Behind the Scenes: Zara the new production from Mind the Gap

In the first of three blogs looking behind the scenes at Mind the Gap‘s latest production Zara, their Executive Director Julia Skelton opens up the process of creating a large-scale outdoor project that illuminates the stories and challenges faces by learning-disabled parents.

Big things are happening at Mind the Gap right now. REALLY big things in the shape of a giant baby puppet – bigger than a double decker bus – that will be at centre of our forthcoming outdoor show ZARA!

Created in partnership with outdoor arts experts Walk the Plank – the team behind the celebrations of XVIIth Manchester Commonwealth Games and numerous UK and European Capitals of Culture – ZARAis the final chapter in the Daughters of Fortune project.

This project, initiated and artistically led by Mind the Gap’s resident Director Joyce Nga Yu Lee, was inspired by the experience of one of our learning-disabled artists.

In 2015 during a chat over a cuppa with Mind the Gap artist Alison Colborne she mentioned that she had to leave early because her sister Pippa – who is also on the autistic spectrum and was expecting a baby – was undergoing a major assessment in order to be able to keep her baby; “Tell me more” said Joyce – and the Daughters of Fortune project was born.

Right from the start Joyce’s vision was to create a large-scale outdoor project that illuminated the stories and the challenges faced by learning-disabled parents.

But in order to achieve this, we had to delve deeply into this complex subject to fully understand it. The building blocks towards the ZARA events included working with researcher Dr Kate Theodore of Royal Holloway University London (RHUL) to interview and analyse the stories of learning-disabled people with direct experience of parenthood. This led first to interactive forum theatre piece Anna, and then small-scale touring show Mia. Both shows tell stories in different ways for audiences in intimate settings.

And now it’s time to GO LARGE!

ZARA will bring these issues to a much wider and bigger audience. It doesn’t argue that there is a simple or one-size-fits-all solution, only that learning-disabled people’s views, opinions and voices need to have equal weight to others in any decision-making process.

This theme – i.e. giving voice to learning-disabled people – is the common thread through all of Mind the Gap’s work. Founded in 1988 by Susan Brown and Tim Wheeler, the company was set up to put learning-disabled artists centre stage and enable them to speak up for themselves. The legacy continues.

In 2019, as we mark the company’s 30th year, the success of Mind the Gap’s progress is evident in our multiple and varied projects.

We are thrilled to be working with internationally renowned physical theatre company Gecko on our next touring show. In June we start the main development and rehearsal phase to create a co-production that will tour in England in autumn 2019 and spring 2020 and then internationally.

Through the Engage and Staging Change projects, made possible by investment from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England, we are building strong, lasting relationships with theatre venues and local communities across the country. We want to create a strong audience base for our national touring shows, and to help establish ongoing, regular opportunities for learning-disabled people to get involved with the arts all year round.

We are also part of an Erasmus+ project, working in collaboration with fellow leading European learning-disability focused theatre companies L’Oiseau Mouche (France) and Moomsteatern (Sweden). Working with academic experts Jonathan Meth and Professor Matthew Reason from York St John’s University, we are exploring new ways for learning-disabled artists to reflect and evaluate their own practice.

So, there is much to celebrate! But having worked with the company for over 20 years now, I am frustrated by the fundamental inequalities that persist for learning-disabled people. While positive progress has been made to create more opportunities for learning-disabled artists, participants and audiences I think that we still lag behind other disability arts areas.

The reasons for this are many and varied. One factor is that it’s rare for learning-disabled people to have been, or to be, deeply engaged in disability activism. This is partly because the way such activism is conducted, and the language associated with it, are often inaccessible. Also, the role of non-disabled people in learning-disability arts (directors, producers, marketing) and activism is often viewed with suspicion and cynicism by people with physical and sensory disabilities.

Most importantly of all – particularly when it comes to creating meaningful paid work opportunities for learning disabled artists – is the inflexibility and inherent prejudice of the benefits system. The vast majority of practicing artists ply their trade through short and medium work contracts – often on a freelance basis (I know this is far from ideal for anyone, but it is the reality of the UK arts sector right now). However, it is impossible for anyone who is reliant on welfare support to meet their essential needs to participate in short term contract work without jeopardising their entitlement to benefits in the longer-term.

