Gaby Jenks, Abandon Normal Devices Festival Manager

I was a shy teenager so public situations were not my forte. That said I did want independence so, from 16 to 24 my first jobs were in bars and restaurants, which did wonders for my confidence and social skills. In Liverpool, (where I was at university) I pulled pints at the Casa Club, which is a bar that emerged out of the political heat of the 90s Dockers strike and is a space that supports grassroots, workers, socialist activity and the odd salsa night! A filmmaker friend introduced me to the management and I remember the interview vividly – what football team do you support? Red or blue? Stupidly, I said Manchester United. Big mistake!

Alongside this I also ushered at the Unity theatre, Liverpool, which at the time was the venue for avant-garde theatre, live performance and community productions. This was the easiest of work experiences and the most educative as I watched a kaleidoscopic mix of plays from Molière to Harold Pinter and by the time I left, I not only knew every fire exit in the building, but also could memorise lines having watched productions for weeklong runs.

After university I took a different trajectory feeling isolated by the clickiness of the art and film world, which seemed harshly impenetrable to people starting out. I worked as an archivist for social services and learning disability centres and was committed to this for a whopping four years. I think it was the beginning of a perverse fascination with technology from expanding beds and Stannah Stairlifts, which I glamorously modelled on various occasions.

I could only take working for a local authority for so long when I became aware of a new multipurpose arts centre, which opened in Liverpool, called FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). Having studied visual arts and film it was my dream place to work. I applied four times for different jobs and as the tale goes I finally got a job in time for the Liverpool Biennial, in 2004 when I became Gallery Co-Ordinator. The first exhibition I worked on featured the Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who coincidentally I would later work with on the inaugural launch of AND festival in 2009.

Within five months I got promoted at FACT and moved off the gallery and into the programme team, where I worked with the collaborations team on their public programme and it was there that I learned everything from programming, to commissioning and publications. I then started curating and developing larger scale outdoor events and fundraising. FACT was a real catalyst for my career, it was full of opportunity and, with a steady influx of inspiring artists through their doors, it was a fantastic springboard for where I am now.


We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.