As the co-founder of Arts Emergency, Neil Griffiths (with comedian Josie Long) campaigns to help non-conventional students study arts and humanities degrees. Here he talks to IdeasMag about self-confidence, higher education and the danger of Championship Manager...
What is your name/age/job title?
Neil Griffiths, 30, Co-Founder of Arts Emergency/No Sweat.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
This will sound a bit trite but I really wish I had known that self-confidence is a conscious choice. And that pursuing something you are passionate about is so much more likely to lead to success than following a conformist or cash-rich career.
If you could go back and give your younger self any practical advice, what would it be?
Stop playing Championship Manager and read more! Also listen to Radio 4 (even though it is infuriating and snobbish) because a good vocabulary is so important in a job where you have to constantly articulate challenging ideas. Also never wait for other people to help you act on a plan, they never will.
If someone had told your 16-year-old self that you would be a successful arts campaigner in your twenties, would have believed them? Or did you have other ambitions?
Well, at my school the majority of the boys expected to become either a white van man or a soldier so I'd have been pretty surprised. But I’d also laugh manically and tell them that I was actually the next Elvis Presley...
Is there an embarrassing episode from your past that you wish you could edit out?
Well – I have wrongly accused a millionaire donor of being a Eugenicist, I “humorously” attempted to give comedian Richard Herring the mumps and once showed off my guitar skills at a primary school. Maybe the worst example of foot munching would be meeting my hero Alexei Sayle and being oddly avuncular towards him. I don’t regret being so forcefully enthusiastic but it does rankle sometimes after the event...
Is there a single thing that you wish you’d had/known about when you started out? Something that has shaped the way you work today?
Not really, it’s all a misremembered collage you gradually incorporate unconsciously isn’t it? Probably just being gregarious and happy to talk to all sorts of people – if that’s a technique – because ideas come from sharing. Also, do take notes and underline things when you read stuff.
Is there a project of which you are particularly proud?
I am proud of how far we’ve got with Arts Emergency. I’ve met so many engaged academics and artists and it’s been a really inspiring if demanding past year. I’m proud of Josie Long for the way she has thrown herself into it too. By this time next year we’ll be working with hundreds of non-conventional students who otherwise thought they’d never study the Arts or Humanities having been told they “weren’t academic” or that a degree is a “luxury” and other such limiting bile.
An English degree gave me the skills and conviction to make my own path, to help someone else from a similar background do the same will be bloody amazing!
What would you consider your “big break”? And how did you get it?
Basically I’m just an activist who has learned to fundraise and to write well. I didn’t really have a big break as much as fostered a kind of conviction to just get on and try and do something I felt was worthwhile. Once I committed to changing things I didn’t agree with everything began to happen naturally I guess. You realise I’ve not ever been paid for any of this, right?!
To find out more about Arts Emergency, visit the website. To learn about NoSweat, Neil's campaign against sweatshop exploitation, visit the website.
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