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Artist / Curator / Freelancer

Sunset over Rodbourgh Common
Sunset over Rodbourgh Common

Once my partner and I settled in Stroud I set about expanding the work that I do. I wanted to figure out what creative career path to take and gain experience. That choice has given me the opportunity to work in a multitude of places. I have skills in lots of arts administration roles. Working freelance for a lot of venues in Stroud and the wider Gloucestershire area. I often feel like I have to switch hats for each role, which can sometimes get complicated when two jobs collide. Yet, on my website, I have so far presented only my 'Artist' hat. So I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about some of the other work that I do. Especially as I now have a new, more permanent role. This will either be an insight into my work. Or a demonstration of the complexities of being a full-time creative practitioner.

If you have ever scrolled over the "About Me" page, you will see the list of organisations that I have worked with over the last few years. In roles such as curation, graphic design, web design, and arts administration. These roles utilise the skills that I have developed within building my own practice. I have found that I can offer my skills to local arts organisations to help financially sustain me. With the additional benefits of expanding my networks and experience. In the beginning, I found that I was expected, as an Artist, to offer my time freely. With much of the start of my career devoted to volunteer or low-income work. This seems expected as a freelancer, and even more so as an artist. I would argue that could be keeping a lot of skilled creatives out of the workforce. Due to the unsustainable nature of the role. I can attest to the fact that I would not be in the position that I am without the dedicated support of my partner. However, over the last year, I have seen a big shift, as my reputation has become seen as "worth the money". Building up the network and reputation takes a considerable amount of effort and time. Unlike traditional careers, creatives rely heavily on word of mouth.

So, how do I pay my bills? Before a few weeks ago my jobs came through recommendations and being in the right place at the right time. When it comes to being a creative freelancer "networking" is as important as they say. But, when you are anxious, navigating that space takes a lot of energy. So the first thing I learned was how to use my energy effectively. I learned skills and met new people through working at a local gallery. Everything I do now has grown from that initial seed. In reality, I don't pay my bills. None of my creative jobs earn enough to qualify as a full-time living. I am in a privileged position that my partner covers most of our key living costs and I cover the smaller bills. And this reality is what hinders so many creatives from going from part to full time. This privileged position though isn't without complexities. One of the key factors behind this working style has been that it also has mental health benefits. Like so many, I deal with quite a few mental health hurdles, that I hope to feel comfortable talking about one day. But to summarise, I find a flexible work schedule helps to keep me working, while also giving me space where I need it.

So, what is the new job? I am the new "Gallery Curator" for Lansdown Hall & Gallery in Stroud. This is a job I have dreamed of doing. I will now have an active role in all bookings for the gallery. Including being able to expand my curatorial experience. I started at Lansdown as a volunteer in 2019. An opportunity that helped me to discover my passion for curation. This takes a more 'technician' for Lansdown Gallery, but I have to start somewhere. Lansdown Gallery is a community venue, offering a variety of exhibitions to gain experience with. Also, an insight into what it could take to run an independent gallery for local artists (another dream of mine).

Plus it is a part-time role, allowing me to continue my extra work. But what is your extra work? Throughout the year I get temporary contract offers, and these can change year to year. For example, I am currently working on the SITE Festival brochure for SVA. This is an open studio event in Stroud and the brochure needs to include over 100 artists. Plus maps, information, and extra events happening of the two weeks in June. I love this job, it plays into my love of data organisation and design program knowledge. I get front row seats to see how a large arts organisation runs and I get a sneak preview of all that artist's work. Plus the SVA team are wonderful to work with. On other occasions, I have worked on websites, like for Stroud Film Festival during the lockdown. Or expand an artist's market opportunities through social media or mailing lists. My curation work hasn't only been at Lansdown, as I am recruited by artists and charities to help with exhibitions. And I have organised exhibitions independently. The downside is the dry spells, or if events aren't happening - the pandemic years - or the time between contracts. It can be extremely tiring in its own way just to track what I am doing when, or where. And I am sure you can imagine the complexities of tracking the financial stability of such a career.

Where does all this lead? Hopefully, towards more stability, and finding work that is sustainable for me. Avoiding burnout is a major factor, and remaining positive when things don't go to plan. I want to expand what I do and improve. I am grateful that things have opened up again and artists can get back to organising events. And I am grateful to see how my career prospects have broadened in the last few years. I sometimes think about applying for a Masters in curation as a way of furthering my knowledge and skills. But for now, I am happy to start my new job and continue with the variety of work that I do.

I would love to answer any questions or offer advice where I can. Please contact me or comment below.

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