Not just a job but an opportunity
A guide to using Jobs & opps as a learning resource. Jane Watt reveals how www.a-n.co.uk/jobs_and_opps can be used as a valuable resource for artists to develop professional practice. She looks at how information from past opportunity listings, project reports and interviews can be used by artists to realise present and future goals. This guide is punctuated by a series of six activities that enable users to realise the full potential of resources on offer.
The art world is a competitive environment no matter what your specialism or professional drive. With more and more graduate artists emerging onto the jobs and opportunities marketplace each year, it is imperative that in addition to being able to compile a good portfolio of work, artist statement and CV that artists know how to effectively assess jobs and opportunities to make the most of their specialist practice, skills and time.
"I'm all done, [degree] show taken down, and as much as a few days off are welcome, the prospect of tidying my degree-scarred bedroom and working out what is next isn't the most exciting prospect... In the meantime, it's all about turning the mind back to ideas so I can write some proposals and applications for shows and residencies. This is how it will be from now on I suppose."
Dan Green graduate Nottingham Trent University, 13 June 2009, Degrees unedited blog
Yes, the reality of being a practising artist is a continual cycle of applications and assessments of opportunities. Emily Speed who graduated from Wimbledon School of Art with an MA in Fine Art: Drawing in 2006 remarks in her blog 'Getting Paid' "This year  and until July 2010, I am supported: I have enough income from bursaries and residency fees to live without too much worry. I know, however that there is nothing after July, and so I will be busy doing applications in the autumn and spring to try and fill this void, or at least provide a small stepping stone to the next respite." 12 July 2009, Artists Talking
What opportunities are out there? Who offers them? Who gets them? a-n's Jobs and opps site provides a rich and growing publicly available resource. This guide suggests how to use the site to gain sector intelligence that will inform students and emerging artists: what types of opportunities are available; who offers these opportunities; what outcomes result from the advertised opportunities; how to assess these opportunities in relation to specific practice and experience; how to adapt and evolve professional practices and goals.
Find out what is out there
The 'View archives' button on each of the Listings pages holds all previously a-n advertised appointments since August 2008. In the first year of the archive, it has grown to include over 1,100 individual organisations and groups, many with more than one listed opportunity. The spectrum of opportunities is vast from a residency in the Sahara Desert to exhibiting and selling work at Origin: the London Craft Fair.
1. Using the Jobs & opps archive, make a timeline of events and opportunities that regularly occur, for example craft fairs, prizes and awards, residencies.
The Listings archive can be searched by category: academic, awards, commissions, residencies and selling to name but a few. Alternatively, go to the Employer index that lists all organisations and groups alphabetically.
Think literally and laterally
Artist Catherine Bertola recommends "Do your homework; always ask for and read the additional information, and check out websites to get an idea of past projects or exhibitions and an understanding of the kind of work they are interested in."
Judith Winter, Head of Arts Programming at Dundee Contemporary Arts adds "Contact the organisation and ask for further details, but don't take up too much time or be over persistent. Most information will already be available in leaflets, advertising and websites. There is nothing more irritating to small organisations where time and resources are limited, than having to repeat information that has already been supplied."
Knowing more about what different organisations and groups do, who they work with and their past portfolio of work, projects and opportunities enables artists to make tailored and informed applications. More in depth research on the organisation or group might uncover avenues of non-advertised opportunities, for example internships, project proposals, future opportunities.
The Employers index holds information on a vast array of organisations from funding bodies to artist-run spaces, international residency centres and hosts to professional practice schemes. Searches can be made by name, or by town/region. Most listings also have website links to the organisation or group offering the opportunity.
2. Make a mailing list of organisations that interest you. Even if they offer opportunities that are beyond your experience, think ahead and let them know about what you are doing.
Find out who your competitors are
Finding out about the successful applicant in a previously advertised opportunity encourages assessment of the type of work, practice and experience that the project, organisation or group actually requires. For more in depth information, look at Reports. The reports give updates and assessment of opportunities that have been advertised in a-n. The reports are written by the organisations or groups and provide useful information about the successful applicant and outcome.
MAAP (Medical Architecture and Art Projects) reports on Bringing the Outside In a commission for St. Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth. "Interviews were arranged and we appointed Binita Walia, a glass artist from London. It was a very positive interview, we all felt we could easily work with Binita and believed the outcome would be very good... In the resulting work, each window represents a story or idea, using motifs such as boats to represent movement, travel and displacement and boat sails containing images of sky, landscape and familiar local sites. The chosen colours were derived through workshops with young people and staff and the windows have received fantastic feedback."
3. Find out who has been the successful applicant in a recent opportunity that interests you. Research that artist and look at how they present their practice, what have they done before and how their work and experience relates (or doesn't) to you.
