Charlotte House studied on the MA in Arts Policy and Management course at Birkbeck. She is currently a Grants Manager at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, working on their Education and Learning through the Arts theme, which supports learning in and through the arts in education settings from Early Years to FE, and partnerships between arts/cultural organisations and schools. The theme focuses on enabling pupils, particularly those experiencing systemic inequality or disadvantage, to thrive through engagement with high quality, arts-based learning. Charlotte previously trained as a primary school teacher with Teach First and the Institute of Education. Her undergraduate degree was in Music and Charlotte started out her career in the classical music sector, working in Artist Management for 12 years.
We speak to Charlotte about her time at Birkbeck, hearing about how it has played a vital part in where she is today and the advice she would give to current Birkbeck students.
What motivated you to undertake a degree at Birkbeck?
I graduated from university with a BA degree in Music when I was 20. From there, I went straight into a full-time secretarial/administration role at a classical music agency (with extra weekend and evening work teaching fitness classes). I felt incredibly lucky to have found my role in classical music and was thoroughly enjoying it. At the same time, I was increasingly aware that my understanding of the arts sector was rather narrow and that my own life-experiences were not very broad either. As my first few years of full-time work passed by, the feelings of wanting to learn more and develop my perspectives grew. I have always enjoyed academic study and a friend spoke highly of her experience of doing a Diploma at Birkbeck. The MA course in Arts Policy and Management, which I could do over two years around my full-time job, just seemed like a fantastic next step. The fact that I could study part-time and still work full-time clinched it for me.
How did your time at Birkbeck play a part in where you are now?
Undoubtedly, my degree at Birkbeck has helped me to develop my career. Without that learning and those experiences, I would not have had the skills and expertise – nor the awareness or confidence – to go on to roles in the arts at Arts Council England and at Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The Masters degree has been helpful in practical and personal ways. Ten years after my degree at Birkbeck, I trained as a primary teacher with Teach First: a notoriously challenging and tough two-year experience. However, having combined full-time work with studying in the past gave me some confidence in myself.
What were the highlights of your time at Birkbeck?
There were plenty of highlights. The mix of modules I took as part of the MA were fantastic. I personally liked the combination of highly practical learning, such as modules in marketing, production and legal knowledge, which I could apply to my work right away; balanced with more research-based and academic learning in comparative cultural policy and critical theory. Having the opportunity to do research and write a dissertation was a source of great pleasure and interest for me. That left me with the feeling that one day I might even like to undertake PhD research… we will see! On the campus, the library was a brilliant resource. And on a personal level, I made two close friends whilst on the course, whose continuing friendship I value enormously.
What do you think is special about the Birkbeck community?
If I’m honest, I have not been a particularly active member of the alumni community. However, I love reading the BBK magazine whenever it drops on my doormat. I am always blown away by the breadth and quality of research coming out of Birkbeck. I certainly feel proud to have studied there. I always encourage anyone thinking of university study to consider Birkbeck, as my own experiences were so positive. The Birkbeck approach worked for me, as someone working full-time who still wanted to study. It was a privilege to be part of a community of students many of whom were also combining their studies with work (and other fascinating experiences). This mix contributed to the quality and richness of discussions in our classes.
What advice would you give to a Birkbeck student or recent graduate today?
To a current student, I might say, “If not now, then when?”. This has been a bit of a mantra for me recently anyway. But I would say it in order to encourage current students to take advantage of as much as possible during their courses at Birkbeck.
And finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been told?
I heard this in a podcast a few years ago and it is a bit of a cliché, but here it is anyway: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I often find myself reminding myself of this principle, in work and personal life. Maybe it might resonate with others from the Birkbeck community who are studying, researching, working, and meeting caring and other commitments!
If you are interested in sharing your Birkbeck story, please email email@example.com.