Although I have not finished all the activities I outlined to use the professional development bursary for, I think now is a good time to look at how I have used the mentoring sessions it was mainly for.

For part of the proposal of this bursary, I was keen to have mentoring sessions which were more formalised than the irregular chats my mentor and I had previously had. I felt that this could keep advice more focused and a real tangible outcome for my development would occur.

At the beginning of the year, we were involved in a project together applying for funding to provide workshops for a local youth group, so there was quite a bit of crossover. This included looking at how to write the proposal and formalise the budget, both areas I wanted to improve upon. Although the sessions we had together were not so formal, this was a good way to spend the time working on a live project.

We looked at mentor agreements, and what we both wanted to gain from the arrangement – this is an important point to note, in that mentoring should not be seen as a one way thing or service, but more of a conversation and agreement between both parties. There has to be something to gain for both sides, otherwise there isn’t balance.

Time has often been an issue – getting time together which suits both on paper seems easy but has actually been quite hard! This by no means has been through lack of commitment, merely the product of both working freelance and other obligations to fill; family life and so on. In the middle of the year, we drifted back to regular conversations and emails.

However, last week we had a planned long catch up session. Having the chance first to exchange stories of shows, exhibitions and places visited and put these in context was great. In relation to our geographical location, it is so important to get out and visit museums and galleries elsewhere on a regular basis, as the surrounding area does not offer enough. By sharing these experiences and having a forum to discuss them, it keeps it current for me and maintains the habit of critical thinking and discussion.

I felt there was a lot for me to discuss at this session and wanted to keep focused as I find I can get distracted into talking at length on one thing to the detriment of others – so I printed out a list of topics I felt I needed to touch on. Although this felt a little business-like, it certainly worked and kept us on track. We steadily worked through each one, which of course seemed to lead into each other due to the nature of things being discussed – a project I had recently worked on and reflections on that, where next and deciding on a future funding applications, this then led onto work I have been doing, which led onto ideas for career development and so on.

Although the list felt formal, the conversation did not and we were on the same wavelength about many things – Susan would start to suggest something and I’d have it written down already to discuss! This is a great reflection on how mentoring or coaching should work – not perhaps seen as advice, but facilitation for me to make my own decisions and enabling my skills to develop in these areas.

I believe a good mentoring session should leave you really positive with many things to go away with and look at and get excited about – it should be motivational whilst reassuring you that you are on the right path and to have confidence in your abilities.

We’ll continue like this for the remainder of our sessions up to the end of the year, but I am sure our exchange of ideas and forum for discussion will continue for much longer.


One of the main projects I have been working on this year has been Exchange Residency North.

Earlier in the year I secured local funding though the Highland Visual Artist and Craft Makers Awards for a project I had been developing since moving here last year. When I first moved here, I started to look for other local emerging contemporary artists to network and collaborate with. I found this to be quite a different experience from living in a larger city – these two things seem to happen in different ways for a number of reasons: travel issues, distances between people, (sometimes) lack of local support, less events to naturally meet at to name a few. I felt that instead of applying for funding to make a body of new work and exhibit it, my organisational and collaborative side of my practice would be better developed in using funding to pull together artists like me to explore rural and urban identities and look at how artists network and collaborate in places like this where I now lived.

One of the areas I have been developing with my mentor Susan, is writing proposals and setting budgets. It was really encouraging to see this application successfully received – and this project was an ideal opportunity to see if my budget estimations were correct and how the project as a whole would pan out, from what I had originally planned.

Alongside looking at artists and how we work where we are, I felt there was real scope to involve and learn from the communities in which we live. I was keen that although the plan was for a group of artists to work together for a week, that it would be accessible to all. I devised a loose schedule which was open to work on really anything (I kept the output as undefined so we could all own it) but interspersed with particular events. Events included artist presentations, where we all had a chance to present our work to each other and the public. This was extremely beneficial in learning the similarities and interests and ways of working, which really aided in the development of the week. We had a roundtable discussion – having researched some suitable texts on the themes we would be investigating, these were shared with the group and presented and discussed informally in an open event. It felt really good and relevant to have a critical and contextual focus behind the other investigative work and collaborative outputs we had on the go. Lastly we had a closing event where we had the opportunity to present the work we had done over the week and reflect on possible next steps for the project – I had always thought of it being open ended, that the weeklong residency would be a starting point for other activity.

Next, I’ll write a more reflective piece to discuss the project in more detail. Although this sort of task can sometimes seem a little tiresome, I feel it is important to give time and importance to reflective activity so we are not just stuck in a routine of working through ideas and projects without looking and their success, failures and potential alternative routes of investigation.