Further, our experience and research reveal a lot of inconsistency and blatant prejudice and hostility, towards individuals in receipt of benefits. Mind the Gap has provided evidence to support a number of appeals over the past two years, all of which have been overturned, but only because of the persistence and support of active parents, guardians and/or social workers. Those without such support are seriously at risk of being on the end of decisions that create genuine hardship and personal crisis.

These issues are the subject of many a rant in the Mind the Gap office. Luckily, our team is mostly optimistic and always determined not to let such issues get in the way of making great work with fantastic people!

Julia Skelton, Executive Director, Mind the Gap

 ZARA is at:

The Piece Hall, Halifax on Friday 19 & Saturday 20 April

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (home to Imperial War Museum), Southwark on Friday 10 & Saturday 11 May

Find out more, get involved and book tickets.

Listen to Mind the Gap on BBC Radio 4 Front Row.

How I Cope – Ruth Puckering

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How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing. 

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice,  How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

 

Ruth Puckering is Interim Executive Director, Hull Truck Theatre

 

Invited to write an article about How I Cope, my first thought is, cope with what? I’m working in an industry I love, currently thriving in an opportunity for career development in my home-city theatre. I work in creative, fast-paced, challenging and rewarding environment. Surely I am living the dream? 

And yet… 

On a daytoday basis I have responsibility for the financial and operational running of the theatre, and the leadership of the staff team. Without reciting the job description, that includes ultimate responsibility for and oversight of the business side of things – Finance, Administration, Communications and Box Office, Development and FundraisingFront of House – and importantly, ensuring that the company remains financially secure and legally compliant. 

The job requires long hours, often with backtoback meetings, which mean my own to do list gets squeezed. There’s very little wiggle room for not being at my best, any one day might jump from working on budgets to meeting a stakeholder, from catching up the senior team to checking the payroll, from writing a funding bid to discussing possible show titles for the next season – you get the picture. And then someone will tell me the toilets are broken ahead of the evening performance...  

All the while, the unread email count is ticking up in the hundreds. 

And then there’s trying to maintain a ‘good work-life balance’ – that catch-all phrase that supposedly includes relationships with my fiancé, family and friends, fitness, fun, food and sleep. In reality this also includes doing the food shop, housework, getting the car MOT’d, replying to the group WhatsApp to confirm you’re still alive; all that lovely life admin. And what about the glorious joy of time spent doing absolutely nothing?! 

Most people seem to face similar challenges – juggling multiple demands alongside the self-imposed pressure to do it all brilliantly. Like most people I sometimes feel stressed out, tired and under pressure, which affects my mood and ability to deliver effectively.  

So, How I Cope. The first thing for me to acknowledge is that my coping levels vary, and that’s ok.  

If the issue I’m facing is a short-term thing, then my instinct is to give it more – get up earlier, work longer, harder to get it done, but this approach has a shelf life and leads to the stress and tiredness simply escalating if it goes on too long. Cue a crash and cold sores. 

For a more sustainable, longerterm approach I try to work in certain habits, behaviours and priorities, such as regular exercise, a good diet and sufficient sleep – none of which are rocket science. On top of the basics I use rigid diary control and endless to do lists to maximise and protect my time. 

I have found that the trick to exercise is to do an activity that I find fun, and to involve someone else so that I can’t cancel on myself at the last minute when I’m feeling tired. In my case I have a horse, and the couple of hours that I spend with Murphy on an evening or weekend don’t feel like an effort because it’s what I most enjoy doing. The fact that I’m getting fresh air and exercise is a bonus. That animals are so sensitive to moods is very helpful – at the end of a busy day I have to leave my stress and tension in the car when I arrive at the yard, or I will transmit it straight to Murphy. By the time I’m getting back in to go home, those anxieties have either disappeared entirely or shrunk to something that can be dealt with in the morning. I am a more relaxed and happier person when I’ve spent time at the stables, which is something from which everyone around me benefits. 

