Success in the city: Does making it big always mean a big city move?

Most iconic movies, novels and narratives associate success and “making it big” with moving to the big city. Many actors still make the pilgrimage to Los Angeles to “make it in the movies” and in the UK there is an invisible atmosphere of snobbery associating the arts with London. 

Of course, the links between opportunity, success and the city are tightly bound so it’s easy to understand why we are so eager to pack our suitcases. However, as remote working opens up a plethora of new opportunities and many young artists find themselves on the bread line due to rising rent and inflation, finding success from somewhere smaller is becoming a much more attractive alternative. 

A lifestyle which blends both is also a possibility. Many artists who come from smaller towns experience anxiety around ‘needing’ to go back. However, in reality, this is nothing to be ashamed of and can help build financial savings allowing you to move back to the city when you’re ready. 

Of course, it isn’t only finances which attract creatives to larger cities but open mindedness and the possibility to assimilate in more groups of people. Many artists who found themselves one of only a few POC, queer artists in a small town may want to move to a city where they can find a more solidified sense of community. The move to the big city is therefore not only motivated by a desire for greater finances and creative ability but one for mental health and a greater sense of individuality. This is not to stereotype smaller towns and villages as backward, xenophobic or homophobic as this narrow outlook can also be damaging. 

On another hand, for some, moving to the bigger city may in fact cause havoc on a creative’s mental health due to the bigger pressure that arises. The bigger the city, the bigger the competition and the freelance feast or famine lifestyle often dramatises when the creative lives in a high cost capital. 

Interestingly, the numbers of people flocking to cities have proven to be waning for a while. Even ethnographers who, back in 2010, heralded this to be the “decade of the city” had to admit that city population rates in the US were diminishing in 2018, as more people dispersed further afield.

It would be impossible to discuss this topic without acknowledging the internet and how it has transformed the ability to find major success in the creaibve industries without being based out of a capital city. Most clients now don’t care where their freelance employees are based as long as the work gets done and communication is clear via Zoom, Slack and email. In fact, it’s reported that at least 70% of people globally work remotely at least once a week. Even the latest update of video game The Sims offers players freelance career options, where their Sim can work from a location of their choosing.

In conclusion, while moving to a bigger city may open your lifestyle to more creative opportunities, it is by no means a necessity. Moving to a bigger city for some vague notion of finding “opportunities” is a bit like doing work for “exposure”; there’s no real promise here. Sure, creative opportunities will arise but financial opportunities aren’t affected too drastically depending on location. Of course, this depends entirely on the type of freelancer you are. Stylists and musicians may find much more work in London due to the need to perform and work in person on shoots and at gigs. On the other hand, animators and graphic designers who work 99% digitally do not require in person work and therefore their work lifestyle won’t be affected too drastically depending on location. 

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