Listen to others and don't be afraid to ask
What were you looking for in the artists you shortlisted? What challenges have you experienced in exhibiting and working with organisations? Is it paid? What are the criteria for selecting artists and their work?
These are some of the questions that Jobs and opps Online Editor Kate Brundrett isn't afraid to ask artists, curators and organisers. Her interviews cut to the chase and give insight into what selectors are looking for, and how artists develop their practice.
Cinzia Mutigli, Project Manager for Safle Graduate Awards, reveals "The students we shortlisted did not necessarily have to show a firm portfolio towards a public realm career, there were various disciplines from sculpture to painting. The stronger applications showed an interest in the engagement of audience and space. It was obvious that they had thought about where their work sat, how it was positioned, and its relationship within the environment. The potential of the artist's thinking was important."
4. Look at the types of questions that Jobs and opps Online Editor Kate Brundrett asks in her interviews. Devise a series of interview questions that you would like to ask a local artist, curator or organiser in relation to a particular opportunity or project. Ask them!
In addition to Kate's interviews, her Ask Kate section provides answers to many practical queries from artists including clarification if dyslexia is considered a disability, time-management, when to register as self-employed and what should be covered in a gallery agreement.
Focus on realistic opportunities
A breakthrough for many artists making applications is to focus on opportunities that they have the experience, time and skills to undertake. Applications take up valuable time, so it is important for artists to learn how to assess not only their realistic chances of being selected, but also if they can practically commit to the opportunity.
Each Jobs and opps opportunity lists key information under headings: who, what, when, payment, and further details. In addition there is an at-a-glance summary box that lists charges, payments, experience, students eligibility and location.
When considering an opportunity it is important to ask:
- What are the application requirements: who, what, where and when?
- Can you fulfil these criteria?
- Is the opportunity realistic in terms of budget and time - yours and theirs?
5. Research regional, national and international opportunities that interest you. Plot these on a map. Now make a map that includes where you are based and where you realistically and practically would be able to travel to. Think about what financial, practical and personal implications there are. Compare and analyse the two maps.
It may sound obvious, but learning to read, understand and apply the application criteria and requirements is essential. Artist Michael Pinsky offers the following advice "Make sure every question raised in the guidelines is answered in the order that they are asked. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself if you need to, sometimes the same information answers more than one question."
Consultant Lee Corner suggests "Read any guidelines with a set of highlighter pens ie really analyse what they're saying; highlight key words; listen to the way they're saying things; hear the nuances and the emphases; develop a sense of what they're looking for. Having 'tuned in', use the same words and phrases, nuances and emphases in your proposal or application."
Mererid Velios of Celfwaith offers an interesting and realistic opinion on the notion of open-submission commissions "I would advise artists to always apply for open submission projects. It's always worth it and I'd also say don't spend too much time on the application. Have some CDs ready, have a template ready, do lots of them and get them all out there. If you've not spent too long on the application then it's not so harsh when you get the rejection and it's always worth having your work seen by people. We all have a memory bank of images and if someone isn't right for this project, then they might be right for the next."
Develop and evolve your practice
No matter what stage of career, artists need to reflect on where they are, where they want to go professionally and what opportunities there are along the way. Mir Jansen, Programme Manager of Professional Development, Yorkshire ArtSpace Society points out "You should be fairly clear about who you are and what you can and would like to achieve in the long and short term. Then ask yourself: 'is accepting this opportunity going to help me to get what I eventually want'. Make a check list of pros and cons such as: Will it improve my track record? Offer me a financial reward? Give me a promotional opportunity? Be enjoyable or fulfilling? Teach me new skills? Strengthen my network? Give me time/money to develop new work? If the opportunity you are offered is all give and no gain, you are probably wasting your time."
6. Use the Jobs and opps site to find out
- What groups and organisations interest you and why?
- What past opportunities have they offered?
- What experience are they looking for?
- How does this relate to your experience and expectations?
- What alternative opportunity, job or project could you suggest to this group, or organisation that they might be interested in?
There is no golden rule that guarantees an application will be successful for a particular opportunity. However, if artists are armed with more knowledge and skills in how to analyse opportunities they will have a competitive edge that will get sharper with practice.
Approaching galleries by Gavin Wade
Assessing opportunities by Susan Jones
Commissioning views by S Mark Gubb
Funding applications by Lisa Le Feuvre
Going for grants by Rosemary Shirley
Proposals by Judith Winter
Why volunteer in the visual arts by Susan Jones
Nottingham Trent University Degrees unedited blog by Dan Green
Getting Paid by Emily Speed
Jane Watt is Advisers and tutors online editor and an artist. She was Knowledge bank commissions coordinator between 2008-09.
First published: a-n.co.uk October 2009
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