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My Creative Career – Ulla Hokkanen, Executive Creative Director of Galway Community Circus

What is your current role?

I’m the Executive Creative Director of Galway Community Circus – Ireland’s flagship organisation for youth and social circus. I’ve been in this role since 2009 and during this time have built the role from a volunteer position into a permanent full-time role.


How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I started training in circus arts when I was seven years old and my parents set up a youth circus in my home town in Finland. Circus became very important to me growing up, but I never imagined that it could become my profession. I went on to study social sciences and came across Galway Community Circus back in 2007 when I first moved to Galway – this is when I feel in love with circus all over again.


What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

This is my dream job. I get to combine my passion for circus, youth arts and community development. For me youth and social circus is one of the most effective and exciting tools to engage young people in creative non-competitive physical activities.

I get to work in a fun, positive and visionary community with a fantastic team, do something that is vitally important and see first-hand the positive impact our work has on individuals, communities and society.


And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

I can’t say that it’s always easy to balance the ambition of our organisation, knowing the urgent need for what we do, and aiming to build a sustainable organisation with the resources we have in a sector with so much uncertainty.


How do you relax?

My role is quite sociable, we have a staff of 19 and 500 members coming through the doors each week. So, on my days off I tend to go somewhere quiet, meet friends and go on weekends away. Perhaps I’ll learn to be better at relaxing and switching off in 2019!


What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

Perseverance, huge passion for what you do and not taking yourself too seriously. I think it’s important to realise that these kinds of jobs require a lot of competencies and no one has all the skills needed. We are learning all the time and need to be forgiving and gentle with ourselves.

Over the years I’ve become pretty good at adapting, thinking on my feet and creative problem-solving!


What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Reach out to people and ask questions. People are happy to help and share their experiences. Visit organisations that inspire you, European funded programmes offer a brilliant opportunity for this. I’ve been really lucky to have mentors who have supported me along the way.

Be open to learning, sharing with other people and regularly check in that you’re headed to the direction you want to go.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Be kind, write everything down and work towards long-term partnerships rather than short-term success.


What has been the best moment of your career so far?

There are so many. I think the stories of young people whom I’ve known for ten years, seeing them go into the world with confidence to pursue their interest and knowing that Galway Community Circus has been a very special place in their lives.


What are your career aspirations?

At the moment, I’m helping to realise one of my long-term dreams with our Wires Crossed project as part of Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture – a large-scale participatory project on mental health, risk taking and high-wire walking.

After surviving past 2020, I’d like to see Galway Community Circus find our permanent home and to see what else is out there for me.