Following a successful Think Tank for emerging designers in 2014 which saw the development of the Mentor APDG program and the Fresh Blood Facebook group, we thought it was high time for another one. On August 21, 21 emerging designers gathered at NIDA in Sydney for a night of open discussions and robust questioning. Attendees came from a diverse range of institutions and practices. Organised by the APDG Live Performance Committee (Sydney chapter), the night felt like a success with emerging designers forming new connections, expressing healthy concerns and sharing ideas for the future.
Note: If others are interested in organising a similar event in other states we’d be happy to share our experiences and resources.
Contact Paul Matthews, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Survey Results: Theatre Companies & You:
We started by sharing the results of the 2017 Theatre Companies & You survey. This sparked a range of discussions around taxes, insurances and professional practice.
Superannuation particularly came into question. The survey raised the concerning issue that designers are not always getting paid Super when they should be, or don’t know when they should be, and members of the Think Tank shared this experience.
APDG Action: Can we provide plain-English information about Superannuation?
Insurances were another hot topic. Many emerging designers go without basic insurances, largely because of the high costs and the difficulty in understanding exactly what they need and how to organise it (without paying more than they need to).
APDG Action: Can we provide more information about insurances for designers and creative practitioners. Can we also provide insurance through our membership, similar to what NAVA does for visual artists?
Working Smarter Guide:
We were excited to announce the development of a Working Smarter Guide by the APDG Live Performance Committee (Sydney chapter). In the initial stage of development, we are aiming to create a resource for designers around working more efficiently. How to save time, money and resources in the process and execution of design.
This was warmly received by the group, with a building list of topics for inclusion including: insurances, how to prepare for tax, setting up your own business (and why/why not), how to invoice, how an ABN works, etc.
APDG Action: Continue to develop the Working Smarter Guide with the Live Performance Committee.
APDG Mentor Program:
Co-manager of the program, Tobhiyah Stone-Feller spoke to the group about the growing program and how to apply. Current participants and alumni of the program spoke about their experiences and the benefits of participating. General consensus – it’s really useful in forming relationships with established designers who become a sounding board for the big and small questions about careers and design practice.
APDG Action: Continue to host and promote the APDG Mentor Program.
Industry support and structured professional connections featured prominently in discussions. There appears to be an absence of associate/assistant designer positions or paid internships. The group was firmly against graduates working unpaid in exchange for ‘experience’ and wanted worthwhile, meaningful secondments. The reality of living in Sydney doesn’t allow this luxury. Budgets don’t seem to allow for positions for emerging designers and the group questioned how this can change.
APDG Action: Advocate for paid internships and for companies to budget for paid assistant/associate designer positions.
We briefly covered the APDG Live Performance Standard Agreement for Design, APDG Manual for Screen Design Practices, and APDG Live Performance Design Guidelines. Each of these was acknowledged by the group as useful resources. It appeared that while not many had read these in depth, it was good to now know what’s in them and how they can be used.
APDG Action: Further promote the existing resources in bite sized chunks to spread information in easy to digest posts?
The question of fees came up. While the scale provided in the document was useful, it’s not relevant in all situations – particularly for low-budget or independent theatre productions. The APDG is clear that it doesn’t advise accepting payment under award wages (see MEAA website for more). However, designers requested guidance on a sliding scale or percentage of budget that would be generally acceptable for emerging designers in these situations.
It became evident that the independent theatre sector is vital for emerging designers, however much of the APDG materials is directed towards main-stage company structures. We acknowledge this is due to the mammoth task involved in creating the existing materials and the need to limit the scope of the initial information.
APDG Action: Next step, acknowledge the differences of working in the independent theatre sector and provide information relevant for working in this area.
The newly designed website was widely praised for the fresh layout, ease of navigation and resources provided. In particular it was agreed that the Skills & Business Directory, or member profiles section, was a positive step for the guild. Attendees indicated they would update their profiles there (and you should too if you haven’t yet!).
Emerging designers would like to build upon this hub of information with:
- A search function to find information quickly.
- More resources such as:
- Sustainability – best practices and resources.
- Grants and opportunities database – what is available to support emerging designers: funding, project grants, travel grants, residencies, internships, etc.
- Suppliers – a national database of props/costume/set/materials suppliers. Particularly useful for working interstate.
- National connections – a list of people designers can contact for help when working or looking to work interstate.
