Indigenous Stories: Volunteering for Your Passion Can Result in Full Time Employment

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Indigenous Stories: Volunteering for Your Passion Can Result in Full Time Employment

By: Brandon Gabriel
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When I graduated from Emily Carr University I did not follow my first choice of a career path right away. Graduating university was my goal, and when I accomplished that, I had no idea where to go from there. I took up a house painting job as I needed to decompress from years of having been inundated with written assignments, late night writing sessions and truck loads of theory.

While I was house painting I still thought it was important to get my feet wet in my chosen field in arts and culture. Opportunities for recent university graduates can be a daunting task, particularly in a field with so many other competitors. I learned right out of the gate that the reasons that there are starving artists, is because there are so many of us, and only a finite amount of marketplace share to go around. So I approached my local arts council to seek opportunities through their services. I applied for grants and answered artist calls and had a hard time securing grants because of my lack of practical experience as an artist and academic.

The local arts council recognized my desire to be a part of the community and make contributions through my art and sheer determination, and asked if I would run in the next election for it's Board of Directors. So I did, and I was elected. This was not a paid position but this allowed me to paint houses by day and make a living and tend to matters of civic importance in the arts in my community. Not only was gaining experience in issues pertaining to organizational structure, politics, and governance, but I was making connections to people in my field who were always looking for innovative ideas, ways to create more business, and opportunities to network beyond our respective communities. I did this for two years, and left the organization on good terms, as I was nominated President of that arts council before my departure. The contacts and friends I made there continue be valuable resources in my professional and personal life. 

This experience led to other opportunities within my community such as utilizing my research skills for a student grant at the local museum. I then found my way to a teaching gig at a University. I left that job, and this led to a permanent position as a researcher for my First Nation community. I started at the bottom, working in the basement in the archives, and never seen the light of day. I felt like a student again. However there was an opportunity to initiate a major research project and I took on larger responsibilities like dispatching employees to research sites, coordinating symposia, etc. I then found time and the financial resources to purchase my own materials for art projects. Before I know it I was working in the world I was trained for. 

Today I am the Special Projects Coordinator for the Seyem' Qwantlen Group of Companies Limited Partnership. I am now a senior manager within the company and my role has expanded into a leadership position working front of office representing my company to many community cultural groups and within the business community. This is just one of many hats I wear, as I now run a successful art business and have my own studio. I travel the world showing my work in exhibitions. 

I graduated from university and 2006 and never thought I would be where I am today. I would caution that it wasn't just volunteerism that got me where I am. It requires dedication and the expectation that there wont be great pay days right out of the gate. However, today is much different. Life is good.

Read Indigenous Stories: Brandon Gabriel, Professional Contemporary Visual Artist as Brandon discusses more about his history, education and career.

Posted on June 27, 2012