Nova Scotia’s creative industry. Is it worth staying?

A 2022 revisit into my advice for up-and-coming creatives who are thinking of pursuing a career in Nova Scotia.

In 2011, some newly graduating students from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University approached me as part of a research project to gather information on local creatives and their practices. At the time, I thought there would be value in sharing as it provides advice for up-and-coming graduates who are thinking of pursuing a career in Nova Scotia. While this is written from a designer's point of view, this could be helpful to any post secondary graduate who is questioning of making a go here in the province of Nova Scotia. Now here in 2022, I decided to revisit this article and reflect on my opinions a decade later.

Where are you from?

Originally Guelph, Ontario. I moved to Nova Scotia in 1993.

What type of education do you have?

Bachelor of Visual Communication Design, Honors,
Major in Digital Communication Design
Nova Scotia College of Art & Design

Where did you gain your experience?

  2011     Before university I worked for many years trying to find my place in the creative world, trying my hand at several different industries. Paste up artist, a muralist, sign painter, heck even apprenticed as a projectionist. I had accumulated plenty of ‘hands-on’ client experience but didn’t have the skills to advance my career. After exploring what my hometown had to offer with my skills at that time, I decided to go to NSCAD as I was unfocused and recognized I required theory-based training.

  2022     Looking back, so much of that experience that I accumulated was self-taught. I was driven. What I accomplished was purely through knocking on doors. AKA ‘The cold call’. I saw industries I was attracted to, found the shops I wanted to work with and simply walked through the front door. You would be amazed how well that can work if you do your homework and are passionate about the organization you want to learn from. One area I lacked was a greater knowledge of what was possible. Not knowing what you don’t know seems like a joke, but it can limit your progress. I was an 18-year-old who thought he had it all figured out. I learned so much once I admitted I was just at the beginning of my journey.

Did you go away after school? Why?

  2011     An industry job was waiting for me right after graduation from NSCAD. Separately, I experienced an internship with a local, 'animation studio and new media' company. In my mind, my career started years ago back in Ontario but after I relocated to Nova Scotia, I found a new life and new direction. I suppose moving to the Maritimes for university was my 'going away'.

  2022     My educational journey was completely backwards. I was looking to expand my horizons by relocating to another province. In retrospect, I would have taken the time to travel — maybe not so much geographically, but certainly in terms of walking down different paths. After five years at NSCAD, I was ready to hit the ground running. To each their own. If you find the role you want, go for it, but if you have the means and the time, don’t be hesitant to explore.

Why do you currently work in Nova Scotia as opposed to elsewhere?

  2011     I love Nova Scotia. I love the land, the air and the people. I have thought about relocating but share custody of my son whose mother is here in NS. It is doubtful I would be happier raising my child anywhere but here.

  2022     A decade later and my opinion has not changed. After years of travel, both personal and for business, I have never found another place that feels like this province. But re-reading the question I realize this is not really what was intended by the ask, as I focused on my lifestyle. Initially, in a business sense Nova Scotia’s size was a benefit. You can establish your practice and relatively quickly form a reputation within your wheelhouse. This city in particular runs on reputation and word-of-mouth. If you produce a solid product and conduct yourself in a positive manner you can chisel out a corner for yourself.

Over the years I have seen the idea of an on-site dissipate. I have worked with and managed people all over the world, and with technology it makes no difference whether you are three provinces away or in the next room, work can be completed effectively and efficiently

Do you typically hire locally before you hire employees from away?

  2011     I make a point to use local first, this includes suppliers. Not all practices can boast the same. That being said, my business is virtual and those I have worked with can be anywhere in the world, which means you don't need to lose touch with good people and their talent.

  2022     At its core, little has changed in terms of how and why I hire others. I still work virtually. You could say I was more than ready for the limitations of a global pandemic, AKA ‘Covid compliant’ (Y2K joke in there someplace). I always look for a local supplier or professional first. It starts with recommendations with friends and colleagues who are knowledgeable in a particular vocation. Working virtually works both ways and while I pursue local talent first, if there isn’t an individual or service that fits the bill then I reach out to where the talent is. In the end, there needs to be a "fit" in multiple areas. In expertise, in availability, cost and attitude.

With expertise, you must have the skill set to perform the tasks in question. However, those who have a particular set of skills who evolve and are willing to expand their knowledge within a project are those who rise to the top. Availability is self-explanatory. Working virtually means it’s not necessarily ‘your’ 9–5 you are dealing with. Flexibility with your working hours can make a difference in how frequently you are called upon. Cost is subjective. There is a balance between costing yourself so cheap that you devalue yourself and pricing yourself out of the budget. Confidence in yourself is important, but be ready to be flexible in your pricing especially when you are first starting out. Time and experience will teach you this dance. Lastly, attitude. BE genuine. More on this in the next question.

Aside from the obvious (reliable, good portfolio, etc) what do you look for in new employees?

  2011     Two things to me rise above a slick portfolio and technical skills. A ‘hungry’ attitude, someone who is driven to grow and learn. The other is a good sense of self. I have no time for ego. Being able to laugh at oneself is extremely important to surviving in the creative world. Humor is essential. To me, being down to earth speaks volumes.

  2022     BE genuine. I can’t be more direct than this. In this world of fake smiles and lifestyle facades, be yourself.

What opportunities was your company able to generate at your start-up and how that has changed over the years?

  2011     My practice mainly pursues small to medium sized businesses in the city. In the 10-50 range of employee size. The direction is to replace the role that is normally held by an in-house creative team.

  2022     Over the years, my business has evolved to focus on small businesses, sole proprietorships, and nonprofit organizations, most frequently in the 1–5 employee range. This offers an individual or organization creative services they would normally not have access to and more importantly, allow for a substantially improved and effective relationship with the client.

What advice do you have for new graduates who may want to stay local?

  2011     Be prepared to do more than one thing. There is very little room for specialization in the HRM. Learn many skills, keep them up to date. But be sure to DEMAND to be paid appropriately for your services. As anywhere in the world, there is the chance you will be taken advantage of unless you stand up for yourself and give yourself the respect you deserve. Your time and work have value, and the promise of a 'good portfolio piece' is not worth your time.

  2022     Ditto to 2011 me. Let me add ‘design contests’ to that list. Avoid them. I have yet to see one that doesn’t take advantage of the designer. I digress. Stay local, work globally! Make connections beyond the city limits. It’s easier said than done, but it is a viable way of working now.

Anything we might have missed?

  2011     Over the years I have seen the idea of a local team dissipate. I have worked with and managed people all over the world, and with technology it makes no difference whether you are three provinces away or in the next room, work can be completed effectively and efficiently. If you want to live in Nova Scotia, you can do so and effectively ‘work’ anywhere virtually. This is a trend that has done nothing but expand over the last 10 years. I predict it will only increase.

  2022     Look at Nostradamus over here! Industry might be pushing for folks to come back to the office, but one of the biggest truths the pandemic has revealed is that work can be done efficiently and effectively from anywhere.

To come full circle and re-ask the question, ‘Nova Scotia’s creative industry. Is it worth staying?’. Absolutely.


Frank Orlando

A senior communications professional with three decades of client experience. Instructor at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, lecturer of communication design, technology and illustration. Principal of Orlando Media Company, a creative practice providing strategic direction, creative vision, and human focused branding.