Behind the Scenes: Zara – the new production from Mind the Gap. Blog 2 – Lisa Mallaghan.


In the second of three blogs looking behind the scenes at Mind the Gap‘s latest production Zara, their Senior Producer Lisa Mallaghan explores their partnership with Walk the Plank and follows the process from the initial idea to the production going on sale.

Behind the Scenes: Zara by Mind the Gap. Blog 2 by Lisa Mallaghan.

In our last blog, Julia Skelton – Executive Director of Mind the Gap – talked about the company, and where the idea for ZARA came from.

In this blog, I’m going to tell you a bit about what happened next.

So, where were we? ZARA Director Joyce Nga Yu Lee came into the office and said:

‘I’ve had an idea – I want to make a giant baby!’

and it fell to me, as Senior Producer, and the team to work out how to make it a reality – no small challenge!

First step

I managed to bag us a coveted slot to pitch ‘Daughters of Fortune 3: Big Baby [working title]’ at the 2015 ISAN (now known as Outdoor Arts UK) Ideas Summit; it was a three-minute opportunity to pitch the project to an audience of industry people who could make our project happen – we had to get it right.

Joyce Nga Yu Lee, Mind the Gap Actress Anna Marie Heslop and I painted our vision for what has since become ZARA: a mixture of Godzilla, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, and the film District 9.

It worked!

In the following 30 minutes, we had our Co-Producers (Walk the Plank), and our London Location Partner (Southwark Council), on board, and in the ‘Marketplace’ afterwards we added Emergency Exit Arts to our team – we were off.

Next step

Fundraising. – a detailed, strategic and complex budget and fundraising strategy was led by the brilliant Julia Skelton, who has taken Mind the Gap from strength to strength over the years, and our Business Development Officer (and bid writer extraordinaire) Jess Boyes.

Daughters of Fortune ‘phase 3’ not only includes ZARA, but also an updated forum theatre tour ‘ANNA’, a new series of interviews and published research, exhibitions, digital outputs, legacy events and more – a target budget of £850,000 was needed. Over two years a series of successful bids to Arts Council England’s Ambitions For Excellence, Wellcome Trust, The Rayne Foundation, Calderdale Community Foundation and others got us most of the way there and in July 2018 we were green lit.

Of course, between October 2015 and the funding being put in place in July 2018, the majority of the partnership, project development and planning had to get underway. It’s always a nerve-wracking period – knowing you are asking your partners to invest significant time and resources, and to keep large chunks of their company diaries clear, in the faith that the funding will come through. There were a number of bumps along the way, with unexpected ‘clauses’ set by funders, and some unsuccessful smaller bids. But we got there.

Whilst writing this I looked back to remind myself how the relationship between us at Mind the Gap – England’s leading learning disability theatre company – and world renowned outdoor arts specialists, Walk the Plank had started.

It was like this:

‘I’m thinking that a few days of exploration between Walk the Plank and our artists, to see what is possible and try out some ideas might be fun and could help us work out any future potential.’

That starting point of inviting play and collaboration, being gradual and careful, has infiltrated the collaboration between our companies.

We took time to understand each other, how our companies work, our priorities and our strengths. Walk the Plank brought their exceptional skill and experience in outdoor arts, and Mind the Gap brought 30 years of experience in staging world-leading work by learning-disabled performers. From the outset, our challenge was to bring these two forms together; we knew wanted to make an outdoor spectacle that would tell a meaningful story and both move and wow the audience; we wanted the talents and stories of learning disabled people to be centre-stage – not just as performers, but also as facilitators, researchers, directors and producers.

Mind the Gap has trained Walk the Plank in working more accessibly, Walk the Plank has trained Mind the Gap how to upscale our outdoor work – including teaching one of our performers to fly!

This has been a truly equal and collaborative process that has already hugely benefitted both companies.

Final step: pulling it off!

You can be the judge…

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.


Behind the Scenes: Zara the new production from Mind the Gap. Blog 1 – Julia Skelton.


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


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.


Harnessing support for fundraisers. Blog: Rosario Bellolio


RAISE logo

Funding cuts and an uncertain economic landscape are challenges familiar to every small charitable organisation but, similar to those within the wider sector, arts, culture and heritage fundraisers continue to demonstrate a great capacity for resilience.

