The voice of future talent

Young People in the Arts is creating career development opportunities that benefit sector employees of the future. Maria Roberts meets the directors leading the charge

Based in London, UK, Young People in the Arts (YPIA) was founded in 2008 as a peer support group by artist manager Nicki Wenham. Debunking the stereotype that millennials are “entitled, narcissistic and lazy”, in the past decade YPIA has grown to a 100-strong membership organisation offering workshops and career development opportunities for young arts professionals.

At the helm are three voluntary directors: Stella Toonen (a producer for public engagement and learning programmes at Imperial War Museum), Katya Kazakevich, (artistic planning manager at National Opera Studio), and Imogen Morris, assistant artist manager at Hazard Chase. In its 10 years of operation, YPIA’s events have already featured more than 200 speakers from the arts sector including Nicholas Serota, Jude Kelly, Darren Henley and Tony Hall, among many others. The organisation has engaged more than 4,500 young arts professionals who have benefitted from seminars on working life in music, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, dance, opera, museums, digital arts and more. IAM caught up for a chat with two of YPIAs directors, Stella Toonen and Katya Kazakevich, at a pavement café in London’s Soho.

IAM: What are the biggest issues for young people working in the arts right now?
Toonen: Unpaid internships – I think a lot of people struggle with that. They want to do an internship, or have to do an internship, but can’t afford to do one if it is unpaid. These are generally young adults aged 21-plus who have finished their undergraduate courses, or maybe done a Master’s, and now they want to get their first job. Many find that they don’t have the desired experience because they have been studying.

Kazakevich: Another problem is not knowing what kind of careers are out there. I didn’t really know about arts management until the final year of university. I completed a six-month internship at Philhamornia Orchestra, but I only heard about it because my dad is a musician. Without my father’s influence, I wouldn’t have known about it. At university the bottom line was, “Don’t get into the arts unless you can afford to do an unpaid internship.” I wish the message had been more enthusiastic and encouraging. At YPIA we want to address this issue by giving people an idea of what is out there, what job titles there are, and what you can become.

IAM: How does a volunteer-led organisation like YPIA work?
Everybody at YPIA is a volunteer, including the photographer who comes to the events. Likewise, the speakers always come for free. Sometimes we need to pay for a venue because they are a non-profit and need to make some money, but most often we get reduced rates and charity prices.
Kazakevich: Supporting the directors is a team of volunteers. We have a head of events and about 15 project managers, assistant project managers, and marketing managers. Everyone looks after their own thing and each event is managed by three or four people. Individual event teams source the venues and the speakers and sell tickets.

IAM: Do you raise money to support your activities and members?
We charge membership fees, which have just risen to GBP25 (€28) per year from GBP20 per year. The price is low because we want it to be accessible to everyone. Most event tickets are GBP4-GBP5 for members and GBP10 for non-members. We charge maybe GBP15-GBP20 for some workshops. For more expensive events, companies tend to pay for their young staff to attend: for example, the finance workshop we held at the Coliseum a few years ago was GBP40 and 40 companies paid for their staff to attend.

IAM: Are you well supported by London’s big league arts organisations?
: Since Stella, Imogen and I became directors we’ve tried to broaden the fields represented at YPIA to include visual arts, film and museums. Senior figures in the arts are happy to give their time for free because they know it is important to support the next generation of arts managers who will be taking over their fields in the future.
Toonen: It’s sometimes surprising just how supportive people can be: when we invited the former director of the Tate art museums and galleries, Nick Serota, to share his career experiences, I thought he might be someone with more important things to do and difficult to secure for a talk. It turned out that he was eager to support YPIA and immediately responded to our request with, “Great, I’m in! Just ask my PA and we’ll find the dates.”

IAM: Has your involvement with YPIA helped your careers personally?
YPIA has given me more confidence in my public speaking. I’m managing an artist programme, so I have to talk in public and make my voice heard, so it’s been good to get that confidence boost. The insights I gain also inform my programme at the National Opera Studio.
Toonen: I’ve benefitted more from YPIA since I became a director. Now I attend all kinds of events and am invited to meetings with senior figures in the arts that I’d never usually get to meet. I’m making connections that help YPIA develop further, but that are also good for me personally.

IAM: Do you think it is difficult for young professionals to “work their way up” in the arts?
It’s difficult as a young person to get to the opportunity to go to conferences and get access to further professional development. Young professionals don’t go out to conferences and they don’t get the same investment as managers and senior managers. YPIA fills that gap. At YPIA, young arts professionals can go to a workshop and learn about fundraising and finance, even if it is not the main part of their current job. They can attend because the YPIA events are affordable.