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Festival of culture and career development

by Will Venn

Gillian Mercer and Sarah Catford.The Adelaide Festival is an ideal stamping ground for new acts to gain professional experience and develop their craft but it’s not just in the world of arts that those stars are starting to shine.

This year’s Festival also proved a formative experience for two business-orientated UniSA students.

Sarah Catford and Claire Raggatt both secured volunteer placements which provided valuable behind-the scenes insights into the business side of the Festival where they gained practical experience of how corporate events are developed, coordinated and rolled out with precision.

As this year’s Festival included 53 arts events, spanned across 17 days, with the involvement of 34 organisations, the experience they gained was unique.

Catford, who is in her third year studying tourism and event management, spent five nights of her volunteer placement assisting the development team in the VIP area for corporate sponsors of Festival and shadowing the Festival’s Business Development Director Gillian Mercer.

“It has been exciting and worthwhile. It gave me a real life example of the things that I have been learning about at University and it’s a lucky time of year to get this kind of experience,” Catford says.

“Working in high-end and corporate events is my career goal, and this is an excellent place to start. Trying to make connections, get some networks, gain some hands-on experience; this is why these placements are important and encouraging, especially for students who are in their final year at university.”

For Claire Raggatt, who undertook a Writers’ Week volunteer coordinator placement, the experience was both inspiring and entertaining.

“As I have a desire to study postgraduate Tourism and Event Management, I think this was a perfect chance for me to keep determined to go down this pathway,” Raggatt says.

“I have a passion for working in customer service, interacting with others and have a strong interest in the broad range of events that the Festival offers, so it was great to be involved in the Writers Week in particular, especially on Sunday at Kids day. I think I almost had more fun than some the kids did dressing up in Nylon Zoo costumes.”

Gillian Mercer explained the value of these types of volunteer placements.

“It provides students with the opportunity to see how we coordinate with the Festival Centre as the venue and how we liaise with our sponsors as our customers attending the event,” Mercer says.

“Sarah has worked closely with me and has worked well with the team. The experience she has gained is relevant should she wish to pursue business events coordinator roles at hotels or other venues.

“We are lucky in terms of being a curated festival; we have the resources to facilitate these volunteer placements; as a large arts organisation within the state we do have that responsibility to help broker the gap between study and getting into the industry.”

The opportunity also enables Mercer to identify some of the up-and-coming acts of future festivals, herself.

“It also helps us to meet new qualified graduates coming into the industry, so it is good to have that reciprocal connection,” she says.

UniSA proudly sponsors the visual arts program of the Adelaide Festival.