Clubbing For Creative Grads

Reading alumnus, Ajay Pabial, celebrates the first birthday of Art Clubbers CIC, the non-profit interest community set up to empower budding creatives, local communities and graduates alike.  

Passionate about art from an early age, Ajay Pabial applied to study for a BA in Fine Art at Reading on the recommendation of his college painting teacher. It was a fateful decision that led Ajay down an entrepreneurial path, setting the scene for an ongoing relationship with Reading School of Art which has continued to flourish since he graduated.   

Collaborating with the School of Art  

When reflecting on his Fine Art degree, Ajay credits the course with inspiring him to develop and improve his own art practice, as well as helping him to understand the value of producing something fresh and unique. However, he soon realised that he wasn’t as well prepared for the practical side of building a creative career in the real world, particularly when it came to things like being self-employed and pricing his work.

As part of an open and ongoing dialogue with Reading, Ajay shared his feedback with the School of Art, a progressive team who are continuing to support the development of practical and employability skills for students. Today, the school regularly brings in different practitioners to share practical advice and highlight the different career pathways after graduating.

Ajay himself will be part of Material Sessions – a new addition to the Reading School of Art’s curriculum, which aims to bring in external voices and practitioners as well as staff to teach their area of expertise in short, optional lessons to students. Ajay will be teaching three sessions in January and February 2020, on topics such as developing professional skills, resilience-building and the importance of combining creativity and enterprise. Head of Art, Professor Rachel Garfield, wanted to get Ajay involved to increase connections between the School of Art and alumni, as well as help their students excel after Reading: “I think as an art school we have to constantly be looking towards our alumni to gauge the fast-changing climate of opportunities within the arts.

“Ajay’s experience really shows how art education gives you the tools for lateral thinking. To also involve his peers from Reading and build networks with Reading School of Art, Ajay is showing his passion and drive towards the arts.

“It’s important to have early career voices for students – it means they can see the opportunities available to them closer to graduation, as it is not always a linear path.”

And if further confirmation was needed of Ajay’s close collaboration with Reading, Professor Garfield is now one of the directors of Ajay’s company, Art Clubbers CIC.  

From graduate to company founder

Ajay’s first attempt at graduate job hunting proved a steep learning curve. The competition for widely advertised, well-paid creative roles was high, and he quickly realised he needed to think creatively about the next step.

Deciding to intern in order to gain valuable work experience, Ajay first volunteered at The Brick Lane Gallery, before spending eighteen months at Things Made Public, a community interest company based in Romford. Starting off as a volunteer, he quickly progressed to project assistant and company administrator, immersing himself in rewarding projects like the regeneration of a neglected Art Deco shopping centre, The Quadrant. Through a rebranding strategy that included a creative pop-up business scheme and online marketing unit, occupancy at The Quadrant rose to 95% by the second year of the regeneration project, and Ajay saw first-hand the power of pioneering, creative solutions within communities.

Art Clubbers CIC

After leaving Things Made Public to consider his next steps, Ajay secured his own Sunday radio show, Sunday Sunsations, on Lyca Radio Station which he continues to present today.

At this point, he decided to build on his experience and attempted to fulfil his dream of running his own organisation. Staying focused and resilient throughout the process, which involved a complicated 40-page form and two unsuccessful attempts at applying, Ajay finally succeeded in getting his new company, Art Clubbers CIC.  

“My previous experience as company administrator at Things Made Public proved invaluable when it came to the practical sign of setting up Art Clubbers CIC.”

Ajay leveraged his carefully cultivated network of contacts when getting Art Clubbers CIC off the ground. Keeping in touch with the School of Art, his fellow graduates and the industry contacts he’d made along the way, proved crucial when it came to insight, recommendations and advice.

“Art Clubbers CIC provides a stepping stone from creative higher education, to a fast-paced creative industry. It is a community of budding creatives, mostly recent graduates, but also some non-graduates from across creative industries. Typically, the age bracket is 18-30 but we acknowledge that there are creatives outside of these age brackets who are trying to access the creative industry, and we support their talent too.”

With an ever-growing number of aspiring creatives in the talent pool – around 170 currently – Art Clubbers CIC provides work experience through live creative briefs based on different industries. Typically, the projects are cultural, creative initiatives within communities. One recent project, Poplar Paints, involved commissioning an international award-winning artist to get young people involved in the process of creative street art, culminating in the creation of a mural using spray paint. As with many of Ajay’s projects, partnerships were crucial to this initiative with Foundation for Future London, City of London Corporation, Spotlight, Poplar Works and Poplar HARCA all supporting the exhibition.

Birthday celebrations and the future

Art Clubbers CIC celebrated its first birthday on 2 November 2019, and Ajay took the opportunity to celebrate all the artists who have worked with, or supported, his fledgling company on its journey so far. He teamed up with Jason Bruges Studio and Wildstone Capital at Shoreditch Digital Canvas to showcase seven brilliant artists under the banner #ArtInSight.

Ajay’s next aim is to get further under the skin of bigger corporations, organisations, local authorities and educational institutions to create a positive understanding of the fusion skills budding creatives have, and how by giving them opportunities, we can truly create something innovative and sustainable. 

Initially the creatives at Art Clubbers CIC worked on a voluntary basis, but some of the projects have recently become monetised, with the living wage being paid where possible.

When it comes to today’s creative graduates, as well as encouraging them to get involved in Art Clubbers CIC, Ajay’s advice is for them to gain as much experience as they can while at university, college or school.  

“Being in education is a safe space and it’s a good time to experiment, volunteer, network, try new things and be a sponge for knowledge. Take responsibility for your own development.

“Pick up extra business modules if you have the time, work across different departments if you can, and try to find ways to develop a commercial savviness to complement your creative studies.

“Fundamentally, I’ve been able to set up Art Clubbers CIC based on the experience I gained from volunteering.”