Claire Darley Q&A with Andria Zafirakou

Three-part interview series exploring issues young creatives have, and their challenges when it comes to realizing their full potential in the industry during difficult times.

Girl wearing glasses looking up at a space full of colorful and black and white ideas.

Image source: Adobe Stock.

By Claire Darley

Posted on 03-15-2021

In the second instalment of my three-part interview series examining the challenges facing the creative industry, I chatted with the inspirational Andria Zafirakou, award-winning teacher and creative advocate, to explore the key issues for young creatives when it comes to realising their full potential in the creative industry, especially during such challenging times.

As a true evangelist for creativity, Zafirakou’s warmth and energy alone could convince you of its power to change lives. An MBE., winner of the 2018 Global Teacher Prize, and founder of the charity Artists in Residence, Zafirakou’s accolades only serve to add more conviction and authority to her message that creativity has become a necessary skill, one to feed in early life, in school and in work.

Our conversation could not be timelier. With International Women’s Day taking place recently, it was fascinating to hear Zafirakou talk about the importance of finding your creative voice, especially as a young woman or girl. Also, Zafirakou’s book, Those Who Can, Teach, is soon to be published. Our conversation felt like a sneak peek, so enjoy her insights about finding new ways to engage creative minds.

Firstly, tell us about winning the Global Teacher Prize.

I didn’t even nominate myself — a colleague did. But I completed my application on the eve of my wedding as guests started to arrive! I’m so glad I did. When I got to Dubai for the ceremony, I met teachers doing amazing things — for example, in robotics — and wondered if I was an anomaly as an art teacher. When they announced my name, it was like an outer-body experience — it’s testimony to the power of arts education.

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And tell us how you got there. What was your creative journey?

My earliest memories are of making pictures, and my parents encouraged me, telling me how talented I was. Art was always the subject that felt like home, so when it came time to take GSCEs, I chose it. I was shocked when my parents said no, and it felt like a real loss — it stripped me of an identity. It took time to muster the courage to tell my parents that I was going to study art and be an artist. And that I was going to be amazing at it. My A star soon convinced them, but the journey there wasn’t easy.

Do you think many students struggle with choosing arts degrees?

I do. There is a prejudice against the arts because parents worry that it isn’t practical — people say it won’t pay. Students need to find their voice to say, ‘this is me’, but it’s hard, even more so for a girl.

When students abandon their artistic interests for more pragmatic degrees, it often doesn’t last. After a year or so at Uni, doing something that doesn’t fulfil them, students return to me, ready to develop a portfolio or asking about foundational courses.

I know parents just want their children to be happy and thrive. I want them to know that creative careers can achieve both. I believe that creativity is not just a ‘happiness gene’, but that it is also strongly related to being entrepreneurial. A creative mind will always invent something to do!

Well you’ve convinced me! At Adobe, we see how creativity can be applied to almost any challenge or career. It’s not just for artists.

That’s exactly the thing! If you take music, art or drama, you don’t have to be a musician, painter or an actor. You can work in gaming — you can work at Google — you could work at Adobe! And even if you’re not in a ‘creative’ workplace, creativity just means solving problems in new ways. Any project needs good storytelling — via any medium — or an inventive twist.

Coming from Adobe, I’m totally on board with the universality of creativity! We are always looking to attract young talent, through internships, or programs like Sky Edit, where kids can try news production, or our Creative Tour where we partner with top artists, like Lady Gaga or Vampire Weekend to issue design challenges for young people. What advice do you have for employers who would like to tap young creative talent?

Not everyone self-identifies as a creative — especially young people who don’t have art degrees. Employers can find hidden creative potential by advertising opportunities with specific, leading questions, such as, ‘Are you full of new ideas?’ ‘Do you look at things in new ways?’ ‘Do people tell you that you’re creative?’ Things like that.

How can we help this ‘self-identification’ earlier in life?

You know how they say, ‘if you see it, you can be it?’ I’d love for students to have more access to professional artists, designers or creatives at school, as Artists in Residence. And I’d love for employers to allow students in, even if it’s just a weekend stint that gives access to the world of work and shows students they can make money being creative.

And what’s a final thought you’d like to leave us with?

Creativity is a superpower. As a teacher, I am lucky enough to have watched it change lives.

I think of Tom, a student who had behavioural and learning difficulties. Because he was often terribly distracted or moody, a lot of people gave up on him. One day, we were studying Picasso to learn about mixing paints and colour palettes. As we reviewed work together, there was an unsigned piece that the class loved. When I asked who created it and Tom revealed himself, everyone turned around and the class erupted into applause. To see the look on his face — to know that he was good at something and recognised for it — it transformed him. He became calmer and more focused — not just in art but other classes. Being creative truly makes us happy — and it makes us better across the board!

Creativity is a superpower! I love it and couldn’t agree more. I want everyone to know that it’s not a folly or a passion project. It’s an essential and transferrable skill for any career choice — and one that we feed at Adobe.

Like what you have read? Please be on the lookout for my next interview with Ritchie Mehta from the Marketing School.

Topics: Creativity, Insights & Inspiration, Education, Creative Cloud, Celebrating Women