I have mentioned meticulous diary planning and time management. This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I achieve loads, but I am often over ambitious with what I think I can fit in, which leaves me feeling like I’ve failed, even if there are just two unticked items on the end of a long list. Assuming that I have been reasonable with my self-expectations, planning ahead makes me feel in control of my day.  

For example, if I am at work I would rarely say, ‘Let’s catch up at some point tomorrow. I prefer to make a firm plan and put a 2pm half hour meeting into Outlook. This helps me to quickly see the shape of my day and I’ll also block time out of my diary as an appointment if there’s a task I need to focus on. Outside of work the diary planning helps to make sure I have time for friends, to go out for dinner, to the theatre or cinema.  

Something else I learned on a leadership training course was to analyse my time and see where I can insert a little more joy. Who doesn’t want more joy! This was a great exercise to do and two lasting legacies remain. Firstly, when I am on my daily commute, instead of raging against the bumpertobumper traffic, I listen to audio books borrowed from the library. I am currently listening to Sorcery by Terry Pratchett, and look forward to my drive.  

Secondly, the walk from my car to the theatre takes ten minutes and coincides exactly with the time when my friend Laura emerges from the Tube to walk to the hospital where she works in London. Every morning, we chat about what lies ahead in our days and stay connected to the detail of each other’s lives. I am a terrible morning person, but building in these two things as firm habits mean I arrive at work happy, and better ready to cope.   

Whatever I am coping with, I try to retain perspective and ask myself if a problem will matter in five years’ time. If not, which is mostly the case, then chances are I am over thinking things now. If I am truly down the rabbit hole and not coping at all, this is when I need my trusted inner circle of friends, family and colleagues to remind me how it looks from the outside. Turning to the most relevant person and asking for help, advice or just to listen makes all the difference. More often than not, the first step is to slow down and break the situation into manageable chunks, usually before identifying things that can wait or be jettisoned from the to do list altogether.   

None of this is making me sound like a ground breaking coping guru, but I’ve built a system around myself to prop me up when things are challenging. What’s also helpful is that every six months or so I take a step back to reflect on whether my life feels like it’s running well. This can be a reminder to press reset and get habits and priorities back on track.  

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.

 

 

How I Cope – Emily Clarke

©Emily Clarke

How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing. 

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

 

Our first blog in the series is by Emily Clarke, Curatorial Intern at Girl Museum and Museum Assistant at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service 

I am a museum professional currently working at Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service and volunteering with the Girl Museum. I have suffered with anxiety and depression since my teens and have recently been diagnosed with PTSD.  

For years I have struggled with accepting my mental health issues. I’ve asked myself, why am I feeling this way, and what do I tell people if I’m feeling low or anxious?  

As obvious as it may sound, talking has really helped me to cope better over the past year. Deciding to be more open about my mental health has been one of the greatest, most liberating things I’ve ever done. Being honest about how I’m feeling has changed my relationships with friends, family, colleagues & healthcare professionals.  

I am lucky to be high-functioning and I know there are people suffering a lot worse than I am, but recently I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter how big or small you think your issues are if you’re being affected by them. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised that mental health is just as important as physical health, which is spoken about freely and without shame, so why should it be any different for mental health? 

When I joined the sector as a Training Museum Trainee in 2015, I was surrounded by a supportive team that I could be open with about my anxiety. Finding people who would listen and take my mental health seriously was really refreshing. I realised how important talking was as a coping mechanism for me. 

I continued being upfront about my mental health when I started a new role at the British Museum. Being open with my team about my feelings of imposter syndrome and anxieties around my new role meant we could work together to create achievable deadlines, organise regular check-ins and organise counselling through HR. Once my contract finished, I went on a museum tour of Europe; mixing my love for museums and travel to support my wellbeing. After this, I returned to my local museums & joined the Girl Museum so that I can live at home. I continue to be vocal about mental health, alongside supporting others in the sector as best I can. 

