Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
I’m a Freelance Consultant specialising in programme research and development, project management, event programming and evaluation in the field of arts education. I find it really hard to define what I do by a job title but the word ‘consultant’ is helpful as it seems to cover a range of things.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
At the moment my day-to-day work is focused on programming the annual international Engage conference, which is due to take place in November in Newcastle. I typically spend some time each day emailing or calling contributors about their presentations or Skyping the team I’m working with at Engage to discuss event logistics. I am regularly updating the conference programme documents with contributor details and biographies, presentation timings and budgeting for travel and accommodation. There is a lot to keep track of with a two-day conference and so I try to update each document daily to keep on top of the latest developments. I am also working on the introduction I will be giving at the conference, which is slightly nerve wracking!
Being freelance means that I have to find the work that I do and so every day includes some time to search for new work and write applications. I also spend time keeping up to date with the news and checking Twitter to make sure I know what is happening in the cultural sector and joining in conversations that feel relevant to my work.
I work from home so have set up a little corner of a room as my work space. It is really helpful to ‘go to work’ there to try and keep work and home life separate and means I can close the door to that area when I pick my son up from nursery and switch heads to start Lego-building or whatever he wants to do in the evenings!
What’s great about your job?
The thing I enjoy the most about being freelance is the opportunity to work across a broad range of projects with lots of different partners. I really enjoy partnership work and seeing what everyone involved brings to the table. One day I could be evaluating an arts education programme in a museum, the next programming a national conference for the gallery education sector and then another day I might be working with a team to review and refine ideas for a new project working with children in theatre. I think it will take a long time for the novelty of such variety in work to wear off.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
It can be difficult to juggle active work with speculative work. Researching a role and preparing a tender or application document to pitch for new work takes time and it’s a delicate balance between the amount of time required to win new work and the amount of time lost if the application is unsuccessful. But it is an exciting challenge!
What are the highlights of your career to date?
I am really proud of the programme I have created for the Engage conference: ‘Unlocking Culture: An Entitlement for Children & Young People’. The brief was to design a diverse programme reflecting youth arts provision across the UK in response to the theme of young people’s cultural entitlement. I can’t wait to hear from keynote speakers Sharna Jackson (Artistic Director of Site Gallery, Sheffield), Dhikshana Turakhia Pering (Young People’s Producer, Brent 2020 – London Borough of Culture) and Raden Anandra Natlegawa (Brent Blueprint Collective) who will bring their unique perspectives on working with young people in the arts.
There are so many fantastic contributors involved, including a workshop with artist educator Jack Brown based in Stockport and another with Rachel Dunlop from Peak Cymru in the Black Mountains of Wales; presentations from organisations including Kids in Museums, Get It Loud in Libraries, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, and Templar Arts & Leisure Centre in Argyll, amongst many others. There will also be young people presenting from Newcastle, Edinburgh and Cardiff. I really hope that delegates will take away lots of ideas and inspiration to feed back into their own programming and work with young people.
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
My only work outside the arts was part-time cashiering in a bank when I was a student at Newcastle University but it wasn’t an area of work I wanted to pursue longer term. When I graduated I moved back to Sheffield, where I grew up, and found a job running the Friends membership scheme at Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust (now Museums Sheffield). I enjoyed organising events and meeting the supporters of the galleries and museums, but knew I wanted to move into an arts education role.
I moved to London and spent many years working for a national arts charity programming projects for primary, secondary and special educational needs schools, working with cultural organisations across the UK. I joined as Administrator and worked my way up to Programme Director, managing some amazing projects working with so many lovely people along the way. I am particularly proud of a programme I created to support cultural venues to expand their outreach to include families receiving care and support from children’s hospices.
I have always enjoyed working across a range of projects and the move into freelance work was driven by a desire to piece together a broad portfolio of projects to which I can apply my skills and experience.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
I think the move from permanent employment to contracting as a freelancer was one of the most challenging points of my career to date, simply because of the fear of the unknown. I was worried that although I had established my career within an organisational structure, I would be asking people to take a chance on me working on my own. Having a supportive family played a big part in overcoming those fears and perseverance to keep going when things are slow or feel unsure.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
I have seen a huge change in financial support for arts education programmes. When I started there was a lot more opportunity for corporate sponsorship and multi-year funding, which on reflection was such a comfortable position to be in. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and I have seen so many amazing projects for children and young people cut or reduced because of limited funding and smaller organisations often living a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence, working tirelessly to raise the necessary funds but the comfort of multi-year support now missing.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Try to find out as much as you can about the possibilities available to you either in further study or the world of work. If you want to continue studying, choose a subject you are really interested in. Oh, and try not to be so shy!
Careers advice was seriously lacking when I was at school and did little to inform my choices. I chose A-Levels based on what I enjoyed (English, History and Art) and would have liked to pursue Art at university but didn’t think I was good enough. My parents were always supportive of my choices but I didn’t get any guidance from teachers and so opted to study History instead. I wasn’t aware of the full range of subjects available at university and now know that History of Art would have been a better choice for me, but I had never heard it mentioned through my education to that point.
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Freelance work is a lot about connections and tuning in to the sector you want to work in. Gaining experience as a volunteer or in paid work will help inform the area you want to pursue as a freelancer. The arts education sector does brilliant work because of the people involved and benefits from new people joining the ranks all the time. Programme innovations and improvements are made by people with curious minds, those who listen to others to understand their point of view and are not afraid to make changes and give power to others to influence what happens next. It is a really exciting area to work in and has a huge impact on others. If you have the opportunity to gain experience in this area, grab it with both hands and enjoy it!