Sarah’s career change story
from Art Curator
to Partner in a Floral Design Firm
Who are you?
I’m Sarah, I live in Walthamstow, I’m married and I have 2 daughters who keep me very busy. I would describe myself as creative. We spend a lot of our time going outdoors as a family, that’s where I get inspiration from. We equally love being on the verge of the city, so we’ll go to lots of galleries with the kids.
What were you doing before you made the change?
I worked as a freelance curator and arts administrator for several different organisations, to support them on projects. I worked with organisations such as Matt’s Gallery, Art on the Underground, as well as places in Czech Republic. My job ranged from setting up exhibitions, fundraising and all of the admin in-between.
I felt very passionately about what contemporary art could do. I preferred working in the public sector rather than the private sector. I loved the organisations I worked for because they tried to provide opportunities for artists. They would fund the time and space for an artist to produce something new, this was the specialty of Matt's Gallery, where I began it all as an intern. My favourite type of work would be big immersive pieces.
What do you do now?
I am a floral stylist. . I have a company called Borrowed Light Floral Studio, with a business partner, and we focus on events (corporate, weddings, etc.) and workshops. Our favourite work is project-based events and styling, especially installations. We also now have a shop in St James Street in Walthamstow where we run lots of workshops collaboratively with Make and Create.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
Initially I didn’t want to change at all. After the financial crash, most of the money in the public sector disappeared. Organisations I worked for where funded by the Arts Council, through charities and government grants. At the same time, most of the money from the Department for Culture was funnelled into the 2012 Olympics, so my sector lost most of its workers. I realised I needed a backup.
How did you find your dream career?
My housemate was starting to train to become a coach, we sat down and had a brainstorming session. We looked at my skill set and what I was interested in, and we came out with lots of really good solutions. That’s how I figured out what I wanted to do. Then I went away and researched what I needed to do it.
I did a lot of research online. I spoke to as many people in the industry as I could about the path that I wanted to take. I would ask them questions about college, work experience, etc. Then I started doing work experience for one year in very different places in London. The result of doing one of my placements was that I got my first job soon after I graduated.
How did you handle the financial aspect to make the change possible?
First, I signed up to an agency to do temporary work to bring in money and support myself.
Because I was a mature student, I wasn’t able to get my education for free, so I had to use my savings, but I kept working via the agency for a while to bring in money. I also asked for some of my work experience places to be paid. This was never going to be possible for many of the placements but I ended up being paid for one placement each week, meaning that I stayed there for a long time rather than just doing a few weeks in a block. I learnt a great deal through that placement as I became a part of the team and was trusted to do everything, including a lot of the running, which you do not learn in college in the same way.
What has been your biggest challenge in your new career so far?
The hardest thing about the transition was that I needed to train, and if you’re training you don’t earn a lot of money. I was lucky that my husband was happy to support, and some of my placements were paid. I was also starting at the bottom of a new ladder in terms of pay scale so had it all to do again.
What do you love most about your new career?
I get to be really creative and I actively seek out new jobs that allow me to push myself. I am always learning new skills meaning its fresh and fun, so I feel like I’m merging my two careers.
What do you miss and what don’t you miss from your previous career?
I’m sure I’ve missed out on a lot of great artwork. I don’t go to as many exhibitions as before, some of the best work is seen at small, out of the way galleries and life at the moment means that I do not make it to so many.
I would like to say that I don't miss all of the paper work and time in front of a computer but there is still a lot of that involved in running a business.
What have you learnt in the process of finding your new career?
Things don’t happen quickly and perseverance is really important. Self-confidence is key: you have to believe you can do it.
I feel it’s good to have a small business with some turnover, especially if I compare myself to people I know from my previous career, where it often takes 15-20 years to start being recognised as an artist.
What has changed in yourself and your environment since you’ve changed careers?
I’ve had children which has had a massive impact: if I weren’t freelancing I wouldn’t see my kids. I work long hours now, but I decide my own hours and can be much more flexible with them. Working with a partner has helped with this enormously
The flip side of freelancing is the uncertainty, but I’m used to that. Projects are shorter in this new career, so there’s a bit more worry and we have to pitch more often to get jobs.
What advice would you give someone considering a career change?
Go and speak to a lot of people who are doing what you think you want to do, and trial it. Research the different ways people have got into the industry: what you think is an obvious way might not be the only one.
With my business partner, we also found really helpful to join the Hive Collective coaching group: it helps us increase our confidence in the skills we didn’t have, it makes us speak about how to increase sales in a way that’s structured. It’s helped us with the network too: understanding other people’s business journeys helps you think about your own. Looking at the way other people manage their family and freelance lives is inspiring. It gives us access to a range of people to ask questions to.