Saying that, I do understand how difficult talking about your mental health is (I didn’t do so for over a decade!) Before I was able to speak about it, writing really helped.   

When I was 11, I was told I suffered from anxiety, after around 3 years of anxiety attacks. A few years later, I started feeling really down and cried… a lot! My mum gave me a notebook so that I could write my feelings down, which meant that she could better understand (and help) me.  

This is something I have continued to do and find it really helps whether I’ve had a good or bad day. I recently got Fearne Cotton’s Happy: The Journal, which includes space to write about your day, poses questions and also provides self-care suggestions. For me, writing is a great way to document what’s going on in my head and get thoughts and feelings out as well as being a source of reflection. Having a journal is really useful during counselling to help pinpoint patterns as it gives me something tangible to refer to instead of relying on my memory (which is the first thing to be affected when I am stressed). 

Over the past few years I have developed a bank of self-care ideas that have really helped me. In April I went to the Women of the World festival at Southbank Centre and attended a workshop run by Georgia Dodsworth, founder of World of Self Care .

She introduced me to the idea of a ‘Self-Care Jar’, a jar ‘filled with lots of Self-Care tips, affirmations and kind notes to self.’ I pick a piece of paper out of the jar when I’m feeling down and need cheering up or to reward myself when I’ve done something I feel proud of. My jar is filled with things such as ‘have a bubble bath and have an early night’, ‘go for a long dog walk’, ‘binge watch a new series on Netflix’ and my personal favourite, ‘visit a free museum’.  

Museums have not only changed my career goals over the past 3 years but are also a great form of self-care for me. They give me something to focus on, I always learn something new and they give me an excuse to get out of the house & socialise on days when all I want to do is stay in bed. 

Since entering the sector I have been overwhelmed by the support that I have found both in person and online. Groups like Museum Detox (http://museumdetox.com), Museum as Muck and the twitter page @Museum_Wellness all help me to talk through work-based anxieties or challenges and give out really great advice. I am hugely grateful for these groups and the people that have supported me since I joined the sector in 2015. 

One of my New Year’s goals for 2019 is to continue igniting conversations about mental health in the sector. I hope continuing to talk, write and share ideas with others will not only help colleagues, but also normalise the issues of mental health to help inform decisions about accessibility, inclusivity and representation for the communities we, as heritage organisations, aim to serve.  

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.  

How I Cope – Hannah Mason

©Hannah Mason

How I Cope is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.  

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice, How I Cope aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

 

Our third blog in the series is by Hannah Mason, of The Content Managers, an agency that support artists and creative businesses to represent themselves successfully and authentically. 

 

Work . Life . Balance 

Do we need a change of order – a new perspective? Shouldn’t it be life-work balance? The definition of work-life balance is ‘the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.’ 

The mere fact that we put the importance of work before the quality of life creates tension that we can easily avoid. We all have challenges and stressors but how we find ways to cope with these can either enhance our experiences or damage our mental and physical health.  

 

My life: 

I’m a single mother with two children, one of whom has just finished his teenage years and the other is in the middle of hers. Now they are older I have more ‘me’ space and can choose to dedicate all my time to work if I want to. When they were younger and I was doing everything – the school run, shopping, cleaning, mentoring, entertaining and bringing in the bacon – it was a different story.  

Coupled with this I am neurodivergent. I have dyslexia and PTSD. So I literally think differently to most people, all the time – at great speed. Getting my mind to stop thinking is the trick. This can be said of many people and can be the cause of much stress at work. There is unlimited access to information, an abundance of possibility at our fingertips through our smart-phones and tablets. We communicate with people 24/7 across the world and compare our lives with the ‘perfect’ lives of people we will never meet. How then do we quieten our minds and slow down? 

I open my eyes each morning, think about work, the bills I need to pay, the people I need to contact and as I reach for my mobile phone to silence the alarm, I glance at the emails that have come into my personal and work accounts, the WhatsApp messages left overnight and the urgent items on my to-do list. I’m not even vertical yet! Sound familiar?  

