ACAD graduates adapt to different industries due to reputation of lack of local diversity
EA Sports, Ghost Rider 2, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 are just some of the digital projects that Pablo Puentes has worked on in his special effects career.
But fast-forward a few years later, and the graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) with a Bachelor of Design Degree in Illustration is now a tattoo artist and owner of Mission Tattoo Parlour in Calgary.
Puentes said, “The sixteen hour days just didn’t equate and it was just not really the career choice for someone who wanted to dictate their own path and I was interested in having a family.”
After being in the special effects industry for only four years, Puentes made the decision to find a career where he could incorporate his artistic skills, while also having some freedom. He is now able to fulfill his artistic skills and family life. It never dawned on him that he would be able to apply his Illustration degree from ACAD and make a stable career out of it.
Nor is Puentes alone. Many ACAD students have the expectation that they will find a job in a traditionally recognized art career after graduation, but are instead finding themselves pursuing other careers entirely to maintain their connection with art and make a sustainable living.
ACAD is the place where many would-be artists get their start in Calgary. According to the ACAD Annual Report 2013 – 14, 191 students graduated in the year of 2014, making the total alumni about 7,500.
Though according to ACAD Alumni Natalie Lauchlan, who graduated from the Craft and Emerging Media program in 2014, the school is much like a snow globe.
Photo by Natalie Lauchlan
“People get trapped thinking that ACAD is their art career,” said Lauchlan. ” [That] everything they do in the four or five years is it.”
Indeed, according to Acting Registrar, Vice-President of Student Experience and Admissions of ACAD, Marianne Elder, there is no magic job at the end of a bachelor’s degree, and a lot of students have a hard time understanding that.
“It seems that they have tunnel vision,” said Elder, “searching for one particular job but are later surprised when they find something in a different department or industry.”
In fact, during his time in the special effects industry, Puentes was always getting tattoos. Though it never dawned on him that he would be able to apply his Illustration degree from ACAD and make a stable career out of it until he had the opportunity to apprentice.
“There are young people who are probably already interested in the counter-culture of tattooing,” said Puentes. “It’s interesting because they can make art on a daily basis and get paid well for it, so I mean what’s not appealing about that?”
Nevertheless, those pursuing a suitable job post-graduation can be successful in more traditionally recognized art careers, though it may take more research and networking in order to secure those jobs.
According to statistics from Alberta Graduate Outcomes Survey, 30 per cent of ACAD graduates go on to start their own businesses and entrepreneurial work.
ACAD Alumni Kris Weinmann is one of those entrepreneurs. Graduating with a degree in Fine Arts in 2012, Weinmann connected with the local arts community and picked their brains for information and advice that could help his emerging career.
Photo courtesy of Pablo Puentes
He was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work in his own studio, making it easy to invite clients, collectors and curators to see his work, which led to creating important connections with those individuals.
“Although there are many challenges faced by artists emerging from the college,” said Weinmann, “one thing that sometimes gets over looked is that many of these artists eventually adapt their practice and skill set in a way that allows them to pursue unique and even entrepreneurial endeavours that society just doesn’t recognize as an official art practice.”
Lauchlan was among those who adapted. Now she works three jobs: A studio instructor at a community art studio, a childcare worker, as well as for the Calgary Board of Education as a Studio Artist at Hillhurst School – something she didn’t necessarily plan on doing. Though she believes there are creative limitations at the school board with the curriculums, she gets to know the students and collaborates with the teachers to keep things engaging and interesting. She is using her multiple jobs as a stepping-stone toward her ideal career.
One way that artist’s can be given options in the city for their skill sets and previous education is through the local charity Elephant Artist Relief Society (EAR). Through practical resources, EAR serves to help struggling artists in Calgary look at how to support themselves.
President Jill Armstrong alongside Administrator Sandra Vida of EAR share that artists need to be able to think outside of the box.
“They can also put together the interesting patchwork of a job here and a job there and in the studio somewhere that’s fairly affordable. But what EAR wants to do is kind of support all of the skills that are needed to put together a life that will support your work.”
Weinmann agrees that though some have not maintained studio practice after graduating, they have not fallen off the face of the earth. Their careers as artists didn’t fail, they evolved and adapted to opportunities.”
Photo by Kris Weinmann
“We have been able to create a career for ourselves through the nature of an artist,” said Weinmann. “Many art students excel in other industries such as architecture, education, marketing or communication, which allows them to use the creative tools that they learned at ACAD.
Elder believes that although Calgary is advancing in the local artistic community, it is not as robust as it has the potential to be.
“I think that as a city we need to invest in our cultural producers” said Elder, “and in our cultural organizations because that is sort of the span that we need in a community.”
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