This is the first in our planned series of posts telling stories about people who work in creative and place-making careers. We hope to include posts about all the fabulous artists, designers, architects and others that are leading Cultivate projects or working on the Nine Elms developments. The first is Cultivate’s own lead project co-ordinator, Ana Lucia Ospina.
- How do you describe what you do when someone in your family asks?
Both my parents are self-employed, so they understand it isn’t always straightforward. They really encouraged and supported me to follow my passions. I describe myself in different ways depending on the situation; sometimes I call myself an artist, sometimes I’m a project manager, sometimes I’m a community engagement consultant. I probably tell my family that I work on creative projects that involve members of the public. That’s the simplest answer!
- What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
I started a business with my best friend straight out of University, in 2005. At first we had no idea what we were doing, we tried a bunch of different things and eventually settled in public art. We had an amazing project back in 2010, where we had the opportunity to deliver a series of permanent artworks across two neighbourhoods in Sheffield. We worked closely with the landscape architects who were appointed to carry out improvements to the streets across both housing estates. We carried out lots of community engagement and consultation during the design phase and worked with local craftspeople to produce the artworks. The budget for the project was over £200,000. I still can’t believe they let us do it! It was exciting and challenging and I’m still really proud of it.
- What aspect of your work gives you the best feeling?
Helping give members of the public a voice when it comes to changes happening in their local area, and helping people unlock their creativity and learn new skills and knowledge. I always learn a lot from the people I work with, there are some amazing community activists and local heritage experts out there! They are the real heroes, they change people’s lives every day and I find it so inspiring to meet them and hear their stories. I also love getting to know a new place and finding out all the quirky, funny little forgotten stories and sharing and celebrating them!
- What keeps you awake at night?
Being self-employed isn’t easy. It’s a lot of responsibility and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid! Things can go really well for years, then suddenly you have no work…it can be really stressful. You have to be very adaptable and resourceful as well as resilient. I’m a bit of a worrier, which is a mixed blessing as it means I am very conscientious and reliable but also means I can overdo it and make myself ill. But I think I’m getting better at managing stress as I get older. It’s really important to have a balance. You shouldn’t just work all night and at weekends because no one is telling you to stop and go home! You need to look after yourself because if you get ill, no one is going to do your work for you! Plus, I think ‘play time’ is an important part of the life of a creative person, if you stop playing, you can lose that.
- What does your work now have to do with what you studied, if at all?
That’s an interesting question. I think my work is mostly a manifestation of my personality, as I love nature and stories and meeting new people. But of course that has influenced my career path and my studies have given me certain tools which help me to make a living. I studied a joint honours degree in Fine Art and Scenography (Theatre Design) at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. My other love is singing and when I was younger I thought perhaps I wanted to act. But the joint degree was more theoretical than practical, and I found myself becoming more interested in designing experiences and telling stories. The result of this was that I started creating art installations in both halves of my course, with cross-pollination between the two subjects. After setting up my company and working for a couple of years I went to Central St Martins to do a Master of Arts degree called ‘Creative Practice for Narrative Environments’. There I met lots of architects and designers and learnt more about working to a design brief and designing experiences in different types of place. I also carried out a work placement with a public art consultancy and met an established public artist who I ended up working with. I would say I still use pretty much all of the skills and knowledge I gained through my studies in my work today. Creative skills are highly transferrable!
- What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career like yours?
The word ‘career’ implies a bit more of an intentional approach than what I have taken! I still don’t really know ‘what’ I am, but I’ve grown more comfortable with that over time. I guess I wish I had started making plans for the future earlier in my life. My choice of University was fairly random. I don’t regret it – it was great! But perhaps if I’d had better advice I would have made a more informed choice which may have made life easier for me later on. I would advise young people to gain as many ‘solid’ skills as possible early on. If you can do Graphic Design or CAD, you will be so much more employable if things get hard in the future! The more diverse skills you have, the more flexible you can be. Finally, work placements/internships are a great way of getting experience when you start out, but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Once you have the experience you need, thank them and politely tell them that if they want you to stay they need to start paying you! Too many people in the creative sector are willing to work for nothing, which makes it so much harder for everyone to get paid fairly. And don’t give up!