Networking, Events and Interviews:
Current APDG events were appreciated and emerging designers were keen for more. There was a hunger for realistic career stories for the current industry environment. As well as hearing more from established designers about their practice and career trajectories, emerging designers wanted to hear more behind the scenes insights from contemporary productions. The group also wanted more events discussing ‘best practices’ with designers and other creative or arts-business professionals as opposed to the interview format.
There was particular enthusiasm for a podcast featuring designers and arts professionals with some self-nominating to take this on board if they had support from the Guild.
Emerging designers want opportunities to connect with theatre companies and established designers in ways that could lead to work. Networking events, social activities, forums and seminars all felt like good places to grow our community and build relationships with potential employers or mentors. Participants wanted to showcase the ‘Fresh Blood’ designers in some way.
There was a request for masterclasses with established designers and industry professionals. There is a lack of continuing professional development in our industry and it’s something the Guild could potentially assist with. Once a designer leaves an educational institution it was acknowledged they are not always ‘industry ready’. Plus, at all stages of a career there is always a chance to further develop particular skills or branch into new fields. These masterclasses could be in creative or business skills.
APDG Action: Look at more opportunities for sharing design stories, connecting emerging designers to companies and colleagues, and passing on knowledge.
Working with Agents:
Emerging designers were very interested in working with agents. Questions revolved around standard percentages, general rights, best practice for working with an agent and how to find representation.
Recent grads and current students suggested that educational institutions could host agent days or networking opportunities, similar to ones currently hosted for actors at NIDA. Networking events with agents and Guild members were also suggested.
APDG Action: Create a ‘how to’ guide around working with agents.
While the Copyright Agency provides many resources, emerging designers are after clearer information specific to theatre and screen industries. Questions such as:
How do we protect ourselves and what do we do when our intellectual property is used without our permission? This includes when companies use our work on social media without permission.
Who holds the intellectual property when assisting a designer, or working as associate designer, and your ideas/designs are used?
APDG Action: Create a guide to rights and processes around copyright.
APDG Membership Fees
In a unanimous vote, attendees requested a review of the membership fees for emerging designers. Considering the typically low fees for emerging designers and high costs of living in major cities (Sydney in this case), attendees requested a longer period of free membership after graduating from study.
At the moment, current design students pay $50 per year for membership. Final year students are eligible for one year of free membership. It is believed that an extension of this free membership, or concession rate, would assist emerging designers to establish themselves more before committing to the full $150 annual fee.
APDG Action: Review membership fees for emerging designers.
Education to Industry:
How educational institutions prepared designers for work in the industry became a recurring question throughout the Think Tank. While designers came from a range of institutions and had different experiences, in general graduates and current students wanted more training around business practices. Many of the points already raised are topics that designers would like covered as part of their tertiary training. Freelance rights and obligations, tax preparation, finance management, insurances for sole traders and contractors (and the difference between these), etc.
Designers would also like more direct connection with industry. Work placements, internships, on-the-job structured and supported learning. Generally, students wanted to know more about what happens next.
APDG Action: Pass this information on to educational institutions for their consideration.
Fresh Blood Facebook Group
Attendees asked if the APDG could somehow save key conversation threads (about suppliers, insurances, etc) and make it available on the APDG website for future reference.
Designers request that any jobs posted on APDG social media include the fees/pay rates. If a job isn’t paid, or “for experience”, it should be indicated up front as “Unpaid” – although it’s preferred that these aren’t posted at all.
We would like to encourage freelancers to post on Fresh Blood about opportunities for co-working in shared spaces, either at home, public spaces or co-working venues. It can get lonely working freelance on your own, why not shout out and see if someone wants to share a studio or table for the day?
- Changing Roles: Emerging designers are concerned that their role often changes from assisting to associate designer, or more tasks are added beyond their expected role without their credit changing. The concern wasn’t about doing the work, it was about acknowledging the work.
- Unpaid work: What do you do when you’re supposed to be paid and aren’t? What can you do to claim unpaid fees?
- Sustainability: Where is the best place to donate or sell props and costumes after a production? Looking for best sustainable practice, and possibly income.
- Circus: This is an industry not discussed as often as other parts of live performance. Those working in circus would like to know more about the future of that industry and how to be less reliant on reducing Government support.
Working overseas – designers would love information on visas, working life, contracts, relevant support organisations, rights, standard fees/remuneration, training and work opportunities, working remotely, etc.