Michael Cousin is a moving image artist & curator based in Wales, UK. He is also an Artist Member of the Contemporary Art Society, London and is represented by Mermaid & Monster, Cardiff.

Noteworthiness of employment didn’t feature at all in my formative years. Sales assistant (although that did entail going to a party at one of Richard Branson’s recording studios / mansions with Johnny Rotten in attendance), hospital laundry worker (picking out the false teeth, wigs and surgical implements from the linen and playing hospital basketball with bundled surgical robes) and unforgettably McDonald’s toy tester for the 1996 Olympics (we got driven in a van to an empty warehouse where articulated lorries would back up and disgorge thousands of plastic toys for us to test). None of these count as my first five jobs. Nor does being a security guard at motor plants whilst having a beard of Elizabethan proportions, nor being a 6’4″ Peter Rabbit at an Easter book launch and scaring children or being a TV extra while my then girlfriend got strangled in an 80s club. (I married her later on).

The first five jobs I really count are these:

1)    Artist – after a poor academic start (failed to get into UCL to study Psychology, failed the maths test to train as a nurse in Great Ormond Street, failed to get anywhere near a post-school education) eventually I started drawing things as something to pass the time. I drew terribly but enjoyed it. Improved from terrible to mediocre and went from Foundation to Degree where they reinforced the fact that I was at best mediocre but most likely terrible. Moved into photography and video in order not to fail the course and found what I had been looking for. Films and art together. Since then I completed my Masters in Cardiff, showed my work around and about and won a couple of financially supportive awards.

2)    Outcasting Founder – in tandem with my artistic practice I set up a not-for-profit organisation for the online dissemination of experimental film and video. The site offers regular screenings of work both online and offline, nationally and internationally. Since the launch in 2006 the site has been awarded funding by the Arts Council of Wales to re-develop and expand in 2012 and is also in the process of partnering the development of a National Film Festival in Wales (O4W).

3)    g39 – an artist-led gallery formerly in a three storey Victorian shop in the heart of Cardiff. I exhibited work in the opening show in 1998, then volunteered as an invigilator / technician, had a solo show in 2000, got employed part-time to help run the professional development scheme to support artists, then became a technician and finally co-curator for the past couple of years. We are about to relocate into new premises in an undisclosed location.

4)    Care worker – working for a couple of years with adults with learning disabilities in a residential setting and then as a support worker in a drugs and alcohol short stay unit. I wanted to do something direct and immediate in the real world. Left to our own devices the job was a common sense one but made overcomplicated by company procedure. The tenants I worked with made lasting impressions, sometimes round my neck, but mostly in my heart.

5)    Editor / Writer / Handyman / Researcher / Decorator – a thread running through the lean times and the financially precarious times. These are the ones that offer / have offered respite. Financially, emotionally and mentally. I always thought it would be prudent to develop skills additional to the often non-paying or underpaid skills of being an artist. Things that you can pick up here and there, that you can do in your down time or even in busy times. Things that are work without feeling like work, things that allow you to switch off or switch focus at the right moment in time.

Image by Claire Cousin Photography


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.