Two new guides encouraging artists to “have a greater say” by becoming trustees or board members have just been published on a-n Resources.

Written and researched by 2017/18 Clore Visual Artist Fellow Nicola Naismith, the guides show the important contribution that artists can make as trustees or board members of arts or other organisations, and the value to artists themselves of taking on such roles. There’s also advice from artists with governance experience on how to go about joining a board.

The guides are published to coincide with Trustees’ Week 2018 which takes place 12-16 November. This annual event aims to showcase the work that trustees do and highlight opportunities for people ‘from all walks of life to get involved and make a difference’. A series of events and webinars offering practical advice to those wishing to become trustees are taking place across the week, and Clore Leadership Programme has launched Cultural Governance Alliance, an initiative which seeks to champion, share and promote best practice in the governance of culture.

Most non-profit and charitable arts organisations in the UK are governed by a board, known as a board of trustees if the organisation has charitable status. Often made up of people with a range of skills and from different professions, and usually including legal, financial and human resources expertise, they share responsibility to monitor the activities undertaken by the organisation and ensure it operates within its stated aims.

Speaking about why it’s important to “add an artist into the mix” of trustees or board members, Naismith explains: “During my time as the Visual Artist Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme, I considered how artists could have a greater say in decision-making processes whilst still having time to practice.

“If we want to steer the arts agenda and influence artists’ pay, conditions, opportunities and career development, we need to find a way to be effectively heard. Now is the time for more artists to reach into decision-making rooms and increase impact and influence. Being part of governance is a way of having a greater say in the world, both within the arts and wider society, and is well worth the investment of time and effort.”

Among the artists interviewed by Naismith, Joseph Young says it’s important for artists like himself to “try to make the path for other artists easier”.

“I don’t claim to represent artists, but I have campaigned to ensure artists’ voices are heard,” says Young, who is a member of a-n’s Artists Council and also of the CVAN South East steering group. “I’ve always felt it best to be in the room rather than outside the room and shouting in.”

Young’s advice to artists who step up to become board members is to “be bold, talk to people, and if you have something to say, empower yourself by standing up and offering that”.

Also offering his advice is artist Harold Offeh, who joined the board of trustees at Wysing Arts Centre in March this year following a residency there in 2017. He says his main responsibilities as a trustee are to advocate and spread the word, “making sure artists understand what an amazing resource Wysing Arts Centre is.”

He adds: “I think it’s essential that artists have a presence on arts institutions boards. Those voices need to be heard.”

Wysing Arts Centre board observer Soheila Sokhanvari, who is also a studio holder at the Cambridgeshire-based organisation, says she has gained a better understanding of the organisation, as well as the opportunity to ask questions and represent fellow studio artists at the meetings.

She says: “I see my participation as my way of contributing to something that I believe in.”

Artists on boards guides are just published on a-n Resources. a-n members can access this and other resources at
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Nicola Naismith, Bring a different perspective, from an ongoing project ‘A folder called slogans, 2017/18’

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