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Upgrade Yourself: Inspiration | Arts Careers Behind the Scenes

22 Jan 2021

We went behind the scenes of arts careers with four of our Somerset House Trust colleagues for this edition of Upgrade Yourself: Inspiration. Colleagues from across producing, events and marketing shared their career journeys and experiences, answering your questions with some practical advice, showing that no two routes into a creative career are ever the same.
Watch April, Jian Wei, Lorraine, and Sophie’s online session below and find out more about programming, artist liaison, event & project planning, communication, audience engagement and project management. Known as London’s working art centre, Somerset House is home to the UK’s largest and most exciting creative community, overflowing with new ideas, young businesses, and fresh perspectives. 

Q&A with April and Lorraine

Please introduce yourself and give a brief description about your current role.

April: I coordinate the youth participation and outreach programmes that take place at Somerset House. I predominantly work with emerging creatives aged between 18-30, supporting them to develop their skills, talents, and potential to work in the creative and cultural industries.

Lorraine: With over 20 years industry experience, I am currently Acting Head of Commercial Events at Somerset House responsible for revenue generation from the sites event spaces. This includes overseeing the public high-profile exhibitions including London Design Biennale, Photo London, Sony World Photography Awards, Collect and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair as well as dinners, receptions, product launches, fashion shows, commercial filming, and photography.

What is the worst moment of your career so far? How did you show resilience and bounce back?

April: The worst moment of my career was probably when I was unemployed after completing my BA at university. It’s extremely demotivating when you’ve worked so hard to achieve and then you hit a brick wall. It really affected my mental and physical wellbeing and made me consider if I had made the right decisions in terms of my career choices. I had to really push through the barriers I was facing with sheer determination and willpower. I tried different avenues, claimed benefits, then juggled 2-3 casual jobs and internships for a while; trying my best to balance the need to survive with my career ambitions. I just never gave up on finding my greater purpose and eventually over time I was able to gain more paid opportunities in the creative/cultural sectors. It definitely hasn’t been a smooth and steady journey!

Lorraine: At one venue we managed summer language schools with hundreds of Italian students coming to stay on site in our halls of residence. We provided 3 meals a day and they hired our classrooms for teaching which contributed to the majority of our summer income. The scheme was backed by the Italian government and had been running successfully for many years until one year – completely out of the blue and with only a few weeks’ notice – they announced that for that for that summer they would not be funding any spaces. We were suddenly left with lots of empty bedrooms and a huge shortfall in our income. I had to think creatively and act quickly to fill these rooms. Firstly, we had summer weddings, so I offered the bedrooms to wedding guests to stay on site (even though they were all single bedrooms, it actually proved very popular!) and I uploaded our bedrooms on budget accommodate sites for people travelling around the UK. We didn’t manage to fill all the rooms but as the staffing costs were so low that summer the impact was less severe on our profit line and in future years we continued to offer bedrooms to private clients as a way of spreading the risk.

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

April: There are so many bits and pieces that have greatly helped me on by journey, but I guess a consistent thread has been to always trust my intuition. My strong gut instinct has definitely got me through any adversities I’ve faced, and it has got me to this point in my career. I want to continue to be intuitive in my work and life decisions. Always trust your gut!

Lorraine: It's ok to say no: so many people are uncomfortable saying it because they feel they are letting down work colleagues, clients, friends, or family. In today’s fast paced society sometimes you just need to pause and think, no is not always a negative word - it can be an empowering one.

As the world is systematically changing, what does a future creative career look like post Covid-19?

April: I think creativity and innovation are going to be crucial as we move forward in any capacity; the world won’t survive without them. As long as we can continue to be innovative in the creative work we produce and responsive in the way we produce them (new ideologies, structures and processes) then I think creatives will continue to add value to the world.

Lorraine: The events industry will bounce back - the unknown is still when this will happen and how many event companies will still be there post Covid-19.  “Hybrid Events” is very much the buzz word at the moment and I think in the short term this is a great solution for keeping guests safe and in the long term, great for expanding your audience across the globe. However, the whole point of an event is getting people together – we want to be part of a meeting, a dinner, a reception, an exhibition in order to interact with people and see things happen live in front of us – watching it on a screen does not have the same impact.

Top 3 tips


  1. Look for inspiration offline – there is a big wide world out there for you to explore, discover and experience in real life. Be curious about what is around you. Google maps is a good place to browse for green spaces you’ve never been to. Go on an adventure and you might find a gem.
  2. Work on your enterprise skills as well as your employability skills. Think of new opportunities that you could create instead of waiting for an opportunity to be created for you.
  3. Prioritise your mental health and wellbeing – a good work/life balance is important!


  1. Plan as much as possible – “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” is very appropriate for organising events.
  2. Explore and learn – never stop discovering new ways of doing things.
  3. Treat everyone how you would like to be treated – no matter who you meet / who you work with – one day they could end up being your manager, or vice versa!