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Clubbing for creative graduates

Abstract art
Reading alumnus, Ajay Pabial, has set up Art Clubbers CIC, a non-profit interest community that empowers budding creatives, local communities and graduates alike.

Passionate about art from an early age, Ajay Pabial applied to study for a BA in Fine Art at Reading on the recommendation of his college painting teacher. It was a fateful decision that led Ajay down an entrepreneurial path, setting the scene for an ongoing relationship with Reading School of Art, which has continued to flourish since he graduated.

Collaborating with the School of Art

When reflecting on his Fine Art degree, Ajay credits the course with inspiring him to develop and improve his own art practice, as well as helping him to understand the value of producing something fresh and unique.

However, he soon realised that he wasn’t as well prepared for the practical side of building a creative career in the real world, particularly when it came to things like being self-employed and pricing his work.

As part of an open and ongoing dialogue with Reading, Ajay shared his feedback with our School. Today, we regularly bring in different practitioners to share practical advice and highlight the different career pathways after graduating.

Head of Art, Professor Rachel Garfield, wanted to get Ajay involved to increase connections between the School of Art and alumni, as well as help students excel after Reading:

“I think as an art school we have to constantly be looking towards our alumni to gauge the fast-changing climate of opportunities within the arts.

“Ajay’s experience really shows how art education gives you the tools for lateral thinking. To also involve his peers from Reading and build networks with Reading School of Art, Ajay is showing his passion and drive towards the arts.

“It’s important to have early career voices for students – it means they can see the opportunities available to them closer to graduation, as it is not always a linear path.”

And if further confirmation was needed of Ajay’s close collaboration with Reading, Professor Garfield is now one of the directors of Ajay’s company.

From graduate to company founder

Ajay’s first attempt at graduate job hunting proved a steep learning curve. The competition for widely advertised, well-paid creative roles was high, and he quickly realised he needed to think creatively about the next step.

Ajay gained valuable work experience at The Brick Lane Gallery and Things Made Public – a community interest company based in Romford.

He then decided to build on his experience and attempt to fulfil his dream of running his own organisation. Staying focused and resilient throughout the process, which involved a complicated 40-page form and two unsuccessful attempts at applying, Ajay finally succeeded in getting his new company, Art Clubbers CIC.

Ajay leveraged his carefully cultivated network of contacts when getting Art Clubbers CIC off the ground. Keeping in touch with our School, his fellow graduates and the industry contacts he’d made along the way, proved crucial when it came to insight, recommendations and advice.

“Art Clubbers CIC provides a stepping stone from creative higher education, to a fast-paced creative industry. It is a community of budding creatives, mostly recent graduates, but also some non-graduates from across creative industries.

"Typically, the age bracket is 18-30 but we acknowledge that there are creatives outside of these age brackets who are trying to access the creative industry, and we support their talent too.”

With an ever-growing number of aspiring creatives in the talent pool, Art Clubbers CIC provides work experience through live creative briefs based on different industries. Typically, the projects are cultural, creative initiatives within communities.

One recent project, Poplar Paints, involved commissioning an international award-winning artist to get young people involved in the process of creative street art, culminating in the creation of a mural using spray paint.

As with many of Ajay’s projects, partnerships were crucial to this initiative with Foundation for Future London, City of London Corporation, Spotlight, Poplar Works and Poplar HARCA all supporting the exhibition.

The future

Ajay’s next aim is to get further under the skin of bigger corporations, organisations, local authorities and educational institutions to create a positive understanding of the fusion skills budding creatives have, and how by giving them opportunities, we can truly create something innovative and sustainable.

When it comes to today’s creative graduates, as well as encouraging them to get involved in Art Clubbers CIC, Ajay’s advice is for them to gain as much experience as they can while at university, college or school.

“Being in education is a safe space and it’s a good time to experiment, volunteer, network, try new things and be a sponge for knowledge. Take responsibility for your own development.

“Pick up extra business modules if you have the time, work across different departments if you can, and try to find ways to develop a commercial savviness to complement your creative studies.

“Fundamentally, I’ve been able to set up Art Clubbers CIC based on the experience I gained from volunteering.”

The face of a new grant scheme

Ajay Pabial grant scheme
Art Clubbers CIC was recently awarded the Connecting People and Places Fund. This open-access small grant scheme is co-funded by Foundation for FutureLondon and City of London.

It supports individuals and small organisations around London to deliver projects in arts, culture and innovation that address local need around skills development, training, education, employment and creative placemaking.

“Our project, Skills Youth Network Create (S.Y.N.C.), was awarded the grant as it meets many of the fund’s themes and priorities. These include Creative Learning, Collaboration, Participation, Diverse Employment, Training, Engagement and Partnerships.

“The project also focuses on young people and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) participants, which are some of the marginalised beneficiaries we want to reach.”

About the project

S.Y.N.C offers an experiential and spectacular approach to helping young Londoners thrive in the 21st century workplace through embedding fusion skills into budding creatives.

Young people aged 19-25 years old will develop as “Creative Leaders” through training from industry experts. The newly equipped Creative Leaders will go on to undertake a progressive journey to deliver personal workshops.

“It is through our great working relationship with Foundations of Future London and their understanding of supporting a diverse voice that I was approached to be one of the faces for the new Westfield East Bank Creative Futures Fund.

“It's very exciting being one of the faces for this new grant scheme – definitely a proud moment.”

The grant has allowed Art Clubbers CIC to continue to do what they do best – lend a helping hand to those marginalised from the sector and have or are experiencing difficulties in accessing opportunities.

As a culturally diverse and LGBT+ led organisation of a team of young creatives, the grant supports them to further amplify the voices and talent they work with and support.

Proud to be part of it

“Being Managing Director of my own not-for-profit arts organisation, I've learned to understand the power of funding. With it, we can make positive changes within our communities, supporting and inspiring others.”

Unfortunately, statistics show that individuals from culturally diverse, LGBT+, female and disabled backgrounds are less likely to be offered funding. I pride myself as a gay south Asian young person to continuously pushing these boundaries.

“Representation matters. I'm proud I can represent those from these intersections in a professional context and that you too can break down the barriers, prejudices and difficulties that come with navigating the creative industry and have your voice be heard!”

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