Career Guide: Creative courses

A creative career can be very fullfilling, but can also be a struggle

For some people, creative arts is more than a career choice: it’s a vocation.

Visually-minded artistic types are spoilt for choice, although as many of the most relevant courses, for example at NCAD and the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT), require a portfolio, it’s now too late for a change of mind.

Many other drama and music courses, including at DIT, UCC, Maynooth University, and the University of Limerick, are now already closed for entry, and will not be considered here.

Where to study

But it’s not too late to rule out a CAO application this year. It’s worth noting many of the best places to study music, drama or art, including the


Royal Irish Academy of Music

, the

Lir Academy

(affiliated to

Trinity College

and the UK’s prestigious RADA), the Gaiety School of Acting and Ballyfermot College of Further Education, are outside the CAO process.

Within the CAO, UCD, Trinity and Maynooth University all take more academic approaches to music, with less emphasis on performance (applications for Trinity College's course closed last February). NUI Galway has a suite of interesting courses on offer, including a BA in arts with performing arts, a BA in drama, theatre and performance studies, and creative writing. It has a close association with Druid Theatre, in its Druid Academy.

Trinity College has the oldest and most prestigious drama studies course in Ireland which is taken as part of the arts course with another subject.

Career opportunities

Even the very best actors and musicians struggle. Both are highly competitive industries. It’s become even harder for musicians since the advent of music streaming, and very often – inexcusably, perhaps – they’re expected to play for free.

There’s a cliche that drama and music graduates have been trained for a career as a waiter. But it’s as tired as it is old; these graduates have been trained to think creatively. Off-stage, many graduates move on to work in arts administration and management, teaching, marketing, production, writing or session music work.

Visual artists are mainly self-employed, and tend to combine their craft with teaching, art administration, or community arts. Product designers can have very good employment opportunities.

Salary expectations

Nobody becomes an actor or musician for the money. The days of rich musicians seem to be over, with even well-known international bands rumoured to be sleeping on floors. Experienced session musicians can charge about € 3,000 per job.

Actors are used to living hand-to-mouth between jobs, with most earning less than € 12,000 a year. But related jobs in arts administration and teaching can be reasonably paid, although few people get into the arts to make a fortune.

Figures released in 2012 by Theatre Forum Ireland show artistic directors earn about € 55,000, while the chief executive of a festival could expect to earn € 51,185.