If you're artistic and want to use your skills to help people in your local community, being a community arts worker could be ideal for you
As a community arts worker, you'll promote artistic activities to local groups and individuals to support their development and improve their quality of life.
You'll mainly work in areas where there are social, cultural or environmental issues and will use a range of art forms to engage with these different community groups, including:
- carnival arts
- creative writing
- visual arts.
Types of community arts worker
'Community arts worker' is more of an umbrella term, as job titles tend to relate quite closely to the role or type of work. Similar titles are arts development officer, youth engagement officer, youth arts practitioner, and community projects assistant. Creative practitioners are usually freelance creative professionals.
Project work may fall into categories such as race, gender, disability, health and the environment, and may focus on the following groups:
- young people, especially those at risk
- young offenders
- homeless people
- people with disabilities and mental health conditions
- ethnic minorities
- the elderly
- drug and alcohol users.
The actual work you do can vary considerably depending on the role. You may be directly involved in delivering creative projects or you may be more focused on administrative responsibilities.
Depending on the exact nature of your role, as a community arts worker you'll need to:
- work with a range of community groups to identify their needs and then adapt projects to meet these needs
- negotiate with community groups to see what art form they would like to use for the project
- design and deliver programmes and workshops to engage different communities
- teach different art techniques through workshops and classes
- help groups to develop artwork for their own community
- project manage one-off events, such as festivals and longer-term projects, including the setting up, monitoring and evaluation of the project
- build up a pool of arts professionals to hire in or work with for projects
- complete administrative duties including bid writing, fundraising and managing budgets
- offer advice and support to community groups on fundraising and forming projects
- liaise with a variety of people and organisations including local authorities, schools, companies for sponsorship, freelance professionals and specialist workers
- market and publicise projects via social media, the press, etc.
- manage and support volunteers.
- Typical starting salaries for administrative roles are £16,000, rising to between £20,000 and £30,000 once you've built up experience.
- Senior executives at local government or arts agencies can earn salaries of over £30,000, but these roles require significant experience and are mainly strategic.
Freelance work is common in this area and as a freelancer you'd usually charge a daily rate. Your exact fee will depend on your experience, the project budget and location. Alternatively, a set sum may be offered for a particular project over a specific timescale.
As a freelancer, you may need to combine part-time employed work with freelance project work to provide a regular income.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Your working hours will depend on the projects you're involved in and the settings in which they're based. For example, at museums, cinemas and galleries, you may work standard office hours with occasional evening and weekend work, while if you're based at a youth club you may be required to work regular evenings.
A flexible approach is generally needed as your working hours can change with each project.
What to expect
- A large proportion of contracts are fixed term and/or part time.
- For outreach or community-based projects, typical work settings include youth clubs, community centres, care or residential homes and schools. Outdoor work is not uncommon for projects such as festivals and carnivals.
- The general working atmosphere is relatively relaxed, with a casual dress code.
- You may be exposed to difficult or stressful situations, depending on the specific environments or particular groups you're working with.
- Travel within the working day is usual if the role involves a lot of outreach work, either to local communities or around the region.
- Opportunities for overseas travel may be possible but are limited. Funding for projects is often provided through sources such as grants from arts councils, but you'll need to pursue these opportunities yourself.
Employers place emphasis on having the right skills and experience rather than specific qualifications. However, many community arts workers are qualified or trained in a particular arts discipline.
While not essential, a degree in one of the following subjects may be helpful:
- art, design or fine art
- art history
- contemporary art
- drama, theatre, dance or performing arts
- event management
- media, film or photography
- teaching and education.
Postgraduate courses are available in subjects such as community and participatory arts, art and social practice, community music and community dance. These can all provide you with useful skills but won't guarantee entrance to a job at a higher level.
Though you may be a specialist artist in your own right, having an interest in the creative sector and a good overall knowledge of the arts in general is beneficial.
Read publications and newspapers from your local area to keep up to date with relevant community issues, and take every opportunity to network and make contacts.
You will need to show:
- creativity in one or more art forms and an understanding of the creative process
- the ability to help the creativity of others and work collaboratively with creative professionals
- organisational and administrative skills
- awareness of the context of the work, including issues of social regeneration and inclusion
- knowledge of the specific needs of different community groups
- an enthusiasm for working with groups in the community and a willingness to build relationships with these different groups
- strong interpersonal skills, patience, empathy, a positive approach and respect for others
- project management skills
- flexibility and adaptability
- negotiating skills, especially to secure funding for projects
- basic business knowledge, especially if working freelance.
You'll need to have Disclosure and Barring Service clearance to work with young people and other vulnerable groups.
Pre-entry experience in the field of community and participatory arts is important and you may need to provide a portfolio of delivering projects when you apply for jobs. Many community arts groups and initiatives rely on volunteers and it may be possible to get involved in a range of projects in a voluntary capacity or through internships.
Regional arts councils hold lists of local community arts activities, organisations and events:
Contact local arts agencies and companies to see if they have any voluntary opportunities.
Local government is a major employer of community arts workers and many councils even employ small teams of arts workers.
Many art and cultural organisations also have an outreach remit and are committed to making their art forms and venues more accessible. These include:
- larger independent cinemas
Within these, you can be employed as an education and community officer, and would work directly with community groups, introducing them to the respective art forms through workshops, events and other activities.
It's also possible to find employment with specific community arts support agencies where they offer advice and support to others.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Arts Culture Media Jobs
- ArtsHub Jobs
- People Dancing: the foundation for community dance
- Group for Education in Museums (GEM)
It's important that you carry out continuing professional development (CPD) to keep up to date with new legislation, practices and opportunities. If you're a freelancer, you'll need to seek out training opportunities and may need to fund them yourself.
Local councils may run short, subsidised training courses which serve as an introduction to community work. Similar training is also offered by larger community arts organisations. Details of relevant courses, which are specifically aimed at the community arts sector are listed on Artswork and Voluntary Arts.
Community arts work extends beyond using creative talent. Whether you're in local government or working as a freelancer, you may need to supplement your artistic training with courses in the following areas:
- writing funding proposals and bids (the Institute of Fundraising has developed a series of fundraising qualifications)
- people management and managing teams
- PR and marketing
- project management, budget planning and financial accounting
- health and safety, child protection, insurance and liability
- relevant aspects of social work and youth work
- working with specific groups such as young offenders.
You could decide to formalise your teaching and training experience by studying for a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) or a PG Dip/MA in Education. Museums and galleries also offer training for their own staff and those from other organisations within the sector.
If you're working within local government, you can progress by taking on managerial responsibility, such as supervising a team of junior arts officers or becoming the head of arts. You could also move to a more senior role within an arts organisation, arts council, arts development agency or regional development agency.
Promotion to managerial level largely depends on getting experience of managing large projects and budgets. Posts as directors and chief executives exist within these organisations, but opportunities are limited and require significant experience of developing policies and strategies.
Alternatively, you could decide to move into freelance work, drawing on the contacts and experience you've gained. You'll need to build a portfolio of work and networking and making speculative approaches is essential for securing projects. As your experience grows, you'll be able to work on larger projects with bigger budgets. You may also wish to secure funding to establish and manager your own independent projects.
Career development generally needs to be driven by you, as outside local government there’s a lack of clearly defined career pathways.