A new class in the Arts Division at the University of California Santa Cruz aims to broaden students’ understanding of careers in the creative economy

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A first-time course in the UC Santa Cruz Division of the Arts has been introducing students to a wide array of professionals in creative fields to help them explore and prepare for arts careers. Entitled Careers in the Creative Economy, the class launched this spring as part of a number of campus initiatives funded by a grant to UCSC’s Hispanic-Serving Institution Initiatives from the U.S. Department of Education, Graduating and Advancing New American Scholars: Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans (GANAS PPOHA)

Taught by Lecturer Shelby Graham, who served for many years as Director and Curator of UCSC’s Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, Careers in the Creative Economy provides students from across the Arts Division with information, tools, and strategies to consider as they contemplate working in the arts, including strategies for addressing challenges and opportunities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The 23 enrolled students, who are all either first generation college and/or BIPOC including Latinx, have been exploring their career values; preparing and creating career-related documents; and learning about a variety of arts careers through a series of guest speakers who hold these same identities and have navigated a diverse array of creative fields. 

“I was so excited to be able to talk about jobs in this course!” says Graham. “There are many creative career possibilities out there, not just ‘I need to get discovered.’ It’s important to show young people that there are really interesting projects they can do at entry level jobs and internships—that there are opportunities to support themselves while they work towards a career.”

To that end, Graham enlisted a number of recent graduates as guest speakers including Juan Morales-Rocha, who has a B.A. in Art & Design: Games + Playable Media and a B.S. in Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence/Human-Computer Interaction from UCSC. Rocha, currently working as a Design Analyst at Xbox Game Studios Publishing and who runs an indie game studio called No Static Gameswas a hit with the students when he spoke with them in early May.

"What struck me about Juan Morales-Rocha was how similar he is to me,” says Film & Digital Media student Justin “JJ” Hamm. “It’s a joy to see someone who likes the same things as I do working in the creative economy and thriving."

“He changed his major to Cognitive Science which is still related to what he wanted to do, just from a different perspective,” says fellow Film & Digital Media major Chenguang Wang. “So, I think one thing that’s really important is to open up your mind, try to see things from different perspectives.”

Other guests speakers have included Eric Rosales, Feature Film Department Manager at Pixar Animation Studios who has a BA in Film and Digital Media from UCSC; Christina Garcia Weiland, a Lead Technical Director in Sets at Pixar Animation Studios; George Luna-Peña, Program Director of the Diversity Apprenticeship Program (DAP) at The Broad in Los Angeles; Betty Avila with Self Help Graphics in Los Angeles; Ela Troyano and Krista Fabian DeCastro of Creative Capital; and award-winning director, editor and cinematographer Melissa Lesh.

The wide range of guests has made an impression on the participating students. "The field of the creative economy is way larger and even more abundant than what I thought it would be after taking this class,” says Wang.

For Art major Katana Parker, the visit with the professionals from Creative Capital was particularly illuminating. “It was good to hear about applying for grants since I hadn’t really thought a lot about them at all. It’s reassuring to know there are many different people and groups out there that are interested in helping artists," he says.

For Graham, the course has formalized something she had been acting on for years as UCSC’s Gallery Director. “I was always helping students get internships in interesting places, writing letters of recommendation, and helping them think about how to find work in the arts,” she says. “There are many pathways after art school. This course really opens the doors.”

Read more about the course here.