 

My work: 

I work in the arts because I am passionate about creativity being essential to human existence. We are sentient cultural beings who communicate with expression, words and sounds. There is satisfaction in sharing creativity and seeing audience reaction to the work. Some of us are perfectionists, and in our drive to produce the best, we can lose our sense of self. Most arts organisations require multi-taskers – people who can stretch across departments. From marketers who fundraise to CEO’s who clean the loo we are used to chipping in and taking on more than the job description. Starting at 9 and downing tools at 5 is practically unheard of. So, how can we make our pressured, fast paced work-lives more manageable? Here are my top tips: 

1. Flexible working has been my saviour for over 20 years. Most arts organisations have a flexible working policy so talk to HR or your line-manager about yours. Having caring responsibilities makes managing your 9 to 5 a headache and leaves you torn between competing priorities. Working flexibly means that when the kids sleep I can work for a couple of hours, so I don’t feel guilty about spending quality time with them and quality time at the computer. Equally, I’m not worried about work that isn’t done because I know I can fit it in. This has been possible because I have had task-driven leadership.  

2. I lean into technology. Connectivity has never been easier and there is no reason to be tied to a desk or an office in a particular city. WUNDERLIST is a free tool that you can sync on your phone, tablet and desktop so that everyone in the team knows what been covered and what is outstanding. I list actions and share them with managers and clients. If you want to get a meatier project management tool there are free programmes that let you set up workspaces such as SlackTrello and my favourite, Podio. Or you can buy subscription software such as Monday.com and Asana starting at about £8 a month.  

3. Change your attitude. Try not to over-complicate things. I use the power of 3. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list, limit your list to 3 tasks and only add to the list when it dips under 3. That way you can isolate the things that are causing you the most stress or are the most important.   

Even after getting your life-work balance sorted, things can come up that unbalance everything. That sounds pessimistic but it is realistic. Work, life or both will throw things up that will unbalance everything. Accepting that it is never a complete but an evolving picture will help. Think of the famous Leonardo da Vinci quote “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. Whilst I’m not saying abandon your balance I am saying stop trying to control it and adapt to the changes.  

4. Finally, for more balance, make time for yourself. Put things that make you happy on the to-do list and do at least one of them every day. It can be lo-tech like walking the dog or having a bubble bath. Or you can use your tech again by using a mindfulness or meditation tool such as Headspace or Calm. If you are going to have your phone on the bedside table, you can try apps to help you regulate your sleep patterns. A lack of sleep can add to feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. A couple of examples are Sleep CyclePillow and Sleep Timer.  

I use Insight Timer to sooth the day’s troubles away. If meditation and mindfulness is not for you, get inspiration from an audio book, a podcast or a Ted talk. Breaking up the day by stepping away from work and changing pace or focus will give you the energy you need to have a more productive day, evening and night. 

Life-work balance is an art in itself – one that takes practice, failure, self-awareness, self-forgiveness and compassion. Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for everything you do – not just the successful things.  

 

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.

How I Cope – Antonia Canal

©Antonia Canal

How I Cope  is an on-going blog series where colleagues from across the sector – and at different stages of their career – share their experiences of self-care and wellbeing.   

Mental health and balancing work and life is increasingly recognised as essential to our happiness and ability to make the most of our talents. By encouraging greater awareness and exchanging tips and helpful advice,  How I Cope  aims to create a space for us to support each other, and the health of our sector in general.  

Our second blog in the series is by Antonia Canal, Development Officer, National Lottery Heritage Fund 

Managing Stress 

Let’s talk about stress, that thing we juggle on a daily basis. In ‘How to Stay Sane’, Philippa Perry says ‘the right kind of stress…will push us to learn new things and be creative, but it will not be so overwhelming that it tips us over into panic’. In this post, I’ll share my approach to keeping stress productive.  

To begin with, I must acknowledge that stress is closely linked to our mental health. Mind has an excellent managing stress guide, with links on where to get extra help. I would urge you to seek additional support, if that is what you need. For what it’s worth, here’s how I stay on top of stress. 

