The Easel Initiative

The Easel Initiative | A New Platform For The Arts
By Founder, Charlotte Maxwell.

It is always a strange feeling returning to your old school. A heady mix of nostalgia, the feeling that you never left and a barrage of memories you had totally forgotten flooding back all at once. It is a simultaneously lovely but terrifying sensation!
That is exactly what happened to me when I returned to my old school last month to give a speech to the students about the not-for-profit organization I started earlier this year called The Easel Initiative. This is a social mobility platform set up to help further equal opportunity and accessibility within the art industry and support and encourage people of all backgrounds to consider it a viable career choice.

I was in the first year to study art history at my school. I didn’t fully understand what the subject entailed, so I went along to a trial day before we had to make our choices. I had anticipated a blossoming career in Psychology, however, after attending the talk by an incredibly inspiring teacher, I was blown away. I fell in love with a subject that encompassed not only my interests – Art, English, Psychology and History, but also a whole host of other disciplines: Sociology, Politics, Economics, Religious Studies, Anthropology and many more. By the time I left the room, my career trajectory had changed and art history became my focus and my future.

I went on to study History of Art at The University of Edinburgh and cemented my fascination with the subject. I discovered that the study of art history allows you to journey down whatever route intrieges you, whether it is an in depth analysis of a particular genre, the mathematics of pointillism or the economics of the art market; you can mould your learning around your passions, the options are endless! My degree also trained me to become a critical thinker, to visually analyse what I saw and unveil hidden ideologies; skills I have used throughout my career but also in day to day life. John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ has never been more pertinent than now in our image heavy culture. I am using my History of Art degree to interpret messages in the news, political debates, and even body language. It arms you with the power to understand what we see. However, the academic study of art is not the only path to pursuing a career in the art sector.

This is what I tried to impress upon the young faces staring back up at me. Increasingly now, students are encouraged to make a decision about their careers or at least eliminate options as young as 15, but how are they supposed to do so without all of the information? If they study art history + X and Y what careers are possible? Some subjects have a simple equation to this question, others are more complicated, but this doesn’t need to be a daunting prospect. Similar to the plethora of disciplines that embody art history, a whole host of subjects could contribute to a career in the arts. Whist the study of art history could prepare you to become a curator, an auction specialist or an art advisor, equally, a job in restitution could begin with a passion in history, likewise becoming an art market analyst could start with the study of economics. The list of examples is endless.

From my own first-hand experience of leaving university and trying to find a job, I noticed the lack of knowledge about the variety of roles available within the art sector, as well as the huge financial barriers in place preventing a large percentage of the population from accessing the industry. It didn’t make sense to me that the art world was fishing from such a reduced and finite candidate pool and that there wasn’t a dedicated social mobility drive. Surely a multi-billion-pound industry should have the best possible employees and a diverse work force. I wanted to do something to enable this and to help both the institutions and help further the careers of candidates who are truly passionate about art history. It was for these reasons that I started Easel and hopefully, if the number of enthusiastic students who spoke to me after my speech is anything to go by, there is an appetite for this knowledge and a helping hand.

So, earlier this year, I took a risk and decided to quit my job at a gallery and put into action the scheme I had spent years pondering. After a nerve-wracking but successful Crowdfunder campaign, we launched our website last month. The website will act as first point of call for the Easel community, detailing the variety of jobs available within the art world, blogs by people who hold those jobs, professional portraits, industry news and reports. It will also host a mentoring programme, career mapping and a grants scheme. Our vision is that the website, and the knowledge held within, will help sixth form students learn more about the Art Industry, and access information that otherwise would be unavailable to them.

The next step on the Easel journey is our Mentoring programme. This will launch at the end of September and is aimed at candidates who are planning and thinking about careers upon graduation but need guidance and support. When a candidate registers to the website and expresses an interest in a particular role or skill, we will match them with an industry professional who holds that position and possesses the desired skill sets. The mentor will help the candidate plan potential career paths and discuss various roles within the industry.

Our long-term plan and the tertiary stage of Easel is our Grant Scheme. There are a number of associations and charities who provide grants including the Association for Art History. In fact, one of our trustees was able to start his career in the arts because he was a benefactor of one of their grants. We are looking to add to these scholarships and, launching early 2018, there will be a variety of grants on offer to help bridge the gap and enable all students to consider a career in the arts as a viable option. There will be internship grants to subsidize the difference between an internship salary and the London living wage, relocation grants to help candidates with any moving costs for a role outside of their home city, and a whole host of other scholarships to help break down the financial barriers associated with entering the industry.

Whilst it was important to me that Easel was a virtual resource to best help students all over the UK, I wanted an annual event where candidates could have face time with industry professionals to discuss the A Level, the various degrees that could lead to their desired career and understand the possibilities after graduation. As such, we are launching a fair, in association with Art History in Schools, on the 8th and 9th June. More details to follow!

It has been a petrifying roller-coaster of a year but a hugely exciting and rewarding one. Every day I am learning something new, be it the intricacies of charity law, how to code a website or honing my public speaking, a skill I will be practicing again at the forthcoming Ways of Seeing Conference on the 25th November at the National Gallery.

I am now working with Universities and schools and a variety of charities and associations to offer Easel as a resource to students nationwide and help support them throughout their journey from their moment of inspiration, right through until they get a job. But in order to really make a difference and help as many candidates as possible, we need to sign up mentors from all sectors of the art industry prior to the launch of the mentoring programme. So, if you would like to be a mentor, know a colleague that would, or know someone that could benefit from the Easel initiative, please do sign up and spread the word!