Arts focussed organisations offer great examples of how creativity, flexibility and strong belief in the cause are vital to help ensure success in tough times, but we need to work more closely together.

While working as a fundraiser in small arts charities, I have experienced the challenges that small organisations face on daily basis such as relying on project-based income and the lack of staff resource dedicated to fundraising. Fundraising expertise, working with volunteers and confidence levels connected to asking for money are issues I see shared with the wider sector.

Within the arts, a particular challenge is that individuals with creative leadership roles have to juggle operational matters alongside creative direction. Another challenge is raising awareness of the actual and very real need for a charitable case for culture. Reduced time on the artistic development can lead to internal and external tensions, fundraising activities may not always be a preferred first choice and sparks of inspiration and energy are welcomed.

In this context, it’s vital for all small charities to harness the support and knowledge available in the sector. That’s why in 2018 the Institute of Fundraising launched a new programme ‘RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage’ with support from the Arts Council England.

The four-year programme is supporting organisations and individuals that raise funds within the arts, cultural and heritage sector in England. In recognition of the vital role small organisations play, RAISE activities have a particular focus on supporting individuals working within small charities. We are also working specifically to support sole fundraisers and to help towards increasing access and diversity offering early career fundraisers and those that self-identify as BAME opportunities to engage with us through our activities, which include bursaries and running events outside Great London.

We’re working in partnership with the IoF’s volunteer-led group network including the culture sector network, blackfundraisers UK (BFUK), sole fundraisers, IoF regional groups and young arts fundraisers. Together we’re delivering a programme that includes networking events, peer-learning opportunities, access to onward education opportunities, and mentoring. The latter launched in early February 2019 – the year-long mentoring schemematching early career fundraisers with senior or director level development professionals from a wide range of organisations in the arts and cultural sector across England. The application window is open and we welcome entries from art sector professionals from across England to apply for either mentor or mentee roles.

Mentor applications are open from 6 February 2019 and close on 1 March 2019. Mentee applications are open from 12 March 2019 and close on 3 April 2019.


A strong and financially sustainable cultural sector creates a society in which all can flourish, with all the economic and social benefits that the cultural industries provide. Working with the Arts Council, the Institute of Fundraising are committed to helping spread the word that #culturematters.

Read more about the RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage programme

Apply for the 2019/20 RAISE mentoring programme.


RAISE: Arts, Culture & Heritage is the national rollout of the Institute of Fundraising Culture Sector Network, funded by the Arts Council England. The 4-year programme aims to support arts and cultural fundraisers based in England through peer to peer learning, bursaries opportunities, networking events and access to onward education.

Led by the Institute of Fundraising, RAISE was founded to support professional development across England, fly the flag for the charitable case for culture, empower arts and cultural sector fundraisers to achieve higher levels of fundraising practice, and to support the drive for greater inclusivity, diversity and representation within the sector.


Family Audiences – making a difference. Blog: Clair Donnelly


Clair Donnelly takes us through top resources that make a difference when working with families 

As we move further into the New Year, many of us will be planning ahead to decipher how we can become even more inclusive, engaging and welcoming to our audiences. For many organisations, families will be at the heart of that work; they are the audiences of the future as well as the audiences of now, however, they are the audience whose planning needs and access to prior information is greatest. With multiple varying factors to consider, the family audience can often be the most difficult audience to please but arguably the most rewarding when we get it right.

Families are not just good for our audience development goals; they’re good for business and can contribute to our organisation financially. But if families are going to part with their hard-earned cash, how can we ensure value for all family members? It’s a key theme at this year’s Family Arts Conference, which will explore the value of arts, culture and creativity for families.

Our conference will consider what value means in today’s family arts sector in terms of the benefits engagement with arts and culture can bring and how we can communicate and capitalise on that value through our evaluation, fundraising, income generation or data gathering.

A not to be missed session with Baker Richards consultancy service will talk us through how to create commercial value in your family offer, and lead on from their excellent existing resource on Pricing your Family Events.

And what about older family members? Research has shown that older adults are more likely to be visiting as part of a larger family group than they are to attend alone.  We also know that older generations may be more likely to experience barriers to engagement than younger family members. The Age-Friendly Standards provide specific guidance on welcoming older audiences and can help your organisation become more inclusive for older generations who may have access or additional needs.

At this year’s conference, we’ll explore the value of intergenerational experiences that bring older and younger audiences together with a key note presentation from Dr. Zoe Wyrko, the brains behind the channel 4 documentary Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds.