Let’s get physical 

I experience stress physically. My heart rate goes up, my breathing gets shallow, and I feel nervous and edgy. Managing stress starts with taking care of my bod – it’s all about the basics.  

I recommend drinking plenty of water. I try and keep an eye on how many glasses I’m having each day. Next, watch the caffeine. I love tea, I adore coffee, but when I’m under pressure, that extra caffeine hit can be the difference between keeping calm and feeling the nerves. Lastly, be well rested. Get your sleep! Stress can really affect my sleep, making it even more important to clock off, unwind and hit the zzzzs. Remember, 6-9 hours a night is golden! 

Tricks of the Trade 

So, we’re well rested, hydrated and watching the caffeine. But stress still creeps up. Times like these, I rely on my various tools, be they digital or off-line, to keep me together. One of my stress triggers is feeling I have a tonne of stuff to do, all urgent and all due right now. I feel overwhelmed, I can’t make decisions and I hit the avoidance hard. Sound familiar? 

Keeping on top of task management makes a big difference. I take this seriously! My last job sent me off for prioritisation training. It was an area I really struggled in. The light bulb moment was being asked what I understood as the essentials of my role. At first, it felt like too big a question, where do you even start? But, when I stopped and really considered it, I found I could narrow down what was critical. If you had to describe your main purpose at work in a line or two, where would you start? Gauging what’s fundamental really helps when prioritising that mega workload.  

I rely on clear methods for organising my work. It can be whatever works for you, be it a handwritten list, a trello board (game changer for me!) or your calendar. The key is to consciously know how you manage tasks and use your method with intention. Set deadlines and be realistic about what you can achieve. Recognise what you must absolutely prioritise for that day or week, and stick to it. And know that even if things slip, the world will not end. Easier said than done, but worth remembering! 

A top-tip on the task management, stress-remedying front is remove your inbox from the to-do-list mix. If an email is going to take more than 5 mins to deal with, bump it up to your task list. And, if you can, close your inbox when not in use. The notifications distraction is real and a proper stress starter for me. I try and only check my emails 2-3 times a day, with my inbox otherwise closed or minimised (see how I cheated there?). 

My next trick from the toolbox is to take a break, an easy one to skip when under pressure. You’re entitled to breaks, and if you’re feeling stressed you need one. I try to get up from my desk once an hour or so, even if it’s just for some water. Get the blood flowing, step away, and take a minute or two. And you know what’s coming next – take that lunch break! If you can, eat away from your workstation. Get some fresh air, do a quick 10 minutes around the block, throw in a Beyonce soundtrack for added benefit.  

Call on your crew 

Even when on top of my various tips and tricks, stress can still inch in. Sometimes, I need to reach out to those around me. We often have allies in our places of work. You might just need to check-in; you might need some tasks taken off you. But you shouldn’t be stressing out alone. Remember the networks you have outside of work too, be they formal or otherwise. I have to shout out the fantastic Museum Detox, a network of fellow BAME heritage professionals, and a regular source of support and solidarity for me in my daily grind.  

If you’re someone who is regularly fire fighting stressful situations at work, chances are your interventions will only go so far. When stress is out of your sphere of influence or control, there will only ever be so much you can do. Speak to your manager. What could be taken off your plate? Speak to your union rep. Ultimately, your health and wellbeing has to come first. 

 

If you are interested in contributing to the How I Cope series, please contact us. We welcome anonymous submissions, as well as named.

How to…embrace uncertainty and change. Blog: Amy Firth

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AMA’s Head of Marketing, Amy Firth, kicks off our ‘How to…’ series of blogs with some tips on how to manage change and come out smiling.

As the old Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times”. Working in the arts and cultural sector is never boring – which is one of the things that makes it so rewarding – but the pace of change, and the uncertainty of the political and economic environment in which we find ourselves, can add even more stress and challenge to roles that are already demanding. 

