early career, emerging, young?
Do I want to be pigeonholed into such a category? Who is this classification useful for? What do these terms mean? How will the description affect what people think of my work and of my practice?
Eleanor Turney writes about these topics in her article, written for the Guardian:
Young, emerging or ready? For early career artists, it's all in the labellingThe clash between creative work and bureaucracy is always going to present problems, but it's easy to see why those handing out money need systems with transparent criteria. This is a perennial issue in the arts world, and more acute now as everyone scraps for less and less money. One recent focus for argument had been schemes that support 'young' or 'emerging' talent. But are these criteria useful, and if so, for whom? And are labels that might be useful to funders and marketers also useful for the artists to whom they are applied?
Age limits pose particular problems: when Arts Council England (ACE) announced its Creative Employment Programme, led by the National Skills Academy, to support up to 6,500 new apprenticeships and paid internships, instead of universal approbation there were numerous complaints that it had an age cut-off (24 years old).
For myriad reasons (family pressure, the need to pay the rent, changing interests) many people don't get their first job in the arts until they're older. They are then competing with younger graduates and those who can afford to take up internships, but are ineligible for some streams of support, including ACE's Creative Employment Programme and some of the opportunities offered by another big supporter of young people in the arts, IdeasTap. So is this unfair?
Peter de Haan, chairman of IdeasTap spells it out clearly enough: "If you look at the unemployment stats, it's clearly young people, especially aged 16-25, who are in the most need of support. My experience as a philanthropist has taught me that if you want to make a real difference you need to focus that support."
Stephen Fewell, chair of JMK Trust (which bestows the £25,000 JMK Young Directors' Award, available to under-30s) also says: "In the current financial climate, looking at the employment prospects for young people leaving education, I lose no sleep over youth being an appropriate criterion for support."
However, de Haan explains that although IdeasTap initially focused on 16-25 year-olds, "we saw a big increase in members aged 25-30 who needed support to kick off their careers". John Garfield-Roberts, an actor/director, worries that graduates of schemes for young artists find themselves "at the bottom of a very big pile, with little or no support to guide them through the next stage of their career".
Since those starting out can be of any age, maybe it makes sense to replace 'young' with 'emerging' – there are a number of schemes run by ACE alone that cater to emerging talent, including the Artists International Development Fund, Music Industry Talent Development Fund (which will announce its first recipients in early 2013), and, of course, Grants for the Arts.
Unfortunately, 'emerging' is even more nebulous a term than 'young', which can be confirmed by a date of birth on an application form. It means different things in different artforms and to different funding bodies. Old Vic New Voices artistic director Steve Winter explains that they "prefer to use the term 'emerging' because the connection between the artists we work with is the stage they are at in their careers within this industry, rather than their age".
Freelance journalist and theatre critic Andrew Haydon says, half-jokingly, that "the definition of 'emerging' is anyone who still has to apply for funding themselves," which applies to individual artists and to those organisations or companies that have not achieved regular funding. Becoming an NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) is not, of course, the only definition of success, but it does suggest a recognition that your work is ready for an audience. Jake Orr, artistic director of A Younger Theatre, is more equivocal: "Emerging can be anyone, but is currently thought to be young, and this is something that needs to shift. They're two very different ideas that need to be kept separate."
Even ACE does not have a singular definition of 'emerging'. However, the commonalities are that "the artist will have reached a critical moment in their career development, and will require a particular kind of support in order to maximise their potential and to propel them into the next phase of their development." ACE gives the following examples of what might define an emerging artist: recently being taken on by an agent, label, publisher, dealer or offered development opportunities by an NPO or sector agency; beginning to perform or have work performed or exhibited professionally; working in entry level roles in museums or galleries.
The labels 'young' and 'emerging' can also be problematic for artists themselves. 'Young' emphasises our fetishisation of youth and precocity. Calling someone 'emerging' suggests something unformed – something in-process but not yet producing work to which we should be paying attention. It highlights inexperience. Freelance producer Rowan Rutter makes sense when she says that "the word I personally use is 'ready' – am I READY for this project, for this responsibility, for this story, for these artists, for this money?"
Other people don't like either terms, especially from a marketing point of view. Tim Wood, communications manager of The Place explains: "Almost all the work we promote is by young and/or emerging artists. But these are utterly unhelpful labels for audiences. Arts marketing seems to be fighting a losing battle against vaguely applied adjectives."
John Garfield-Roberts agrees: "Tags and labels have always been dangerous. Perfect for box ticking and graphs but they provide very little actual life value." One tweeter suggested that 'emerging' begs to be followed with 'turd' – they would prefer 'early career'. Again, this can be problematic because it suggests that careers are linear and that everyone who wants to work in the arts wants to make it their career.
Ultimately, let's hope that the people with the money (funders or audiences) are intelligent and clued-up enough to make decisions about the kind of work they want to support, regardless of the age or career stage of the artist. These terms can be helpful in some ways, but what we should really care about is the quality of the work. As Rutter says: "Every time I hear 'emerging' I think about an ugly caterpillar-butterfly scenario. And let's face it, there are plenty of 'emerged' caterpillars in this business."
Eleanor Turney is a freelance journalist, editor and copywriter, currently working part-time for the Poetry Society – follow her on Twitter @eleanorturney