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Crafts Job Profile: Riya Patel - Curator

We are highlighting the wealth of opportunities to build a career in craft through our Craft Journeys, a series of profiles that ask people work in the sector how they got there.

Tell us about what you do

I’m the curator at The Aram Gallery and a freelance design writer. At the gallery I programme five exhibitions a year, some of which I curate myself, and others in which I invite designers to put on solo shows. The exhibitions are all to do with architecture, design or craft, although they have individual themes. It’s a non-profit gallery that acts as a platform for younger designers. As a writer, I contribute news, features and interviews to magazines. I like to keep both things going side by side as it helps keep me informed and meeting new people.

What did you study?

I studied English, Maths and Physics at A-level and Design and Technology at GCSE.

I was an all-rounder and good at both arts and science subjects so I attempted to do a mix. English was always my favourite subject, and this is the one I still draw on today in terms of how to effectively use and interpret language. I never took art seriously at school, which I regret, as it would have helped me a great deal given where I have ended up. That said, not studying art didn’t hold me back from studying architecture as many courses prefer technical skill. It depends where you go.

What have the main challenges been?

I suppose the biggest challenge was the economic slowdown in 2008. And realising that my career was leading somewhere different to what I’d imagined. I wasn’t very happy doing architecture and it took some self-awareness to figure out what I needed to change. I took a pay cut to change career path the first time, which I could do when I was younger but would be much more difficult now. That took some adjustment and real faith that I would succeed in journalism. At the same time, having come through that has given me confidence that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I certainly would not have approached the gallery and persuaded them that I could curate! 

What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in craft?

Be adaptable and do your own research. If you have a fixed idea of what you want to do in this sector, you are likely to be disappointed as the opportunities are so few. You really have to be prepared to research and ask people what they do and how they got there. My best moves and 
opportunities have come about by word of mouth so it really pays to get talking, and get lots of different work experience (if you can) so that you can find out what you like doing. Be prepared that this can be an unstable area for work. If you can be adaptable, things are a bit more secure as you are able to apply your skills to lots of different types of work. Keep a good attitude even if you aren’t enjoying every aspect of the work. It’s an exciting sector but there are lots of boring tasks that need doing too.