The Financial Express

An EGG for a creative career

Representational image — Collected Representational image — Collected

It was a widely held belief that if there were such a thing as a perfect food or a super food, eggs would be it. Eggs are readily available, easy to cook, affordable and packed with protein.

Healthwise, that’s perhaps alright. However, this article deals with a different kind of egg. As this Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on every sector of the world, arts are no different. The situation has almost stopped the growth of the creative sector and everyone who is a part of it.

A creative sector professional may realise during the lockdown that what s/he needs is an EGG for career, to stay motivated and grow even as we are locked in within the four walls of home.

EGG’s E stands for Earning and the pair of G respectively stands for Giving and Growing. We need all three facets fulfilled in order to have a robust, healthy creative career.

We’ve noticed that at any given stage of our career we are told and trained to focus on either earning or giving, but never enough about growth.

At the beginning of the career, all we are told is to focus on getting work experience, i.e. giving. As an apprentice or an intern or a volunteer, the thing we do is giving tirelessly to get our feet in the creative world.

Strong passion keeps most of us from the luxury of negotiating the financial return for our work which is earning.

While living in London in 2005, I was struggling to find my way back to the creative world after the daughter’s birth. Finally a part-time position at an arts magazine with salary barely covering the baby’s childcare expenses. Between taking care of a small child and working as the magazine’s only graphic designer, there was hardly any time left for myself.

So, in 2007, we, two friends, co-founded an arts collective based in East London. Our ambitious tag line was: arts for social change. It gave us the opportunity to grow creatively as well as the chance to give back to the British-Bangladeshi community we grew up in.

Working with the community in London made us more and more curious about Bangladeshi culture. In 2009, I moved to Bangladesh. My first full-time job was working for the British Council as an arts manager. I was conceiving and managing festivals that were celebrating home-grown iconic figures like Rabindranath Tagore and bringing celebrated Lit festivals like the Hay to Bangladesh.

However, I fell into the mid-career trap of equating salary. So I left the British Council to join the Asia Foundation as its head of communications. That was a mistake as the Asia Foundation is renowned for its development work around governance, gender and climate change, not for work in the arts.

Richard Harbridge, chief technology of 2toLead, wrote, “Being passionate about work doesn't necessarily mean it makes you happy, but rather that it is meaningful, that it elevates us beyond our usual self-interest." And once we are elevated, we grow.

So when Robin Davies, the new Director of programmes for the British Council Bangladesh contacted me to apply for the head of arts position, I took the opportunity. My three-member arts team tried our hand in disability arts and nation-wide poetry competition, and even brought internationally acclaimed UK dance production to Bangladesh. My learning curve was steep and I was earning, giving and growing simultaneously.

However, by the time we reach a senior level, the focus shifts again. This time mostly to giving. Giving by taking up advisory roles, by sharing our experience as speakers, or by joining various committees as trustees.

I experienced this first hand when I joined the Bengal Group as a director and became the managing director for its digital start-up company, Bengal Creative Hub, an online platform for creative professionals. Alongside my highly challenging day job, I was doing all of the above and soon I was running on empty again.

I realised that at every low point in my career, I managed to survive because I managed to change my path to something that led me to do all three - earn, grow and give.

English artist Es Devlin famously said on the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine Masterclass, “Never waste a crisis.” What she meant was every crisis has the potential to open up new possibilities, help you get on a new path.

The current period of isolation has been very meditative and rejuvenating for me as a creative professional. Working from home, I used the time to research extensively for my future projects, finish up current work while continuing to mentor Middlesex Grad students who are looking to join a creative career. 

Suffice to say, EGG has really helped me to navigate through this pandemic workwise, while helping me to prioritise giving and growing.


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