Jayne Knight is Arts Development Manager at Suffolk County Council. She was the driving force behind Making Art Work, an ambitious and widely regarded professional development programme for Suffolk-based artists that ran from 1999 until 2006. She talks to Jane Watt about how the scheme developed, her work in a local authority and survival tips for rural-based artists.
How are you involved in advising and supporting artists and makers in the region?
I work across all art forms. I give advice to arts organisations, community groups and artists. It can be advice on fundraising, careers, insurance, health and safety. I am the starting point for self-help, but I am not the end of the journey. I rarely have THE answer, but I usually know the next step. This all happens on the phone, through email and face-to-face, at meetings, private views or even in the street. My door is always open – I am a public servant and this is part of my service!
How have you developed your approach and knowledge as an adviser?
Years of listening, watching and doing. I always ask people to let me know how they get on so I build up some knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. The networks and ways of doing things are infinite and every artist or organisation brings their own twist to the table and if it works we all grow together.
Where did the idea for Making Art Work come from?
The idea for Making Art Work began in the mid nineties. I brought together a small group of artists that I had got to know in the county and we basically sat in a room and I asked them what was it that a local authority could do to help artists to thrive. The debate developed. We started with the obvious: pay people to be artists. And it then went from there.
Everyone quickly understood that state funded artists weren’t really what it was all about. Then the need for networks, information, support, guidance, inspiration all started to make sense. This initial regional enthusiasm was matched by European and Arts Council England funding. The European funding was to develop small businesses – the government office eventually got the idea that an artist was a business with ‘special needs’ and supported us for as long as funding was available.
How did the programme affect artists in the region?
We recruited mentors deliberately from outside Suffolk to get new information and networks into the county and then we started to train up and support key artists that lived in the county so that they could pass it on. The funding ran out at the end of 2006. Commissions East took on the mantel of professional development in the eastern region and now it sits with Wysing Arts.
Our evaluation tells us that the scheme made a big difference, that mentoring and advice helped to support artists’ momentum and belief in themselves. This type of professional development was happening all over the country. Finding out how other people have done things and sharing through online debate has made a real difference to artists as well as organisations. It was a lot harder ten years ago, but now there’s no need to be lonely and isolated anymore: get online (there’s free access in most public libraries) and start talking to people.
What are the pros and cons of working for a local authority compared with an independent/smaller arts organisation?
The local authority has power and influence. I have a chance to make a difference to the ways things are done, to influence the public sector’s attitude to the arts, to argue for investment in the arts, to develop politician’s understanding and belief in the arts. The downside is that I have the opportunity to influence but I have no real power. There’s so much to be achieved which means its possible to fail big time. The arts can be a small voice in a big, big structure. A thick skin is required – with a lot of bounce!
What are the particular challenges that rural artists face in terms of career development? Believing they are isolated, hankering after the urban and not looking at what’s possible in a rural location. It’s tough wherever you are.
And what are your top tips for artists working in rural locations?
- You’re part of an international market – where you sit doesn’t matter.
- If you really don’t want to live in a rural area – move.
- Dig where you stand – there’s more to everywhere than meets the eye so find what’s there and work it.
- Find people with whom you can have a critical dialogue – subscribe to a-n, get involved in AIR.
What gaps are there in professional advice provision for artists and makers and do you have any suggestions on how these might be addressed?
I am interested in older artists. How do we support people whose life style is slowing down but they still want and need to work. We have talked about emerging and mid career but then what? I don’t know the answer but I would like to start the debate…
Suffolk County Council Arts Service
Wysing Arts Centre
First published: a-n.co.uk May 2010
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