In my role as Head of Marketing – Membership at the AMA, I know that reaching and engaging audiences is what our members do, day in, day out. But the detail of what they do, day in, day out, has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. 

The pace of change has never been so fast – and our members have borne the brunt of much of that change. We’ve seen what our members do simultaneously diversify and specialise. Social Media Manager was a role that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Yet while this has become a discipline in its own right, we also see responsibility for social media being rolled in with countless other duties for those working in organisations where there may well be just one person working on the full gamut of communications and audience development responsibilities.

However specialised or generalised, however large or small your team, it can be tough to keep up with change, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. AMA’s been supporting our members for a quarter of a century, and weathered our own fair share of change, and here we share some of our tips to get you through. S

  • Stay focused on your audience

Audiences are key to so many aspects of arts and culture: key to the bottom line, key to resilience and sustainability, key to achieving the potential for the benefits of art and culture to be realised, through shared experiences, provoking thought, supporting mental wellbeing and more. This is why we do what we do. 

If you stay close to your audiences, you stay tuned in to what they want, what they respond to, and challenge your own assumptions and thinking. Don’t assume that what they wanted, or what worked last year, is the same this year. Don’t assume that groups you haven’t engaged successfully with are impossible to engage. Talk to them. Try new things. Stay focused on your audiences, and keep an eye to the big, longer-term picture in the relationships you build with them.

We provide a range of support in making sure that you are audience-focused in both your short and long-term activity, which you can find at our website.

  • Find the opportunity in change 

If the circumstances change, then it’s a good time to take a risk and try something new. Why keep doing things the same way, if the situation is no longer the same? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your thinking – particularly when it can feel like you are just churning away to keep on top of things. 

Investing in some training can be a good way to reinvigorate your thinking and help you keep up with change. Even if you don’t have the budget or time to get out of the office, change is an opportunity to review your approach and try new things. Things like reading up on what’s worked for others can also help – and if you want some inspiration, you can find case studies on AMACultureHive online. Whether it’s relatively simple things like mixing up your pricing, or more complex community ambassador programmes, someone will have tried it and be able to share their learning.

  • Value the people around you 

Our people are our greatest resource. The sector in which we work is not one renowned for its high salaries, and what generally attracts people is a passion for arts and culture. That bond of shared belief in what would be called “the product” in other industries, is quite possibly unique. As such, there is a capacity people to go above and beyond, which can be taken for granted. 

In tough times, it’s important to make the people you work with feel valued, and also make sure that the demands placed on them are reasonable. If you are in a leadership or line-management role, it might seem easier to do this – but often it’s something overlooked in the “busyness”. Even if you’re not in a line management role, passing on a compliment to a colleague or acknowledging the contribution they have made can really help boost positivity and a sense of team spirit. It can be a little thing, but it can make a real difference to the tone of the workplace. Our recent member benchmarking survey included how valued people feel as a measure of sector health, and we’re looking forward to tracking this over time.

  • Take time for yourself

It’s easy to get stuck on the hamster wheel. It’s easy to get ground down, to become cynical, to burn yourself out. Look after your own wellbeing – there will never be more than 24 hours in a day, however much we might wish otherwise, and if you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll never find it. This might be a case of something as simple as building a walk around the block into your day, to get some fresh air and clear your head, or taking a 10- minute mindfulness break. As one of our AMA Conference 2018 delegates said following our closing keynote “embracing the ‘flow of slow’ is not only essential for us to think clearly and strategically in arts marketing”. It’s important to create space if we are to do our best work, and also manage our own mental health.

It can feel like the arts and cultural sector is not an easy one to work in, but even in tough times, we can look at the difference we make, and feel proud of our work. A healthy cultural sector is one which is resilient and sustainable, and a key part of that is making sure that we look after ourselves and our colleagues. While times might be tough, we can still keep faith with the importance of what we do. Our current political, economic and social challenges mean that arts and cultural organisations have a clear and crucial role to play in our communities – local and national – and that the work we do has never been more vital. I am proud that AMA remains here to support our members, and the wider sector, in that work.

 

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