Once you have your family offer in place, how can you ensure that you’re doing the very best you can do for your family audience? Evaluation, however small-scale, can provide you with insights about the effectiveness of your activities and help you to plan events in the future. The Family Arts Evaluation and Audience Research Toolkit built by evaluators Catherine Rose’s Office, has been designed to support evaluation of your family events. At next month’s Conference, the Big Lottery Fund will run a workshop on the implications of carrying out evaluation in the context of family audiences, along with recent examples and online tools to aid your evaluation processes.

If it’s data you’re after, there are lots of tools that can help you drill down into the dos and don’ts of family audiences. All arts and cultural organisers are entitled to use the free Audience Finder survey tool, which can help you collect data on your family audiences. Once complete, you can profile your audiences using Audience Spectrum to show you which types of families are attending your events. You can then compare this with data for your region to find out who your potential new audiences could be. Make sure you select ‘families’ when requesting your survey, so that it can be personalised to include a range of specially selected Family Participation questions.

So what’s next for the future of family arts? Digital engagement is of course on the rise, but so is outdoor art and culture, which is valued for its interaction with diverse community groups. Last year’s Outdoor Arts Audience Report found that outdoor cultural events tend to be representative of the demographic in their area. They can be a great way to have fun as a family and are successfully attracting similar proportions of first-time and repeat visitors. It’s a topic we’ll be exploring further at the Conference, joined by Outdoor Arts UK and other experts in the field.


The Family Arts Conference takes place 12thFebruary at the Everyman Theatre, Liverpool.Tickets are available for £175+VAT. The full programme and booking can be found here.

Unlimited: The Symposium. Blog Two – Andrew Miller reflects on the Arts Panel

© Rachel Cherry

The second of a series of blogs where session Chairs at Unlimited: The Symposium share their responses with the aim to inspire others. 

Unlimited: The Symposium was a disabled-led, two-day discussion event, held at the Unicorn Theatre on 4 and 5 September 2018. It was aimed at both a national and international audience across the cultural sector, with people attending in or engaging in the discussion and debate online.


Reflections on Unlimited Symposium’s Art Panel: Andrew Miller 

Andrew Miller reflects on the session he chaired at Unlimited: The Symposium and discusses the key takeaways, themes and possible actions from the discussion…

“Disabled people NEED to be leading” was the key message from the panel discussion on Art at the 2018 Unlimited Symposium. We were responding to the question: how can disabled artists change the ‘mainstream’ arts sector? Our panel was united in the view that only when disabled artists’ work achieves wide recognition and disabled creatives lead mainstream arts organisations will real change occur.

And we’re making progress! We heard many examples of mainstream success. From the learning disabled band PKN representing Finland at Eurovision 2015 to the Paraorchestra appearance at Glastonbury and Lost Voice Guy’s victory on Britain’s Got Talent.

Yet for every success, there is the threat of marginalisation. On Twitter, Singapore’s Disabled People’s Association endorsed Jess Thom’s warning that ”as a society we must ensure we’re not adjusting to inequality but making the adjustments needed to equalise opportunity”. And Arts & Disability Ireland’s Padraig Naughton echoed Lloyd Coleman’s view that, “we mustn’t become too dogmatic…of being too narrow when trying to be inclusive.”

Marc Steene highlighted the problem with labels in art; “labels made by others, not us” and he observed that, “we have an important role to widen who can be artist”. Sari Salovaara and Outi Salonlahti from Helsinki’s Culture for All continued that theme by asking, “Who decides quality? Who chooses who can be an artist? The gatekeepers of the arts need to be challenged”.

However, Darren Henley’s conference opening remarks were encouraging. He stated: ”As a society we must take steps to include everyone in our cultural conversation. It’s a moral, civic and cultural responsibility. The work of disabled and D/deaf artists is often the boldest, most aesthetically adventurous art out there.”

As individuals working in the arts we must ask ourselves what we’re doing to challenge preconceptions and prejudice and to ensure that the best of art is properly supported. It’s a moral, civic and cultural responsibility.

The work of disabled and D/deaf artists is often the boldest, most aesthetically adventurous art out there.

