Student Start-Ups: An Interview with Kelly Bryan & Art Link.

Student Start-Ups: An Interview with Kelly Bryan & Art Link.

Over the past few months we have sat down with a variety of artists to discuss their perspectives on art, their practice and experiences in the art world (to view our latest Artists’ Spotlight – Click Here).

Today, we thought it was about time that we talked to someone who is working behind the scenes to give aspiring artists the best chance possible to achieve success. Kelly Bryan is one of these people. Since the start of this year, both herself and the dedicated team behind her (comprising of two illustrators & an Interviewer) have worked tirelessly to ‘bridge the gap between creatives and paid opportunities within the art industry‘.

Art Link has become the manifestation of this goal. Many creatives continue to wander the wastelands of unpaid or voluntary work in order to receive promotion, experience and credibility. This has often led many individuals and companies within the creative sector to take advantage of people with creative skills and has often left creatives to feel ‘undervalued and underpaid‘.

Kelly decided that enough was enough and that artists needed a platform to receive help they deserve to secure paid work. Art Link aims to achieve this through ‘motivating, inspirational and informative content written by creatives‘ who are ‘currently making an income from the art industry’.

After only a short period of time Kelly and her team have interviewed 26 different individuals within the industry and have secured paid work for several people. If you feel you need help in achieving your goal to finally find paid work within the industry you can become an Interviewee and find help with Art Link today.

As the Founder of Art Link could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a 2020 graduate from a four-year Photography course. During my university experience, I discovered my love for writing, particularly around the arts. As a result, I hope to peruse a career in content creation within the art sector. Although that has yet to become a reality. I currently work as a Marketing and User Experience intern, while juggling freelance content creation and events management for another business, alongside general freelance writing and photography work. Oh, and of course the overall management of Art Link!

How and why did you start this project? What is Art Link?

During university, myself and peers were privileged to have numerous artist talks from established creatives. However, after these talks I often felt lost and confused as to how I could transition from a graduate into the paid roles they were discussing. There was little information regarding money, business and their journey into paid work. This information seemed to be lacking online too. I couldn’t quite understand why there was such a taboo around topics like funding, payments and the nitty gritty of their occupational roles. I founded Art Link to ask creatives the questions others seemed reluctant to ask.

Art Link, at the moment, is an online platform that aims to bridge the gap between young creatives and paid opportunities in the art industry. This is achieved through informative and motivational content written by other artists already making an income within said industry – whether this be a single commission or a full-time job. I think it’s so important to include a range of individuals on the site at different stages in their career, as this makes the content much more accessible for a larger audience.

Why do you think people struggle to ‘make the transition from unpaid or voluntary work into paid roles within the creative sector’?

Unfortunately, the creative industry lacks funding/finances from the offset which impacts upcoming creatives the most. The market is so saturated, making it extremely difficult to find and secure paid work. I think many struggle to make the transition (myself included) because, as a graduate or young creative, we are almost expected to work for free (or exposure as the industry likes to label it to make it sound more desirable). This unspoken expectation means we are required to consistently convince employers of our worth. This is hard to do – especially as our confidence and self-value is knocked from the constant flow of rejection letters, lack of response, or cheeky requests to work for free.

I would just like to note, I am not suggesting that all unpaid roles are unworthy of our time. If the organisation is a charity, non-profit, creative collective etc. and they genuinely cannot afford to pay AND the experience you would receive would benefit you, it will be worth your time. I’m simply implying that you should ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial.

How does Art Link aim to solve this problem?

Good question. I wanted Art Link to be an honest and open platform for other creatives to express their successes, frustrations, knowledge and experiences regarding their journey into the art industry. The interviews I conduct hopefully motivate and educate those individuals feeling disheartened to understand their value and secure the paid work they deserve. For instance, the interviews teach of ways into the industry, how to network, platforms which can be helpful in securing opportunities and the list goes on. It is also a space which I hope helps creatives feel less alone in their struggles – it was only from Art Link that I realised so many other creatives are also juggling ten jobs at a time, just so they continue their creative practice.

Alongside these main aspects, employers have contacted me to advertise paid jobs on Art Link which has been a great success! I have recently opened up a Guest Writers Page which acts as a platform for creatives to write about their experience and feature on the website too.

What are you currently doing to gain traction for the site and your social media platforms?

