Illustration by Zelalem Waritu.

CDC’s Indifference To The Arts: Myth Or Reality?

Are the lack of opportunities for A&H majors simply an effect of the CDC’s disinterest in the division or a consequence of the unconventional and varied career paths people in the A&H tend to pursue?

Sep 19, 2021

What does it feel like to be at the top of the food chain? What does it feel like to not be crushed under the burden of constantly having to prove one’s worth? What does it feel like to be pampered with career-developing resources that boost one’s confidence in oneself?
These are some of the questions that Vamika Sinha, Class of 2020, raises when thinking about the Career Development Center’s inability to cater to the needs of students in the Arts and Humanities.
“When I entered the job market during the height of the pandemic, I had no idea about how to navigate what these jobs [in the UAE creative scene] wanted from me,” said Sinha. “I was alarmed by how small I felt,” she added.
Sinha graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic with a bachelor’s in Literature and Creative Writing. She now serves as the editor-in-chief at Postscript magazine, a publication she co-founded during her time at the university and further divides her time between working at Canvas magazine and the South Asian Avant-Garde Anthology.
Although Sinha recognizes that students may not have made the most out of what the CDC has to offer, the CDC has done little beyond holding conversations with alumni and organizing basic CV workshops. This becomes particularly troublesome given the specific complexities of the UAE art scene.
“It’s not as if the CDC lacks the resources and expertise that they need to help us, but they have been unable to equip us with a self-advocacy toolkit,” Sinha added.
The creative scene in the UAE is fairly nascent. It is a small but rapidly growing space. While networking is crucial to success, career trajectories rarely tend to be linear. Unlike other career pathways which have clear formal channels, the diversity of the arts scene ranges from corporate work to freelancing, self-publication and institutional artistic work. Not to mention, the scene is riddled with cases of artistic exploitation, underpayment and contractual manipulation, which produce a working environment that requires careful conditioning and maneuvering. Such complexities mean that surface-level discourse with alumni and untargeted training workshops are oftentimes out of touch with such harsh realities.
Assistant Director for Career Advising Lindsay Doung and Assistant Director for Employee Relations Garvin Reid acknowledged such nuances, understanding that employment in the arts is based on a completely different recruitment model than the sciences or the financial sector.
“Creative companies in the UAE do not have a strict timeline and many times, your first opportunity in the scene will not be as substantial,” said Garvin. This difference in the recruitment cycle is often cited as a reason why the CDC focuses on networking, especially through alumni, as a key component of their strategy for the A&H student body instead of the more structural Career Opportunities Fair.
Having an expansive alumni network is an extremely valuable resource but its value is determined by the experiences its participants bring to the table. Many of these conversations have been generic and repetitive and rarely delve into specific experiences. Many speakers also tend to be graduates belonging to elite universities or corporate artistic institutions, leaving behind a huge segment of careers that might be unconventional but are just as rewarding. These individuals are also often hesitant to be upfront about navigating individual challenges amidst such structures.
“Institutions are institutions. Their structures are conducive to exploiting young art students. These alumni workshops must be transparent about [alumni’s] experiences with bureaucracy, hierarchies and exploitation,” elaborates Sinha.
More often than not, the career pathways actively selected by the CDC have led to a prioritization that does not align with those of students in the arts. Instead of focusing on conventional ideas of success, the CDC should redefine its goals to be truly representative of the A&H student body’s diversity. This, however, also requires continued vocalization by students.
The Global Careers Peers program, paired with the Arts and Humanities committee are vociferous platforms for the A&H student body to have comprehensive, effective and diverse representation for their ideas. The GCP program is designed to be a communication bridge between the CDC and the student body through student representatives that assist them with career development. However, the CDC reported to The Gazelle that only six percent of the applications for the program were from the A&H department. This lack of interest from students begs the question: why has the CDC failed to attract students across these disciplines? Why is it not utilizing its available resources and potential to bridge this chasm? And why has this problem been allowed to persist for so long?
On the surface, one can blame the abysmal reputation the CDC has acquired amongst students. The fairness of it may be debatable, but the existence of the reputation alone necessitates conscious engagement with it.
“There’s this idea that the CDC is an unwelcoming place for the arts students which holds them back from even looking at the programming, a myth that they are not included in the programming,” said Auguste Nomeikaite, Class of 2022, a current GCP majoring in Film and New Media.
This reputation exists for a wide range of reasons. Despite having opportunities for networking such as Creative Conversations and Arts Chats, they are infrequent, available temporarily and the content is too general to be helpful. Due to the vastness of undeclared majors in the A&H student body, the CDC is also unable to do targeted communication for specific majors and minors. This is further exacerbated by the range of career options available within each major, such as for Film and New Media and Literature and Creative Writing. Furthermore, their limited focus on alumni conversations when it comes to the arts constructs a disparity between the A&H student body and students from other disciplines, given that the latter has greater access to more structured platforms such as the Career Opportunities Fair.
However, one must recognize that even with increased eagerness to participate, structures like the GCP program will never be able to cater to the diversity of career aspirations within the A&H student body. Such a conundrum demands a strategic mobilization on an individual level that recognizes the uniqueness of each student’s ambition and experience. The CDC itself has proven that such mobilization is not impossible: the CDC internship and interview grant programs are excellent initiatives that center students’ autonomy, ownership and distinctiveness. The effectiveness of such programs is proven by the number of applications submitted by A&H students every year, which is averaged at 45, as reported to The Gazelle by the CDC.
There is further hope for optimism. An email sent from the CDC on Sept. 13 to the A&H student body incorporated much of the feedback that students have been giving the department, from centralized communication regarding jobs and opportunities to expanding beyond alumni conversations. This denotes the CDC’s recognition of this communication gap and an eagerness to readjust and restructure based on students’ needs.
The CDC suffers from many of the same institutional inefficiencies as many other departments at NYUAD. However, their incorporation of student and alumni feedback has set them apart. The only way forward is to restructure the objectives of the CDC towards the A&H student body, to grant more agency and ownership to students in their career development process.
Ibad Hassan is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email him at
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