Darren Henley (full speech available on the Arts Council England website)

For me, there was one surprise. The extent to which our international disabled colleagues look to the UK for leadership and inspiration. It was clear both our artistic ambition and policy frameworks inspire the world. In my breakout session focused on the ACE Creative Case for Diversity, we heard over and over again that the UK occupies a privileged position.

And that makes me even more determined to dismantle barriers for disabled people to access training, employment and representation in UK arts. Knowing that in achieving better equality here, the world will be watching and preparing. As Tim Wheeler observed of our discussions on Twitter, “What an exciting and precarious place we are at”.

But I’m going to give the last word on our debate to the bold message carried on Outi Salonlahti’s T-shirt, “Be yourself, be a monster, be an optimist!”

Andrew Miller is the UK Government Disability Champion for Arts & Culture

First published on Unlimited.

Andrew Miller (left) chairs the Unlimited Symposium session on Art with Jo Verrent (right). Photo: Rachel Cherry. 

The 6 Degrees Podcast: Episode 1 with Cath Hume


We’ve been inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation – that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other – so listen in as we follow a trail of six podcasts starting with Carol Jones (Editor, AMAculturehive) interviewing the AMA’s CEO, Cath Hume.

In this first episode Cath and Carol reveal their early arts experiences and our passion for connecting arts with audiences. Warning: this includes Carol singing (badly) a snippet from an operetta…

And it’s party time as we celebrate 25 years of the AMA so Carol asks Cath what changes during that time stand out for her. Cath also tells her what she thinks are the key challenges facing the sector and how the AMA will help meet those challenges.

Cath doesn’t get a luxury item and the choice of a piece of music to take to a desert island but she is given a magic wand to make a wish for the next 25 years of the AMA.

In true tag-team talk show style the batons handed to Cath to choose someone that she wants to interview as our 2nddegree of separation and the chain will lead from there. Follow us over the next few months to find out where we end up.

Listen to the first 6 Degrees Podcast here




Unlimited: The Symposium. Blog One: Equality – Disability, intersectional identities and the arts.

Sonya Dyer Associate AMAculturehive

The first of a series of blogs where session Chairs at Unlimited: The Symposium share their responses with the aim to inspire others. 

Unlimited: The Symposium was a disabled-led, two-day discussion event, held at the Unicorn Theatre on 4 and 5 September 2018. It was aimed at both a national and international audience across the cultural sector, with people attending in or engaging in the discussion and debate online.


Equality: Disability, Intersectional Identities and the Arts Symposium – a personal response by the Chair of this session, Sonya Dyer.

One of the most important lessons I learned during the Unlimited Symposium was quite a simple one, but it was something I had, in all honesty, never thought of before.

We were setting up the A/V in advance of the ‘Intersectionality’ panel, in the main auditorium. Lapel mic pinned on my top, I did something I presume I always do – I asked the technician, ‘Can you hear me?’. I did so without thinking, as I imagine most people do, most of the time, when setting up for events.

This lesson was taught by one of the panellists, Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi. Sandie taught by doing – when it was her turn to check her mic, she asked this simple question, ‘Is the mic working?’. Sandie later explained the purpose of framing the question in this way, namely that asking ‘Can you hear me?’ implies that everyone can hear, or indeed should be able to hear. We all know this is not the case.

This stopped me in my tracks. I strive to be a better ally to D/deaf and disabled people. However, I have always asked, ‘Can you hear me?’ without seriously considering the implications of those words.

For me this was a necessary reminder of the importance of unpicking certain seemingly benign behaviours I perform everyday. Learning to be a better ally is a life long practice.

I was grateful to Sandie for handling the situation in the way that she did, by just doing better and sharing her knowledge and understanding with all of us. I don’t imagine I was the only person who needed this lesson.

This is something I will take with me, and change about myself moving forward. In fact, shortly after the Unlimited Symposium, I ran another daylong event with an organisation outside the disability-led sector. As we were setting up the A/V I heard myself asking, ‘Is the mic working?’.

Sonya Dyer, October 2018


About Unlimited

Unlimited supports ambitious, creative projects by outstanding disabled artists and companies. The projects include theatre, dance, music, literature, performance, painting, sculpture, public artworks, photography, digital artworks, installations, films and more.

Unlimited wants to change perceptions of disabled people by commissioning disabled artists in the UK and internationally to make new, groundbreaking and high quality work.

We also do this by building a community of Unlimited Allies who help us to embed the work of disabled artists in the mainstream cultural sector and improve access for artists and audiences.

