Furlough. I’d never even heard of the term two years ago (yes, I work in recruitment). A buzz-word since 2020, a cap on ambition and progression for most, and a delicate term to feel creative about, let’s be honest.
But in that chaotic label, typically loaded with negative connotations, there has been some glimmers of a prosperous future for the creative industry — The Arena is one of them.
Set-up in 2019, but kicked into gear by the events in 2020, the digital platform was born out of collaboration and a need for change, to embrace vulnerabilities, and the power of sharing knowledge.
A website, Instagram account, newsletter, you name it, The Arena has grown a healthy following in the last 12 months. From industry interviews, to dealing with rejection, founders Dom, Ben & Lauren offer a vital window for graduates and juniors, into an often tricky sector to crack.
A few weeks ago they interviewed our own James McLearie (link below), so we took our opportunity to do the same. In it we chat how it started, how it’s shaped their own futures, and what’s to come. This one's a cracker, so stay tuned.
Talk to us about The Arena; what it is, who's involved, how it came to be, and who it's aimed at?
We are a creative community and platform, made up of Dom, Ben & Lauren, for students, grads and young professionals working in or aspiring to be a part of the creative industry. Our focus is on bridging the gap between education & industry, whilst candidly discussing the struggles we all face as creatives. Dom & Ben met way back at the University of Portsmouth, whilst studying Graphic Design and have been plotting The Arena since then really!
Having mulled over the idea for several years, we finally bought the web domain in November 2019, and debated the branding and website religiously most evenings after work. It wasn’t until Lauren was twiddling her thumbs whilst on furlough though in June 2020 that we really got our arse in gear and focused on bringing the then ‘idea’ to life.
That’s probably quite a good segway into what we all do day-to-day. Lauren is the Project Manager of the team and marketing guru, whilst Dom & Ben take the lead on all things design and web. But we approach every decision as a team, and where possible, interview all our guests together.
Often the opinion of design education is that it doesn't fully prepare a student for life in the creative industry; what's been your own experiences of that, and where can we improve?
That’s a great question and one that keeps coming up. We worry that it might be an impossible task, to fully prepare someone for the creative industry. But we do believe there is plenty of room for improvement. Dom and Ben had a fantastic experience at Portsmouth university and owe so much (not including debt) to the lecturers and students on the course.
Our biggest struggle was with the adjustment to the reality of a creative career. University is an incredible place to experiment, work on things you’re passionate about and stick to whatever schedule you fancy. We left with big ambitions to work on world-saving projects, but day-to-day isn’t really like that.
There are a few key ways though, we believe both universities and studios can help change this:
Open studio access so that current students can demystify what really goes on behind the scenes.
If you’re a studio presenting to students, find an honest balance between your amazing projects that inspire and the day-to-day, less sexy stuff which has it’s place within the role too.
Speak candidly about the hurdles you overcame to get where you are now.
The Arena's ethos is to "support, elevate and inspire creatives, so that we can all reach our full potential." – with that in mind, how has being a part of The Arena shaped your own idea of the future and your careers? Have they changed at all?
This is a really interesting question! The interviews and chats we’ve had with fellow creatives have been so, so inspiring and has definitely made an impact on our personal aspirations.
It’s taught us just how powerful collaboration is and that self-promotion isn’t a dirty word. If you don’t put yourself out there, how will anyone ever know you exist? We’ve learnt that we all struggle with the same things and 99% of the time, just asking goes a long way. Whether that be for help, a recommendation or an opportunity.
What advice would you give others looking to set-up their own side project? How do you manage your time with other commitments, etc?
As side projects become increasingly popular, we think it’s important to point out that there is no pressure for you to have one. But if there’s something you’re genuinely passionate about - just start.
Don’t be afraid to dive in at the deep end. We waited too long to start, mostly in fear of failure and getting lost in our ideas. There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ time.
To manage your time effectively you need to look seriously at how you currently spend it. Count up the hours spent on essential stuff (like sleep & work), then see what’s left. Can you get up any earlier? Use your commute more productively? Or ditch the nightly Netflix binge?
However, all of that being said, the most important thing to remember is we are humans, not robots. It’s so easy to work crazy hours on something you love. So to avoid something like burnout, you have to account for downtime. Otherwise, it’ll creep up and bite you in the arse when you least expect it.
How can people get involved, and what can we expect from you guys in 2021 and beyond?
We’re most active on Instagram & LinkedIn so follow us over on there to join the conversation. We’re always looking for contributors, so if you’ve got a story to share that can inspire the community, get in touch!
We come up with new ideas and projects nearly every day, so our biggest challenge is rationalising what we can feasibly achieve whilst spinning multiple plates. However, 2021 is looking very exciting and we’re excited to be launching our ‘A-Team’ mentoring programme in the Spring.
Buddying up members of the community with some of our past interview guests and trusted collaborators. That’s something we’re really excited about, as it’s an opportunity we’d of killed for as grads.
And if everything goes to plan, we’re hoping to be able to create more opportunities for young creatives. Potentially expanding our team and being able to commission members of the community for specific projects and briefs.
So the best is yet to come!
Thanks so much, guys!
You can follow them on Instagram here:
See their website here:
And their interview with our own James McLearie here:
Words: Joe Cooper