Around this time of year I am usually inundated with stacks of inspiring creative ideas submitted by ambitious young creative graduates who are hoping to make it into the final of The Shelf Awards. I spend days whittling down these entries to put together a shortlist and invite the successful graduates along to a fabulous, full-on evening of networking in London with a host of creative industry experts. During the evening the graduates learn to sell themselves and their work. They pick up invaluable advice and they secure all-important work placements – many of which lead to full time employment. And the best team on the night (voted for by the invited experts) also pick up the coveted Shelf itself. I’ve been proud to have run The Shelf Awards for over 14 years. But they won’t be happening this year. Why? Money.
Since I founded The Shelf Awards in 2001 they have grown and developed, but there was one thing I was determined would never change – they would always be free to enter. Neither the graduates nor their universities would pay a single penny to take part. I have been driven to organise every facet of The Shelf Awards because I believe in them and I believe in supporting young creatives. I can give my time for free but other things need hard cash. Venues for the event in central London don’t come cheap. Wine and beer for over 100 guests need to be paid for. There’s software for coordinating the entry process, collateral for the event such as voting forms and guests’ ID badges and branded T-shirts for the graduates so everybody knows who they are. And, of course, there are the shelves, they might be a bit of fun but Argos doesn’t give them away.
In the early years of The Shelf Awards I was able to cover all of these costs through the creative agencies that I was fortunate enough to run. Since becoming an independent consultant I have relied upon the generous support of a range of sponsors, and to these people and companies I am exceptionally grateful. However, I appreciate times are tough, even in the creative industries. Each year it has got a little more difficult to secure the funds. At the time of writing I have one sponsor. And me. Together we cannot get even close to covering the aforementioned costs.
So, The Shelf Awards won’t be happening this year.
Since The Shelf Awards began I have been proud to help around 170 graduates get into the creative industry. I would like to have helped another dozen this year. The graduates seem to think The Shelf Awards are a good idea (here’s what 2013 winners Max Maclean and Ran Stallard have to say about how participating helped their careers). And judging by the guest list every year creative agencies think they’re a good idea too to unearth new talent to hire, as do recruiters who are exposed to amazing young people to put in front of their clients.
I sincerely hope this isn’t the end of The Shelf Awards. I’d like to think that this time next year I will be inundated with creative work from young hopefuls again. Who knows, with a little help from a few friends we might even be able to do a late show before the end of the year.
For now I will leave you with the line that sums up what The Shelf Awards is all about, Supporting the creative talent of the future.
Gary Sharpen, founder The Shelf Awards.
Find out more about The Shelf Awards.
Some winners of The Shelf Awards in recent years