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Careers Options for Postgraduate Creative Arts Students

Many students with qualifications in the creative arts study with the intention of becoming practitioners in their chosen field. However, competition for such roles is highly competitive and as such, there are a number of different career paths you can follow if you have the relevant postgraduate qualifications. Here are just some of them.


Fine Artist

Most artists make money by selling their work or being commissioned to produce a work of art by a third party, such as local council, private collector or art gallery space. Developing a portfolio is essential for securing paid work, as is displaying work in exhibitions. Some artists will work in-house at places such as schools, hospitals or prisons, either running workshops, teaching or producing work such as murals. As well as producing their own work, many artists will also be involved in related areas such as art education, community arts, gallery management, consultancy work and writing about the subject for newspapers and magazines.

Salary Guide

Art is all about reputation so while you might not earn huge amounts while you are building up your profile, once you have a strong reputation, you’ll be able to charge as much as you want. Many artists supplement their income with other work. The Artists Information Company publishes information about artists’ rates of pay on its website.

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Illustrator/Graphic Designer/Art Editor/Art Director

While a postgraduate qualification in relevant subject areas can be useful in these careers, they are by no means a prerequisite, and practical experience in a working environment can have a stronger impact when looking for work. On the other hand, qualifications can make career progression easier as most working in this profession will have a degree or diploma.

Illustrators and graphic designers work to a brief and, depending on their medium, are usually skilled in artworking using graphic software. A good working knowledge of programs such as QuarkXPress, InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator is usually expected, particularly for art editors and art directors on magazines. Many graphic designers can move into other related areas such as digital/web design and animation. Employers include publishers, advertising and design agencies, multimedia production companies, publishers, local government, charities, commerce and industry.

Salary Guide

Graphic designers can earn between £15,000 and £65,000, illustrators can earn between £14,000 and £40,000 or more, and art editors/directors between £22,000 and £70,000 a year, all depending on experience, company size and your position within the business.


Gallery Curator

Art gallery curators are not only responsible for putting on exhibitions; they are also responsible for looking after collections of work, acquiring or borrowing objects for display, researching, identifying and cataloguing artefacts and looking after practical aspects of exhibiting works. A curator in a larger gallery or museum may be responsible for a specific area of the programme, but smaller galleries and museums will require more of an all-round role.

A postgraduate qualification specialising in a relevant area of art history can help gain entry into this competitive profession, as can work experience in a gallery, museum or other National Trust-owned property.

Salary Guide

Salaries start at around £18,000-£25,000, rising to £26,000-£35,000 with experience. Senior curators are likely to be paid £30,000 or more. There is much variation, depending on the size, location and nature of the museum/gallery. 


TV/Film/Theatre Set Designer

Set designers are responsible for the visual aspects of a production, helping to bring the drama to life by creating an artistically realistic environment for actors to work in. Working with the director and production team, they plan the design for sets, costumes, props, locations and lighting, taking into account the budget available and any practical problems that various locations or complex scenery changes might bring.

Most set designers are graduates and begin in the profession as assistants in a design studio or workshop, on a voluntary or low-paid basis. Designers train on the job and some may go on to learn specific technical skills or take a postgraduate course in a specialist area.

In theatre, the designer is likely to work alone or with a small team. In television or film, the production designer oversees an art department team to complete various aspects of the design process.

Salary Guide

Income varies greatly depending on factors such as experience and available budget. An assistant designer employed by a theatre may earn around £15,600 a year. New entrants in film are likely to start at the equivalent of around £14,000 per year. Experienced designers can expect to earn the equivalent of around £20,000-£40,000. Well-established designers with exceptional talent or reputation may earn considerably more.



Choreographers need to be aware of different techniques and styles of dancing from around the world and through history, as they create and arrange the dancing and movement in musical productions, although many will specialise or be known in a particular area. Many choreographers have their own companies, but others supplement their work by continuing to dance or teach.

Salary Guide

Equity, the performing arts union, has negotiated minimum daily and weekly rates for its members. Experienced dancers moving into choreography can expect to earn about £20,000 and more well-known choreographers or those working for national companies can earn £40,000 or more.


Theatre Director

Universities or colleges provide a good setting for budding directors to develop their skills, knowledge and repertoire, both through extracurricular productions at the institution, and by studying existing texts.

Most directors will be assistant directors first, and can then progress to artistic director at a particular theatre, who will then commission directors to put on productions at that theatre. Employers include theatres and production companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Salary Guide

Salaries for theatre directors vary widely, depending on the employer, the length and type of contract undertaken (e.g. freelance, repertory, touring), and location. Equity has negotiated minimum daily rates for its members: see its website for details. Starting salaries may be around £17,000, but this can go up to £40,000 for experienced directors.


Musician/Musical Director/Conductor

As the Incorporated Society of Musicians stresses, you may have to acquire qualifications to demonstrate that you have the necessary expertise for most careers in music, but they alone will not necessarily bring you work. Classical musicians need to be trained to an exceptionally high standard and will then need to gain a repertoire of performance material; this can be gained by taking a postgraduate certificate in musical performance.

Musicians are usually self-employed and may work on one-off performance, show or tour contracts. Most soloists employ an agent to help negotiate work opportunities and terms. Some musicians progress to write and direct their own music, start up an ensemble, or work in private music tuition. Employers include orchestras, music ensembles, opera companies or choirs.

Musicians can also work accompanying other artists, backing films, advertisements, web pages or computer games.

Salary Guide

Rates for musicians vary, depending on the type of performance and musical venue, their instrument, and their reputation and experience. One-off functions like wedding receptions, for example, can make musicians anything between £85 and £500 for a three-hour session, while typical concert fees can vary between £45 and £3,000 per performance. Remember that fees are often the result of negotiations with holders of the function and will depend on its nature.


Fashion Designer

Fashion designers design clothes, accessories and shoes, individually or as part of a team. They usually work in one of three areas: haute-couture (the exclusive end of the market), ready-to-wear (also known as prêt-a-porter), or high-street fashion. It is also possible to specialise in a particular area, such as sportswear, men’s, women’s or children’s fashion.

Though the job can vary, it usually involves working to a design brief, anticipating fashion trends, estimating costs, finding suppliers, communicating with manufacturers and making in-house presentations. Entry is usually at an early age after passing an HNC/HND or a BA (hons) degree in fashion, but some take postgraduate courses before starting work. A portfolio of work and interview will be necessary before you are offered a place, and having experience of skills that are in demand, such as pattern cutting, textile technology, production management and studio management can be advantageous.

Salary Guide

Starting salaries can be as low as £16,000-£18,000, but may rise up to £42,000 for senior designers for an established London-based designer, while creative directors can earn in excess of £85,000. Freelancers will charge per design, out of which they may have to pay commission to their agents. 

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