Unlimited is a commissioning programme, not an organisation. It is run by two different organisations:

  • Shape Arts, a disability-led organisation which works with disabled artists and has an office in Kentish Town, London
  • Artsadmin, which supports artists to create work without boundaries and has an office at Aldgate East, London.

Unlimited works with disabled artists from all over the UK
– England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and offers funding for research and development, to make small and large-scale projects happen in the UK and around the world, and awards for emerging artistswho are new to art, early-career or haven’t had reached large audiences yet. We also fund full commissions (from an artist’s idea through to its realisation and touring) and commissions created through international collaborations.

From 2013-2016 Unlimited supported more than 2,300 days of performances and exhibitions by disabled artists, which were seen by over 130,000 people.

Connected resources: The Accessible Marketing Guide

My Freelance Journey: Blog Four – Marketing yourself and getting work

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
©AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer

Marketing yourself and getting work

With all the background work done, I needed to put myself out there and start getting work.

I thought this would be easy – having been at the top of my game in marketing, I assumed that marketing myself would be second nature.

I was wrong. I found myself standing on two polar extremes. On one hand I was ready and eager to go. There were people to meet, organisations to help, and audiences to serve. On the other, I was under-rehearsed, tongue-ted and I felt like it was my first day at school.

Time to go back to basics with Marketing 101.

Define your audience. Who is most likely to need my services? Easy! Arts organisations (or rather the people within it).

Segment. What kind of arts organisation? What size? What discipline? I’m focusing on multi-disciplined arts centres, or companies who specialise in performance with an annual turnover of £1m- £5m, but if you’re a dance specialist with international touring experience, why not start there?

Segment again. It isn’t an organisation who will contract you. It’s the people within it. If you’re a marketing or development consultant, it is likely to be the CEO, rather than the marketing team that hires you. However, if you are a freelance campaign manager, the Marketing Director would be a safe bet because they are the people on the front line, desperately needing support services and are looking for a solution to present to their CEO.

Make it relevant. At what point in an organisation’s journey will it be most appropriate to work with them? For me, it is at a time when an organisation needs to try something new. It might be that they are feeling stagnant and need a change, or they have recently received funding and are looking to make new waves in the industry. If you are specialising in campaign management, it would be more timely to make your approach in advance of a big campaign launch or just after one, so they can consider you for next time.

Identify your messaging. We all know that ‘please buy our tickets’ is the world’s worst marketing message. ‘Please contract me’ is equally bad. When we are selling tickets, we entice people with engaging content. It’s the same here. Offer case studies, blogs, offer golden nuggets of enlightenment and gems of inspiration. Draw conclusions from articles and form your own opinions.

Identify your channels. We know this like the back of our hand, don’t we? In the day job we specialise in online marketing, social media, print, promotion, partnership, advertising, pr. We choose the best channels and amplify our message through the others to ensure we get heard. For freelancers this means, network, write professionally, speak at sessions. Many counties have agencies who facilitate networking events, make your introductions there, follow up with an email and connect thorough social media. (Don’t do all of this in 24 hours, people will think you are stalking them). The best channel is word of mouth recommendation. Who do you know, who knows who you want to know? Can you ask them to make an introduction and recommend you?

Tailor your ask. No consultancy project is the same. You cannot say ‘this is what I do, please buy it’. Instead, tailor what you do to what your client’s needs. You can only find out what they need by meeting them. But what happens if they don’t know they need anything yet? Find a way to listen to their story so far and understand their aspirations. Make the conversation be about them. Then go away and work out how you can help them achieve their aspirations. This isn’t about them hiring you, it is about starting a conversation which might help them.

Coming to a contract. Only when a customer ‘actually asks you to do something’ should you talk about a contract and a fee. Professionals are not stupid. They will know that when they ask you to do something, they will expect to pay you. They will probably be the ones to bring it up (which is a relief because it helps you understand their budget, and it saves you from having to make the ask). Then you can either negotiate or accept – depending on your circumstances.

In conclusion. Marketing ‘the new you’ is as full on as marketing an artistic programme. It is a full-time job. Yet at the same time you must deliver the work for the clients you have already won. If you consult part-time, you will find yourself working full-time hours. If you used to work a full-time job at 40 hours, it has suddenly increased to 60 hours, 20 of which are unpaid.

No-one said it would be easy.

