I am currently in my third year, of a Cultural Studies degree, and have spent the last year as an intern for the University of Leeds’s Cultural Institute. I have seen how a small-scale organisation works on a daily basis, forging relationships between creative industry professionals and academics to create and promote unique, interdisciplinary research. Through this work I have been lucky enough to spend some time with one of the CI’s main partners and co-founders of the DARE partnership, Opera North. Through ON’s Higher Education team, I was very kindly offered a secondment week at their office. From this I have gained valuable insight into production behind a much larger scale cultural organisation. I have been able to speak to people from different departments, about their positions within the charity. This has helped me to understand how a company of this scale sustains its diverse programme.
Learning, supporting & creating
At the start of my week I sat with Lesley, Project Director, and Alice, Higher-Education Manager, to discuss what I hoped to achieve. From this conversation I was set a brief, confirming that I would have ongoing project work with ON after the week ended. I was excited by the opportunity to undertake my own project work, which I will discuss in greater detail below, and pleased that I would get to work with ON until my placement finishes. After being shown around the office, I was introduced to members from the HE, Development and Education teams. Ellie, a Pettman Fellow, invited me to observe one of the Education team’s programmes in practice. That afternoon I joined her at Oakwood Church to see how Sing ON is conducted. Although I am not musically trained, and know little about hymns, it was interesting to see how this programme has impacted on the local community. All attendees – sharing similarities only in age and location – clearly value this afternoon where they meet up to sing, chat and drink tea!
Creating new communications material
Part way through the week I had a catch-up with Alice and Lesley to update them on progress made with the brief. Looking to generate some content for the new DARE website, they had asked me to create a proposal for material promoting the next round of Pettman Fellowships. This was a great opportunity to work with the current Pettman Fellows; Ellie, and Callum. After brainstorming with them, I was able to inform Alice and Lesley that we aim to create something that would provide information which the Fellows felt had been missing when they applied. We decided a light and informal interview would be a good way to highlight helpful information and the most engaging way to display the interview would be to film it.
Connecting Opera North with university students
I was interested to hear Alice outline a new scheme she has begun work on in relation to the DARE partnership. She is exploring the idea of a Student Advisory Group that would provide a student perspective, a yet untapped resource, on work produced through DARE. I feel strongly that this would be a valuable experience, both for students – who would benefit from opportunities made available through the partnership and, for ON and the university – who would benefit from informed opinions. Through desktop research I looked into pre-existing examples within British arts and educational institutions. I collated web pages and notes on examples I found, and we discussed them. I was pleased to be asked to write up my thoughts in greater detail. It felt logical to begin a project, based around students, from a starting point that considers a students opinions. I hope they help!
Behind the scenes
During the week, I was pleased to be given a quick tour of the Grand Theatre Stage whilst preparation for the first round of Don Giovanni dress rehearsals were underway. Being able to witness the stage production team in action was an exciting way to see the organisation that goes behind every performance – whether an audience is there or not! I also managed to catch half an hour of the rehearsal whilst seated in the theatre’s upper circle. Even though I am not a practised opera goer this was a very impressionable experience – not only did I find myself in a beautiful setting but there was a palpable sense of excitement from the cast, orchestra and production team about the coming launch of this opera.
My next steps
On my last day I caught up with Lesley to go over what I had done throughout the week. I was happy to see that she approved of the questions I had worked on with the Fellows and felt encouraged to confirm objectives for the tasks I had been given. It was extremely helpful to clarify everything that had been achieved so far and subsequently a time frame was proposed for my ongoing project work. Ultimately, by the end of the week it dawned on me that I would seriously like to consider a project-based job role within an arts organisation. I aim to continue studying and working in an industry that I am both interested in and keen to promote, and I enjoy a self-directed style of work that, through organisation and intuition, you can see your developments come together to reach an end goal.
Top tips for future placement students
Say yes to everything
A lot can be said for having a positive attitude. If you go into a work environment with a preconceived notion that you will say yes to any task, no matter how small or a bit tedious, you will benefit from it. You will find that you pick up on things; from office etiquette to networking strategies. Everything becomes easier when you routinely say yes and are recognised for doing so!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure. Whether you don’t know who the best person to contact is or you don’t know how to complete a task e.g. creating an Outlook appointment. Nobody expects you to know these things straight away and no one will mind if you ask them politely for a bit of help. It beats doing things wrong because someone will potentially have to spend more time resolving that than the time it would take to answer any of your questions.
It makes sense to take an interest in your work. By thoroughly engaging in your role – reading up on relevant policy, cultural events, or news – you will naturally have a head start on your tasks. You are also more likely to be emotionally involved, which I find always tends to produce better outcomes. By making the effort to be actively interested in your work, and its surrounding areas, you won’t spend hours wishing the time away!