I am constantly on the lookout for new Featuring Practitioners and creatives to follow; I do my best to post about Art Link in groups and other platforms where there is a relevant target audience. I also posted a call out on CuratorSpace – which helped spread Art Link to an international audience. Two of my very kind friends help with my Instagram engagement, keeping posts and make communication to my followers consistent.

Have you got any big plans for Art Link lined up? What is the end goal for this project?

I have a few plans for Art Link; I want to include job listings for paid, entry-level and accessible roles. I also hope to interview more individuals from the other side of the industry – curators, directors, gallery owners etc. to see what the industry is really looking for. Finally, I hope to open up a collaborative space on the website, in which the Featuring Practitioners can work together to create something. Art Link would act as a facilitator and a guaranteed platform to showcase this collaborative work.

In terms of the ‘end goal’, I don’t have one. I see Art Link growing continually and developing as I develop my ideas with it. I don’t ever want to feel ‘finalised’ with Art Link – I’m a strong believer that there is always room for improvement and growth, so I hope Art Link just continues to develop over time.

What difficulties have you faced so far with this project? What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I wouldn’t say there has been any major difficulties with Art Link as of yet. At the beginning I really tried to do everything myself, I hate the idea of relying on others or being a burden and therefore I was trying to juggle all the responsibilities. I soon realised this was not sustainable and it was OK to ask for help and collaborate with other creatives. If others are also passionate about what you’re doing and think it’s a good idea; they’re likely to help!

I would say I’ve had two big achievements so far. Firstly, Art Link played a vital role in connecting a young designer with a paid job. I feel this is such an achievement because Art Link actually bridged the gap between that creative and the paid work she deserved and so I’m succeeding in my intentions. Moreover, Art Link in general has been an achievement for me – having an idea and making it reality is difficult, therefore to feel so supported in what I’m doing is amazing. To have others say an interview motivated them to keep going, or their feature on the Art Link website led to commissioned work, is unbelievably fulfilling.

There seems to be a growing trend for young people to establish their own start-up businesses at this moment in time. Why do you think this is?

I can only speak as a young creative and on my own experience, but I feel in many ways the art industry is failing us. As a result, we have to make the opportunities we had hoped to see in the art world, ourselves.

The purchase of original artworks for both pleasure and investment is often viewed by the general public as something which is reserved for the super-rich or the enthusiast. Do you think we’ll see a return to affordable artworks that are meant to be placed within the home, rather than that of an Art Gallery or a personal collection?

I would hope so – I think many young creatives are striving for this movement. I think however, this can only be fully achieved once we move to an equal art world, in which diversity and inclusivity are made priority. Once individuals from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, genders and so on are acknowledged and appreciated in the art world, only then can the audience for art also be more inclusive. There is still an abnormal belief in the industry, that art is for elites – in particular white, rich, middle-aged men. Consequently, the majority of art celebrated and sold by organisations, galleries, exhibitions etc. is made by a similar group of people. We need to break from this tradition and highlight different artists to then highlight a different art audience.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists who wish to find paid roles within the creative sector?

Through Art Link and my own experience, I have learnt three key lessons:

1) It will come. I have applied for countless jobs and received countless rejection letters, or more often than not, no response at all. I know this can be frustrating and disheartening but it only takes one to notice you and provide the paid opportunity you deserve. As cliché as it sounds, please, never give up. You are worth something and your skills are worth paying for. Someone will notice that eventually.

2) It is really about who you know. I never quite grasped the importance of contacts and networking until I left university, however, I now realise it is absolutely essential. The majority of creatives understand the struggles of the art industry; therefore, we seem to have a highly collaborative and supportive environment. You would be surprised how many opportunities have come my way from contacts I met weeks/months/years prior. Always try to make a good impression and be reliable!

3) Get your name out there! Ultimately, it is your responsibility to promote yourself, so apply for all relevant open calls, competitions, features and so on. You never know who may spot your work where and what may come of this.

About The Author

Gregory Segal

While humanity has has continuously ventured into the unknown, today we are on the precipice of a new uncertainty. With covid, political unrest, and economic decline we feel that another sinister turn is just round the corner. Although discussion, art, and storytelling won't necesserily create any solutions for this in the short-term it might provide a conduit for productive thought, or at the very least might take our minds off our current reality.

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