But it is worth it.

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses the highs and lows of being a freelance consultant.

My Freelance Journey: Blog Three – Understanding your place in the market

AMA conference 2018 © Brian Roberts Images
© AMA conference 2018. Brian Roberts

MY FREELANCE JOURNEY is a new bi-monthly blog series where we follow Arts Marketing and Fundraising consultant Beckie Smith on her journey into life as a freelancer.

Understanding your place in the market

So, how does my new freelance venture fit in the market?

It is here that I need to name check and thank Ron Evans (Group of Minds), Carol Jones (AMA) and Deborah Reese (Cast in Doncaster) who helped as I grappled with shaping my direction because I found this question hard.

What have I got that no one else has? What is my USP? Why hire me instead of someone else? Am I a freelance marketer or freelance consultant? What is the difference?

I knew for certain that I wanted career progression. I used to run departments, sit on senior management teams and shape strategic vision, so I questioned if the marketer role of campaign delivery was necessarily for me.

The next logical step was to become a consultant – alongside the likes of Roger Tomlinson, Jo Taylor, Ron Evans, Debbie Richards, Andrew Mcintyre, Helen Dunnet, Andrew Thomas, Lisa Baxter and all the other consultants who shape our field.  They have more experience behind them, but were new to consultancy once. And since then, they have created Culture Segments, The Ticketing Institute, modules, algorithms, and platforms.

What will I end up creating? I wonder.

It was Ron Evans who put me to the test. “What have you got?” he asked, “Tell me a career highlight.” I gave him case studies where I combined market data, profiling and segmentation to turn fundraising strategies on their head and how The Audience Agency thought it was a unique approach.

“You use market insight to make strategic fundraising decisions” he said. “What else?”

I gave examples of marketing strategies that u-turned because the fundraiser in me pressured me to move forward through the power of emotion, sentiment and storytelling.

“You use fundraising tactics to re-position marketing campaigns” he said. “Ha! You’re the ‘Marketing and Fundraising Matchmaker’.” (I can see why Ron is internationally renowned for steering world-class organisations through a sea of icebergs). “But what is the point? Why bother?”

Answering the “Why bother?” questions is something all new consultants need to do…and continue to do on a regular basis. I gave myself factual (marketing) answers – revealing hidden income streams, increasing donations, trying untested tactics that have ground-breaking potential and energising engagement.

And also emotional (fundraising) answers based on bringing the audience and donor together on one magic journey where they engage the most, spend the most, and give the most that is possible for them to give – all the while falling deeper and deeper in love with your organisation.

“That’s piping hot”, Ron reassures me. It is a new, exciting approach, and very topical to encourage organisations to break the silos of departmental working. (At the time I didn’t realise that this was the very core of Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy’s Shared Ambition programme).

People perceive consultants to have all the answers. Which just isn’t true most of the time. Lazy afternoons in the sun, and long evenings with a glass of wine sparked my inner monologue. Do consultants have all the answers? At conferences they say, “we were on a journey”, “we realised”, “we went back to the drawing board” and “we were in untested water” which is consultant code for “we didn’t know the answers either but stuck with it until we did.”

What else makes a consultant? They are well read and draw on other consultant’s work to shape their own practice. I certainly do that! If I wasn’t keeping up to date with JAM, Arts Professional, The National Arts Marketing Project, ACE, Americans for the Arts, SMU DataArts and the free resources provided by Culturehive,  AMA, The Audience Agency’s Audience Finder and Morris Hargreaves McIntyre I would have a lot more time on my hands to go to the gym, climb a mountain or go wild swimming.

For me as a consultant, I’m driven by the saying “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give him a rod and teach him how to fish and he will eat for a life time.”

Having seen a number of organisations struggle, I’m passionate about the latter.  I can’t help but think that if they had a rod and could fish with it, their story may have been different. To provide the services that I very much needed in my early career, and to empower and educate other professionals so they can make changes, is special.

So find the basis of your consultancy offer. Understand your USP. Know what makes you unique. Be driven by finding out the answers and empowering organisations to do the same.

The fact that I am inspired by the pioneering works of those ahead of me … simply lets me set my sights on an exceptionally high bar, that over time, I will get close to reaching.

Follow Beckie’s journey as she adapts to the challenges and opportunities of freelance life. Next time, Beckie discusses marketing yourself and getting work. 

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