Working with people
Artists skills are valuable and can be applied in community, outreach and educational projects. This guide by Rosemary Shirley offers practical advice for artists wanting to gain experience and develop their practice in this area.
Your artist's skills are valuable and can be applied in community, outreach and educational projects.
This guide offers practical advice for artists wanting to gain experience and develop their practice in this area.
Organisations ranging from national galleries to local community centres all employ artists to share their skills, often in the form of leading workshops and practical activities.
Choosing to expand your practice in this way can be incredibly rewarding. Artist Sam Gorman has been working in educational and community contexts for over ten years:
"Studio practice can be very solitary. Artists are communicators and it's important to keep in touch with people. I've seen people lose themselves in art they remember how to dream and be creative. Artists working in schools can add balance to the curriculum where art is often not a high priority. After one workshop a child said to me: 'This is the best day I've ever had!' "
Volunteering is a useful way to gain experience of working with groups in different contexts and to develop connections with organisations that may be able to offer future work.
Large galleries and museums often have a standard application procedure for volunteers. Contact your local council for details of summer art schemes, community centres and day centres. Smaller organisations usually have less formal arrangements, but expect to be interviewed.
For online volunteering resources visit the Voluntary Arts Network website www.voluntaryarts.org
Whatever the opportunity, be focused you will be giving your time for free so it has to be useful.
Once you have some experience you need to find out what opportunities are out there and start actively promoting yourself to potential employers and commissioners.
Here are some useful starting points:
- Contact your regional or national arts council office for details of relevant arts organisations in your area.
- Galleries, local or county councils often maintain a database of artists available for education/community projects make sure you're on it!
- Make contact with local organisers, ask if you can send them your CV and then follow this up with a phone call.
- Search the online Jobs and Opportunities on this site for new schemes and projects.
Compiling a portfolio
A portfolio of the projects/workshops in which you have been involved is invaluable for finding work. Take it to interviews and send images from it with your CV. But remember to be selective looking at a repetitive portfolio will bore prospective employers.
Document all the workshops and activities you are involved in. (Remember that if you are photographing children you need to get their parents' permission.) Take photographs or try to keep actual examples of the artwork produced.
If your name appears as the artist in gallery leaflets, project reports, etc, include them in your portfolio too.
If you are working with people you need to take responsibility for their and your own safety. You need to inform yourself about legal, health and safety and insurance issues.
- Police disclosures
- Health and safety
- First aid
These are addressed on the following pages.
If you are working with children or vulnerable adults you will be required to apply for a disclosure, sometimes called a police check. This will apply whether you are freelance, employed or working as a volunteer.
The organisation you are working with will ask you to apply and give you their registration code. A disclosure costs £12. Some organisations may pay this on your behalf. Disclosures are free for volunteers. It's up to individual organisations to decide whether or not to accept a disclosure which you may already have.
Disclosures are managed by the Criminal Records Bureau. For information and application details visit www.disclosure.gov.uk
If you are working regularly in public situations you should get public liability insurance. This covers your legal liability to pay damages to members of the public for any injury or damages which occur as a result of your activities.
If you are self employed the cost of insurance is tax deductible.
Public liability insurance can be bought as part of a package or is sometimes included in the membership fees of professional organisations such as the Society for All Artists www.saa.co.uk
Health and Safety
As an artist leading a workshop you are obliged to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of those working with you and taking part in the activity.
Most of these precautions are common sense, eg making sure that unused chairs and tables are stacked safely, but certain activities may require specialised safety equipment, eg goggles.
Some artist's materials are included in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations and it's important to know how to handle these safely. Visit www.hse.gov.uk/hthdir/noframes/coshh/coshh9.htm for more information.
The organisation you are working for should have a health and safety officer who can advise you.
Most organisations have a qualified first aider – make sure you know what the procedure is for contacting them during your activity.
You may want to develop your skills and confidence and become a first aider yourself. Many organisations offer training in this area. St John's Ambulance has an online database of their courses throughout the UK at www.sja.org.uk
The next pages contain practical advice on planning, structuring and resourcing your activities.
- workshop structure
These are covered on the following pages.
Arrange a pre-project meeting to ensure that you and the organiser/teacher are clear about objectives, costs, fees, location and timescale of the activity.
These should be outlined in your contract. If not, or if you have agreed some significant changes, confirm these arrangements in writing.
Make sure you agree a cancellation procedure, stating how much notice you will require and in the event of cancellation whether you will be paid or not. Write a cancellation fee into your contract.
If you are working with an unfamiliar group or people with special needs it is often valuable to meet with them informally before the workshop.
Always go through the activity yourself before the workshop. Determine how long the activity takes and work out how difficult it is – make sure it is actually achievable.
Break down the activity into stages – try not to overload the group with information. Demonstrations, showing rather than just telling, are a valuable way of communicating.
Children often think they've finished very quickly, so have plenty of ways they can develop their work in reserve.
Don't leave gathering your materials until the last minute especially if they have to be ordered. Leave at least three weeks.
Scrap store co-operatives are great for large amounts of card, boxes, etc. Some stores are council run, others are independent. For details of the scrap store network visit www.home-education.org.uk/scrap.htm
Adult groups may feel that participating in a workshop is like being back at school. To move away from this atmosphere try to use the best quality professional materials that your budget will allow.
Special needs groups
The following pages give links to organisations offering information, training and advice on working with groups who have specific needs. Some provide online documentation of past projects.
These examples are intended to be useful rather than exhaustive and cannot attempt to mirror the diversity of participants in art activities.
For deaf arts news, regional contacts and useful factsheets visit the Royal National Institute for the Deaf website www.rnid.org.uk. Regional offices supply information on local organisations for the deaf.
For information on British Sign Language courses throughout the UK visit www.royaldeaf.org.uk.
For regional contacts and a wide selection of factsheets including working with visually impaired children go to the Royal National Institute for the Blind, website www.rnib.org.uk. Regional offices supply information on local organisations for the blind and partially sighted.
Art Through Touch www.members.aol.com/ATTouch/ promotes access to art activity for the visually impaired.
For details of the National Curriculum and links to the standards schemes of work site visit www.nc.uk.net
National Society for Education of Art and Design www.nsead.org offers information, publications and resources.
Documentation of projects and useful guidelines for working with young people outside formal education can be found at www.youngpeopleandmuseums.org.uk
The National Institute of Adult Continued Learning www.niace.org.uk provides information on its 'Older and Bolder' project and useful links for working with older people.
The Age Exchange www.age-exchange.org.ukworks with older people on reminiscence projects and offers training to community arts workers.
Rosemary Shirley is a freelance artist/educator. She works with galleries on education projects in the South of England and London and has developed an Artists Resource Centre at Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth.
Online information and support from the Voluntary Arts Network (VAN).
Engage (National Association for Gallery Education).
Networking events and opportunities.
Criminal Records Bureau.
Information line: T: +44 870 909 0811
Health and Safety Executive.
Scrap Store Network.
Rosemary Shirley is Interface editor, she writes about art for magazines, websites and galleries, she teaches at Goldsmiths, Birkbeck and University of Sussex.
First published: a-n.co.uk April 2003
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