and realise that most of us are, well, still very human. And if I’m not mistaken, I think sharing her story afresh might just have helped Steph reconnect with what she loves about what she does.

A few months later, Steph would come back and host ceramics workshops during our summer programme. Taking inspiration from the Japanese tradition of kintsugi (golden repair), the young people reclaimed broken and rejected pieces of crockery, sculpted the missing pieces out of clay and, after firing, joined them together to make something new, something embodying both strength and vulnerability. Beautiful, misshapen creations (frankensteined mugs, plates and bowls as well as the inevitable ash trays and boob sculptures) rejecting their destiny as rubbish and reclaiming a proud new place in people’s lives and homes.

Whatever age we are, more than ever it seems we are all engaged in this process of gathering up pieces—whether pieces of the past or pieces of the future—examining them, turning them over in our hands and finding what fits, shaping new things to fill in the holes and joining all the imperfect parts into something mysterious and as yet undefined. And that can be a scary business. To be engaged in the creative economy is to choose a career rich in both possibility and challenge. Meet Your Maker is one small opportunity to sow some seeds in the gritty landscape that lies ahead.

Who knows what beautiful things might grow out of that?

Ampersand+ is a peer-sharing project, enabling our Amps community to discuss topics that matter, connect with someone new, or exchange insights, knowledge and skills. Want to take part? Join Amps!

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