in the Category: art, music

How to make it in the cultural sector

Hoping to become a music programmer for a festival or a photographer in your favourite theatre? If you think a direct ticket to this profession is enclosed in your diploma, keep on dreaming. Be ready to work hard off the beaten track instead. Experience experts Herlinde (37) and Kasper-Jan Raeman (33) get you started with some good advice.

Words by Nel Van Vooren
Photos shot by Valentine Raeman at the Subbacultcha Belgium HQ in Ghent

More questions? Swing by at Klaar voor take-off, the pop-up for graduates.
Every weekday from 6 July till 30 October - Brabantdam 56, 9000 Ghent

Find your own internships

Most jobs are so specific it’s almost impossible to find the perfect one by chance. Internships are the way to discover what suits you best. Not all school programmes offer them and even if they do, the selection is limited. Via self-selected traineeships, you get a gist of what your so-called vocation is like in real life and what it is you personally aim for. ‘The most interesting profiles that did an internship with Subbacultcha, we got to know through their own initiative, free from the school structure’, says Herlinde. ‘People like Milena Maenhaut for example, who knew exactly what she wanted to learn and why. She eventually ended up doing what she always wanted to do: working for Knack Focus. It’s a good sign if you not only know your own skills and ambitions, but also those of the company you want to learn from. Even if someone just suggests to help sending out our monthly magazines, this is the kind of drive that sticks with us. We’ll personally invite that person if there’s ever a vacancy for Subbacultcha.’ 

Most jobs are so specific it’s almost impossible to find the perfect one by chance

Go abroad

Going international for an internship doesn’t mean you should have lots of money. Perhaps you can keep a modest job on the side of your studies. Or maybe you weren’t aware some internships abroad involve a small salary. ‘Even if it’s just enough to pay your food and public transportation in London, the financial aspect should be no objection’, says Kasper-Jan, remembering the internship with booking office Nomanis he did right after his history studies. ‘It’s important to think further than your familiar bubble of friends, school or hobbies. By going abroad you quickly learn to survive outside of your comfort zone. Starting from scratch not only is a humbling experience, it also teaches you to see the broad picture. By literally distancing yourself you discover and define who you are and what you want to do better. Thanks to my London adventure, I got to know the Dutch concept Subbacultcha, which eventually inspired me to start a Belgian version.’ Or, as Herlinde puts it, having learned from year-long job experiences in Berlin, ‘A career is what you make it.’ 

Build your own network

A job like ours goes way further than content only

The power of the players in the cultural field is the fact that their network crosses boundaries. ‘Both Herlinde and I still profit from the network we built through our internships and jobs from years ago. We’re still in contact with the people we met and worked for’, states Kasper-Jan. ‘Next to kindred spirits, it’s also important to surround you with people of other domains’, adds Herlinde. ‘Specialists outside the cultural sector can also have a useful say on communication or programmation. A job like ours goes way further than content only. Especially for the numeral aspect, it’s comforting we can count on an expert.’ 
Find yourself a mentor

Learning from someone who has been in the business for longer is the key to success. ‘Sharing our expertise is also the most fun part to do, as far as we’re concerned’, means Herlinde. ‘As there isn’t some kind of structure for it, it’s important to take matters into your own hands and find yourself someone who once was in your shoes and went through the whole shebang. For young people, it’s important to be pushed in the right direction. Veterans like us, on the other hand, need to let go and pass their legacy on to the next generation in time’, fills Kasper-Jan in. ‘If you have an appreciation for someone in the cultural field, someone you feel you could learn from, don’t be afraid to approach that person with your questions over a cup of coffee. You’ll be surprised how eager the impassioned ones are in sharing their story,’ concludes Herlinde.  

Design a customized resume

There’s nothing more toe-curling than receiving another copy-paste motivation letter in Times New Roman starting with a dry ‘Dear,’ and a vague ‘It has always been my dream to do something in culture’. ‘It’s so important to do your research and to concretise what you can offer a company and to specify your applicable skills. As far as layout goes, spending € 50 on a graphic designer who gives your CV the right boost makes the difference in catching the eye of your future employer’, says Kasper-Jan. ‘If someone would make a personal magazine for us, we would definitely be all ears. Or if making a newsletter would be one of your tasks, just mould your CV and motivation into the shape of one. This way you directly show your skills, instead of putting some unremarkable stars next to the tab “Photoshop skills”’, clarifies Herlinde. 

Discover your value, keep on learning

Having a broad skill set distinguishes you from others. Investigating what would be an advantage for any company and mastering new competencies is worth the effort. A photographer that knows how to code makes him more valuable. ‘Or someone who wants to be a programmer but doesn’t know a thing about economics or communication lacks the extras that are inevitably part of the job’, knows Kasper-Jan. Just don’t be satisfied with the things you learn at school. 

Just don’t be satisfied with the things you learn at school

Be humble

Don’t assume you can enter a company with an immediate redefinition of their style in communication or programming. ‘This only works if you engage yourself for it if you are open and learn how to work in a team. That’s why internships are so important’, says Herlinde. ‘Next to that, be eager to take a leap and learn by trial and error. Try to get noticed, not only with your talents but also with a willingness to learn and to accept feedback’, adds Kasper-Jan. 

Hang in there

It’s a good sign if you not only know your own skills and ambitions, but also those of the company you want to learn from

Keep fighting for your dream. ‘Ignore the pressure of your parents who are desperate to see you performing a nine to five that brings “certainty”. A bumpy road equals an interesting career path. Even if you don’t succeed straight away, try to keep your goal in mind and voluntarily keep related activities on the side’, suggests Kasper-Jan. Even if this means you’re having a totally different job for a few years. And even if this means you have to keep convincing yourself and others it’s the right thing to do. 


Are you looking for a job and need useful information?
Do you need help with your application or with composing your CV better?
Are you searching for a workshop or training?

Time to swing by at Klaar voor take-off, the pop-up for graduates in Ghent.
Every weekday from 6 July till 30 October - Brabantdam 56, 9000 Ghent