Interview with Sara Holden, Managing Artist of Sculpture by the Sea.

As part of our programme of showcasing examples of entrepreneurial students and graduates from Arts and Humanities subjects, we are please to share an interview with Sara Holden, Managing Artist of Sculpture by the Sea.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Entrepreneurship means setting up the business of my dreams and gaining financial independence using my talents, skills and knowledge.

Tell us a little about your background… What did you study at University?  When did you graduate?

I first studied Fine Art at Wimbledon School of Art in the 1980s and then did a MA in Visual Arts Enterprise at UWTSD graduating in 2005.

What inspired you to start Sculpture by the Sea UK?

Prior to my MA, I was working as an environmental art schools artist and educator so I decided to base my dissertation on art practices that educated and inspired others as well as engaging them with nature.  My experience with working with both children and young people in natural settings such as beaches and nature reserves had given me the confidence to work outdoors with the theme of nature which was inspiring to everyone.  During the course of my MA, we were given the task of writing a funded proposal for setting up a public arts project so I conceived the idea of creating a sculpture festival set on local beaches to bring art out of the gallery into the heart of the local community.  Subsequently, I then sent the proposal to the Arts Council of Wales who awarded us the funding to begin the first festival in 2005 and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. Sculpture by the Sea UK was set up as a company by myself and four other people in 2005 and has expanded to running term time environmental art projects as well as our annual festival which is in its 14thyear this year.  To reflect these developments, we trade under the name of Art and Education by the Sea and through our work, we aim to educate and inspire children and communities, enhancing creativity and well-being as well as giving an environmental awareness.

Sculpture by the Sea-Caswell Beach (2015)

What have been the highs and lows of running your business?

I think there have been more highs than lows – collaborating with other artists and working on the beach is a great way to earn one’s living!  However, we rely on our own initiatives and entrepreneurial activities to keep the company going so it is very important to keep being inspirational with fresh ideas.  Obviously, running your own business means that you are responsible for every aspect from running workshops and events, applying for funding from sponsors and writing reports, evaluating work to filing accounts so you have to wear lots of different hats.

What kind of support have you received?

We have received a lot of support both financially and in kind to run our events and workshops from local authorities and local businesses who have the same aims and objectives as ourselves.  We have been fortunate enough to have been awarded funding to run our various projects. For example, we are currently working on a very exciting project  called “Sculpture on the Coast” funded via the Welsh Government’s Tourism Product Innovation Fund which aims to encourage new innovative product ideas working in partnership which will have a greater impact and attract more visitors to Wales.  The project involves a special sculpture way-marking trail along the Gower Coastal Path which will coincide with our annual Beach Sculpture Festival and will showcase contemporary Welsh arts in an adventurous, inspiring way. Five site specific sculptures are currently being created especially for the trail between Mumbles and Rhossili by our team of artists using concepts inspired by the 2018 theme Year of The Sea. See our website site details and this year’s festival dates.  UWTSD have also been a fantastic support to my work since I left and have helped with advice and encouragement in terms of alumni.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you left University?

Well hindsight is a great thing …… I think to know that whatever path I took was totally up to me. It’s easy to believe that we have no choices and it’s a game of luck but life is really what we make it.  With experience, comes confidence to make it amazing!

What advice would you offer to someone starting out in a new venture?

Believe in yourself and your abilities as well as showing others how passionate you are about your venture or idea and they will believe in you too.  Long term, you obviously need to make a living from your venture but you may need to invest your own time, energy and funds initially before you see a return so make sure these things are not the overriding factors that restrict your ideas and performance.   I believe that if you are doing the right thing, then things like finance will take care of itself.  However, it may take some time so don’t give up!

How have you combined your creative background with business?

Before I went to Art School, my parents had the foresight to enrol me in A Level business studies including typewriting, so I learnt the basics and was able to earn an income during holidays using my secretarial skills.  They didn’t want to see me as a struggling artist and this gave me a taste and insight into the day to day running of different types of business and how to support myself.  Post university, I was determined to make my extensive training as an artist (7 years – the same as a doctor!) work as a paid career rather than as a hobby so with good communication skills combined with the ability and desire to share my art with others, I embarked on my venture.   Being passionate, intuitive, creative and determined as well as being realistic and proactive is the skillset one needs to be successful in any business.  If you are willing to do all the background duties of running a business as well as the more enjoyable tasks, with flair, charisma and confidence, then that is a winning combination.

What do you think Universities could do to better to prepare students for life after graduation?

I think incorporating business and marketing skills as part of their course could be very useful.  I am also a role mentor for Welsh Government and share my business story with Further Education students who tell me how inspiring it is to meet someone who has set up such a creative business, so obviously having the opportunity to talk to business owners like me is a key.  Employment in the future is going to centre more on the creative and leisure industries than ever before, so I think it’s important to consider whether what you enjoy and are passionate about could be an entrepreneurial opportunity for you. Also I think students could benefit from undertaking valuable work experience opportunities with businesses in the creative field – we are currently advertising with UWTSD two internships for our sculpture festival this year so if you have been inspired by my story, do get in touch at further details.

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