Arts grads face a competitive job market and lean living

by | Oct 2, 2015 | A&E

Brandon-Richard Austin
A&E Reporter

Like many in the arts, Sally Shaar lives in a cutthroat world.

The recent Humber College Bachelor of Music grad, 23, is the lead singer of Toronto indie rock band Ginger Ale & The Monowhales.

While playing in a rock band is her dream, it can be a very frugal existence. According to the Canadian Independent Music Association, the average Canadian indie musician earns $7,228 a year.

But Shaar is confident.

“My goal is to make a living and I’m of the mindset that I will,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing better than a lot of people.”

“There’s enough room for everyone to be successful if they’re doing something unique,” she continued.

Shaar has devoted all of her time to her band since graduating from Humber and she’s all in.

Ginger Ale & The Monowhales have played 10 shows in 2015 thus far at well-known Toronto venues, including Lee’s Palace and the legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

The band signed with a manager eight months ago and is currently finishing a record. These are all accomplishments Shaar attributed to skills learned at Humber through instructors like Triumph guitarist Rik Emmett, whom she cited as her mentor.

“My appreciation of education came after I graduated,” she said. “Coming out of Humber, everyone realized how prepared they were.”

While Shaar is working hard as a musician, Spencer Higgins, 23, is another creative individual who is pursuing a career in the arts. .

His craft is comedy.

“I’ve been watching SNL since 2005,” Higgins, a first-year Humber College student in the Comedy Writing and Performing program, said. “That’s my ultimate goal – to be on SNL. I can visualize myself on there.”

Higgins speaks confidently about his ability, saying he’s never been denied a part he auditioned for.

“Once I even walked away with three parts in the same play,” he said.

Having practiced over 100 voice impressions – including Jim Carrey – Higgins is undoubtedly devoted to his craft. But, as with the music industry, times are tough when it comes to earning a living as a comedian. Statistics Canada’s most recent statistics reveal that, along with a “relatively high turnover rate” in the field, 43 per cent of comedians earned less than $10,000 in 2005.

“I get annoyed when I see comedians onstage and they joke and say ‘I have no money because I’m a comedian,’” Higgins said. “If you’re not a big name – you must not be doing something right.”

Higgins’ drive echoes that of Shaar: “It is of paramount importance to follow my dream… If you know you’re good, you have to do something.”

While Shaar and Higgins aspire to – and are working towards – independent success in the creative world, Lexi Cook, a first-year student in Humber’s Fashion Arts program, aspires to a more stable career as a stylist for a company servicing celebrity clients.

Although she admits she has some fear about getting a job in the industry, Cook, 18, says she feels her “teachers are so connected [to industry contacts] and very friendly” and she is confident she can land a gig straight out of school.

Cook originally thought of studying in Humber’s Events Management program, something she believes may have been a more stable option.

But when sharing her motivation behind choosing fashion instead, her response echoes that of Shaar, Higgins and likely many others in various creative fields:

“I’ve always loved it. I’m sure of it.”