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Superpowers and a week at the Clockhouse

What it Takes to Succeed in the Arts

‘Wear blinkers.’ This succinct suggestion for how to become resilient when working in the arts was recently offered in a survey we are currently carrying out amongst arts professionals.

The survey forms part of a year long research and development project, funded by Arts Council England, which is looking at what professionalism can mean, particularly for women writers, and how to create a rounded model of the skills needed to fund, run and evaluate meaningful arts projects.

Sharing our skills has always been important to both of us. We met six years ago when we were paired for peer practice on a coaching course run jointly by NAWE and Arvon, and have continued to coach each other ever since. So when we received the funding for this project, and needed some clear time to organise the year, the Clock House at the Hurst seemed the ideal place for a planning retreat.

And it was perfect. We knew how the space – geographically as well as time – would mean that we could really explore what we wanted to achieve with our year, but we hadn’t anticipated just how deep we would be able to take our work. We covered the walls of the upstairs landing with post it notes, made big and small plans, took long walks where we discussed issues such as what professionalism meant to us and how we can get proper funding for our work, made videos, and wrote almost everywhere in the building and grounds. It was inspiring.

We also had a session on business development with the Hurst Centre Director, Natasha Carlish, because although – as one of our survey respondents said – we can often feel ‘lucky’ to work in the arts, that doesn’t mean we don’t also want sustainable careers.

Other aspects of the research project this year include working with ten Associate Artists – five from the North East and five from the South East, case studies, a fully evaluated arts project based in the library at Compton Verney, and an online survey on professionalism for creatives (which was devised at the Clock House). The survey is open until 31st January 2017, but already we have received some very interesting results.

Both of us would consider that we are writers first and foremost, so we were very keen when we took on this research to keep our own writing at the forefront. Right from the beginning we wanted it to be led by our practice as writers. So, for example, we added a question not often seen in surveys: what’s your professional superpower? Some people have got confused at that, but others know immediately what their superpower is. Answers have included vision, observation, respect, making new writers blossom, getting stuff done on time, laughter. But this is our favourite answer so far: ‘I am able to levitate just enough, on a good day, to rise above the noise and achieve perspective…’

We might also include a week at the Hurst!

If you would like to complete the survey on professionalism for creatives, it is anonymous and takes approximately twenty minutes, it can be found online here https://spreadsheetsandmoxie.wordpress.com/artist-survey/.

And if you would like to get in touch with us, our email is spreadsheetsandmoxie@gmail.com

Sarah Salway & Viccy Adams 


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