How do we tackle the Tories’ destruction of the UK’s arts industry? This is a topic many creatives are grappling with, as education curriculums are scrapped, budgets cut and the playing field left open only to those with financial backing or family ties. If these doors are shut to artists from low-income and working-class backgrounds, the UK’s art scene will homogenise into a playground for nepotism children and declining Hollywood actors.
Hannah Karpel knows this first hand, having studied at Central Saint Martins, one of the UK’s leading fashion institutions, and witnessed the increasing disparity of opportunities among its students, which led her to produce a documentary about this for her final major project.
Made over the course of eight months, Breaking the Class Ceiling examines the mounting barriers emerging creatives are experiencing and sees Hannah travel across the UK, from secondary state schools all the way to Westminster. Since its release, the film has been shown in Everyman cinemas across London and at Kings Cross’ ‘Screen on the Canal’, has been shortlisted for a Mullen Lowe Nova Award for its journalism, and has seen Hannah be selected as a UNESCO & Women@Dior Mentee.
Below, BRICKS meets the journalist and film director to talk about her creative process and hopes for the future of the arts.
As I was navigating London university life myself, alongside unpaid internships and no secure connections within the industry, [the documentary] became a project of investigation where I travelled from state secondary schools around the UK to the Houses of Parliament to understand the barriers that face young people succeeding at each stage of their career.
How did you first get into your practice?
I have spent the last 4 years at Central Saint Martins studying BA Fashion Journalism. Storytelling has always been a passion of mine and having the opportunity to research, interview and meet new people in this space who all use their creative medium whether that be fashion design, music or art to tell their individual stories was really inspiring. During my final year at university, I wanted to tackle the question of ‘Can we realistically succeed in the fashion industry if we come from a lower socio-economic background?’ As I was navigating London university life myself, alongside unpaid internships and no secure connections within the industry, it became a project of investigation where I travelled from state secondary schools around the UK to the Houses of Parliament to understand the barriers that face young people succeeding at each stage of their career. I felt the best way to document my journey and share the research was through a film. It was the first time I had approached my journalism in this way but by collaborating with some very kind students from the MET film school I felt I really had a team. We were all learning as we went along but together finding solutions to make sure we told the story in the best way possible.
If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?
Honest, investigative, lively
What are some of the biggest challenges of being an artist/creator?
I think it’s constantly finding the self-motivation to keep pushing yourself, especially when things are tough, when you are running out of money or the next project isn’t lined up yet. It’s the feeling that because you are doing this solo, that if you drop the ball then it is all going to fail.
What is the purpose or goal of your work?
Throughout my film, I wanted to bring attention to the barriers that are stopping people from a lower socio-economic background from succeeding in the industry. Whether this is drawing attention to the lack of rights for creative freelancers, delay in payments of invoices or lack of education surrounding creative careers in schools. Its goal is to help open up a career in the arts for everyone and to explore why it’s important that this happens.
What’s been your greatest accomplishment so far and why?
Running my mentorship scheme in state secondary schools around England with the donations of dolls from Barbie UK. The students had one week to design a look for a doll based on where they wanted to be in 20 years’ time. Talking to the Year 10 students about their ideas and goals for the future was a real accomplishment for me. I shared roles in the creative industry that they hadn’t heard of before and I hope that I helped them to see that beyond being a designer or photographer that there are so many opportunities available – should they choose to take them.
How do you define success as an artist/creator?
I think success really means different things to different people. But for me, it’s bringing a project from idea to execution and then seeing that it reaches the right people to create an impact whether that be a moment of thought or responsive action.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t be realistic – dream with a plan. If you can really lay out your vision in a clear and concise way and pitch it to the people that you want to work with, I think you can surprise yourself with who will get on board. I will say though that you should be selective. Research is always your best friend whether this be the market you are entering or the team you are planning to put together. Take risks and ask for help.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I want to continue telling stories, particularly by those who are underrepresented with actionable suggestions for change.
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