Why I stopped working in the cultural and creative industries.

It’s been twelve months since I gave in my resignation at my part time role in the arts. It was a great opportunity at the time, however it robbed me of my ability to enjoy the arts as a consumer. I spent my days helping others connect with artworks I was trained to love. I side-stepped in to the social sector in pursuit of a purpose-aligned role and to focus more energy on my side hustle. A lot can change in twelve months.

After six years of precarious work, cycles of exhaustion and reshaping my mindset, I quit everything I was working on to take a massive step back. I learned that the cultural industry and social sector have one thing in common: both are willing to exploit your sense of purpose to justify underpaying you for your labour. My mentor helped me realise that the line of work I had been pursuing had conditioned me to undervalue my labour. Unwilling to play in to the deficit mindset any longer, I learned to assert my value with reference to reward rate standards. What kept me hanging in there time and time again were the people and the sense of purpose, neither of which pay the bills.

Where to from here…

I feared that I was losing myself, only to realise that I was discovering a part I never knew existed. Where my personal situation means I no longer have the capacity to go on with business as usual, the ultimate act of resilience and self-preservation is to turn my attention to other employment.

Bundled up in the uncertainty was a re-evaluation of my why, an appetite for a new experiment and the need for financial security. How would I still live out my purpose if the systems I was working in left me feeling exhausted and undervalued?

Advocating for the arts is like trying to escape a straight-jacket – you can put a lot of energy in to the struggle, only to make the smallest progress. 

In that space for self-reflection I reconnected with my why and was grateful for the many ways I had been able to live it out. Many opportunities had rippled from these experiences however, I was left with the feeling that my work took more from me than it gave back. My situation had changed and with that came a lot of guilt – that I could no longer volunteer (or voluntarily commit to being underpaid) for the cause. Once I unpacked this, I was able to move on to something more productive:

What if the best way for me to support the arts is to no longer work in the cultural industries?

What the cultural and social sectors really need are champions beyond the echo-chamber. In a time where business models dependent on government funding couldn’t be more vulnerable, there is a need for more investors and philanthropic individuals to seed fund projects that one day could be self-sustaining.

For too long, I was conditioned to think that I had to put everything on the line or else I didn’t want it enough. Resilience is running full speed at opportunities, picking myself back up every time I get knocked down and running at it again. Eventually telling someone to be more resilient, work harder, get even more experience but, don’t be too entrepreneurial because then you have “fallen in to the neo-liberal agenda.” You see, the arts conditions us to think that resilience is about survival of the fittest; that they who get the secure jobs are there because they persevered more than the rest.

In order to get away from the cynicism, the echo-chamber and the stagnant feeling, I have commenced my next experiment. I am exploring my purpose in a role that addresses my need for financial security first. I am used to boot-strapping, so maybe now I can contemplate a career path that might build my capacity to be more philanthropic and champion the work I love. At least in the first instance, I will start with actually having the energy to attend.

It is time to do resilience on my own terms.


  1. Hi Natalie, I think there is a lot of wisdom in your self-assessment and thank you for setting it out so clearly. It’s not easy to change your direction so completely, after your commitment of so much time and energy, though I’m sure that none of it has been wasted. To return to being a consumer and an advocate, while being able to earn a more stable income is a great step forward. The lessons learnt and the connections made have been invaluable. Maybe in time, you will become one of the political champions we all need.
    All strength for the journey and every good wish. 🙂 🙂 Katherine

  2. Echo chambers, self-fulfilling business models and ritualistic patterns of behaviour get you through hard times and give you a very narrow focus to continue to drudge away at, however by stepping out into the broader picture, you can now see your old industry for what it is, what it could be and start leveraging your knowledge, experience and passion for bringing others into the narrative and increasing its scope, influence and pool of “play makers”, which in most cases leads to financial, political and professional opportunities, which in turn brings others into the narrative… and so the cycle continues. So glad to hear you have come through your change so well, many don’t and get disillusioned, and I can only hope our paths cross again in the future now that you on the outside directing others in.

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