How to work in the arts: Dhiyandra Natalegawa, Assistant Producer

In our latest feature, we speak to Dhiyandra Natalegawa, current Assistant Producer for the Brent 2020 programme for London Borough of Culture. She shares the young people’s programme that got her into Art History, connecting with Indonesian art and “knowing your mountain”.

Photo of Dhiyandra Natalegawa turning to the left, on a green background

What’s your current job title? Assistant Producer at London Borough of Culture Brent 2020 – specifically working to support the Blueprint Collective.

How long have you been working in the arts? In paid jobs, six years (since I was twenty-two), but if you include internships, and I do, ten years.

Could you tell us a bit about your current role and what you do on a day-to-day basis? Every year since 2016, the Mayor of London chooses a different borough in the capital to celebrate local culture(s). Brent was chosen as London Borough of Culture in 2020, and I help to produce creative projects for/with the Blueprint Collective. Equal parts leadership programme, pressure-group and think tank, the Blueprint Collective is at the heart of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. An inspiring group of creative young people, they are passionate about where they live and where they want to go.

A big part of my role is to establish and maintain meaningful connections. I support the 148 young people who make up the Blueprint Collective in their involvement in various projects, such as the Vice VENT podcast and the Seen and Heard project; I also facilitate creative placements for the Blueprint Collective and ensure that they have a safe space to share their goals. During lockdown, I coordinated and facilitated twenty-four creative workshops with young people over Zoom, carving out space for them to work on a creative brief. The role also ranges from supporting the management of budgets and invoices to overseeing social media accounts and newsletters.

Photo of a group of young people smiling
Blueprint Collective, photo via Brent2020

Could you tell us about how you got into this role? Ten years ago I benefited from a young people’s programme at the Royal Academy of Arts called AttRAct. As part of their outreach programme, the RA worked with specific state schools in London, and I was one of the two A Level students selected from my whole school to take part in the programme.

Through a series of creative workshops and artists’ studio visits, I was given an insight into a world that I didn’t know existed. There was one amazing workshop, and I remember this like it was yesterday, where a curator said, “As a curator, I see each wall like a page in a book, and I’m here to tell a story.” In hindsight, I would now ask “Whose narrative are you telling? And are you the right person to tell that story?” But back then I guess I was just thankful to learn about jobs I had never heard of. That evening I went home and applied for a degree in History of Art.

The AttRAct programme gave me an introduction to History of Art and an insight into the kind of roles I could see myself moving into. That workshop ten years ago became a catalyst and since then I’ve been committed to providing other young people with the same opportunity that someone gave me. Some people are critical of young people’s programmes, and rightly so, but there is something powerful about the change that programmes can bring to a young person.

Internships should be paid, but sadly during my time many were not. I realised early on that I wasn’t in the financial situation to be able to do unpaid internships after university, so I worked hard to get internships while I was still receiving university funding. As someone coming from a low income background, those workshops and internships gave me an insight to the creative world, but I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do them without my student loan. I hope that the landscape for current creatives are changing and that there are more paid opportunities!

So during my first year at university, I did my first internship at the Royal Academy for two weeks, at the Education department that runs AttRAct. I went on to intern at the Saatchi Gallery while they presented an Indonesian art exhibition, which made me really connect to the Indonesian art world for the first time. That shifted my trajectory to not only focus on Western galleries and Western art, and instead take the time to learn about Indonesian Art History.

Photo of children sitting in front of a cloth marked like a window

After that, I decided to spend the summers of my second and third year at university in Indonesia. I did internships in galleries as a research assistant and in my final year focused on gathering stories for my dissertation.

Those three years ended up being extremely formative in building a metaphorical bridge for me to come home. After completing my undergraduate degree, I moved to Indonesia where I worked as an Art and Cultural Co-ordinator at an international school. I designed a curriculum that celebrated the richness of Indonesian culture and the power of creative thinking. Encouraging children to look beyond the four walls of the classroom and relate to their own surroundings through art showed me how much could be achieved through the prism of one lesson.

After two years in Indonesia, I wanted to harness the lessons learnt and specialise in a particular field of art education. I decided to move back to London to complete an MA in Education in Art and Cultural Settings at King’s College London. I worked three different coffee jobs during my MA to pay for tuition and also interned at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art. I maintained contact with the team after my internship had ended and supported the delivery of as many workshops as I could. By nurturing those close relations, I showed myself to be committed to the organisation and passionate about creativity. I was asked to join the team as the Education Coordinator and spent nearly three years developing and designing an Education Programme that worked with families, schools and young people in the local and neighbouring communities. I left the gallery in December 2019, and joined the LBOC team in 2020, having already been a community advisor for the programme since 2018.

Photo of the backs of young students' heads in a colourful classroom in Indonesia

Could you share some advice that helped you get into the arts?

  1. First and foremost, surround yourself with good and kind people – cheerleaders (supportive and kind) and challengers (critical and honest) who will nourish your growth. I call them my lighthouses that often guide me back home when I’m feeling lost.
  2. My dad always says that anything that seems like a rejection or a ‘failure’ is just a setback that leads to a greater comeback. Our response to failure is what differentiates us. It’s hard, but you learn more from the mistakes than from the successes. A few years ago, I kept getting rejections from interviews and my friend gave me this amazing piece of advice to remember: ‘what you want is not always what’s best for you – just hope that what’s best for you is what you want’.
  3. Some interview advice: if you go in being your truest self, and you get rejected, then at least you know you tried your best and that the job is not the best fit for you. But if you aren’t yourself in that interview and you do get the job, then you’ll have to maintain that outer image, which is exhausting.
  4. Know what your mountain is. By this, I mean know what your personal mission or purpose is, as a creative. My ‘mountain’ is that I want to contribute to reimagining an alternative education system that is inclusive and caring. Remembering this mountain allows me to make sure my actions are more thoughtful and intentional. It encourages me to ask myself ‘is this opportunity going to lead me closer to my mountain or steer me further away?’
  5. Don’t overpromise and under-deliver. Knowing your capacity and your limitations is a way of knowing yourself. Be honest about what you can do and make sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin.
  6. Ensure that you have reserves. Whatever you’re trying to do, take the time to take care of yourself.
  7. Know your worth and your value – these are clichés, but you need to get paid for what you do. Read the contract! Know your rights, especially as a young person.

Is there anything you wish your younger self had known, that you know now about working in the arts? I would tell myself to protect my narrative, and be more critical about how much I share. Young people now are in danger of being tokenized. I would tell myself to protect my fellow young people and myself. And I would say: be kind to your past self and have faith in your future self.

Find out more about the Blueprint Collective and Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. Keep your eyes peeled for more Young Poets Network features about careers in the arts – and let us know in the comments what you’d like to see next. Find our first careers feature with Arts Council England Literature Relationship Manager James Trevelyan and Ledbury Poetry Festival Manager Phillippa Slinger here, our second with Annette Brook from the Royal Society of Literature and Ali Lewis at Poetry London here, our third with Verve Festival and Press’s Stuart Bartholomew and Spread the Word’s Bobby Nayyar here, our fourth with harana poetry’s co-editors Kostya Tsolakis and Romalyn Ante here, and our fifth with Hive South Yorkshire founder Vicky Morris here.

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