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 I Cope – Emily Clarke

How I Cope
©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.  


Emily Clarke works as 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 (, 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

How I Cope
©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.  


Hannah Mason is the founder 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 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

How I Cope
©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.  


Antonia Canal works as 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


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 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

OF/BY/FOR ALL: Nina Simon. Blog – launching the movement

Nina Simon
© Nina Simon

The AMA is backing the OF/BY/FOR ALL change network and following its progress through a series of Blogs by Nina Simon.

Find out more and join the movement including how well your organisation embodies OF/BY/FOR ALL outcomes and practices and how your work can grow.

Launching the First Wave of the OF/BY/For ALL Change network

How do you build a movement for institutional change?

That’s the question we’ve been grappling with as we start the OF/BY/FOR ALL initiative. Our goal is to help civic and cultural institutions become more representative OF, co-created BY, and welcoming FOR their diverse communities. We’ve see this model succeed at the MAH and at other community-centered organizations around the world. We want to share the methods and tools that make it work. Not as a prescriptive recipe, but as a pattern. We see OF/BY/FOR ALL as an adaptable playbook for community change.

The challenge is to figure out the best way to share that playbook. Last year, we tested out different formats. We explored opening a training center. Publishing toolkits. Consulting. Building a leadership development program. We even thought about franchising.

The model we landed on was movement building. We plan to fuel a distributed Change Network of organizations growing OF/BY/FOR ALL together. We’ll offer an online program for change, support a global community of practice, and keep expanding the program based on community input.

We want to make the “how” of community involvement clear and achievable. Change Network organizations will make specific pledges to become of, by, and for new communities. We’ll provide tools to help organizations meet their goals step by step. As the network grows, more of the tools and knowledge base will come from participating institutions, with our staff focusing on community organizing and connections.

Our near-term goal is to enroll at least 200 organizations by the end of 2020, collectively pledging to involve one million new people in their work. Eventually, we may build a certification program, like LEED for green buildings, or B Corps for social enterprise. But we’re starting with a campaign to involve one million people – and to build a community of organizations helping each other make it happen.

We’re excited about this movement-building model for three reasons:

It taps diverse sources of expertise. The MAH is not the authority on all things OF/BY/FOR ALL. By building a change network, we will empower diverse organizations to share methods and expertise with each other.

It scales. We want to go big with this movement. We plan to involve hundreds of organizations in the next three years – and thousands in the years to come. We realized that models that rely heavily on in-person training or consulting wouldn’t scale to the extent of our dreams.

It emphasizes action. Talk is good. Change is better. Change Network organizations will make specific commitments to become of, by, and for more diverse people. The program we’re building will help accelerate their progress. But it starts with organizations demonstrating eagerness and pledging to take action.

The Change Network program launches next week in prototype form with a First Wave of twenty organizations (full list at the end of this post). We selected a First Wave that reflects diversity of geography, size, and sector, so we can see who this works best for and why. The First Wave includes 6 museums, 5 performing arts organizations, 3 public libraries, 3 parks, and 3 community centers. Half are led by people of color or indigenous people. We represent six countries and ten time zones. For this prototype, 19 of 20 are in English-speaking countries, to provide as much clarity as possible as we get feedback from participants. In the future, we look forward to taking what we learn from this First Wave to build a strong Change Network with organizations all over the world.

I can’t wait to learn with and from these amazing First Wave organizations. Some are leaders in the field of community participation. Others are just getting started. All are ready and eager to grow of, by, and for their communities.

OF/BY/FOR ALL is one of many projects in a growing ecosystem of efforts to propel more inclusive institutions. Some people are writing toolkits. Some are giving workshops. Some are developing training programs. Some are leading academic studies. Some are funding projects. If we are going to build a more inclusive world, we don’t need just one or two projects. We need an ecosystem of activists, academics, funders, professionals, policymakers, and associations striving together towards common goals.

With OF/BY/FOR ALL, we’re playing a role in this ecosystem as an accelerant for organizational change. I respect my colleagues who are writing, advocating, funding, and researching the nuances of community work. Heck, I’ve spent lots of time participating in those ways myself. But today, I’m motivated to focus my resources and energy on a program to help organizations commit to action and make it happen. That’s what OF/BY/FOR ALL is all about.

As we learn more from the First Wave and build the Change Network, we’ll write about it on the OF/BY/FOR ALL website. So if you want to join us in sharing stories and opportunities to become of, by, and for your community, please consider joining that email list today.

Here is the brave, beautiful, and wide-ranging First Wave:

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz, CA, USA (host site)

National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM, USA

Techniquest in Cardiff, Wales, UK (science center)

HistoryMiami Museum in Miami, FL, USA

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center in Niagara Falls, NY, USA

Immigration Museum in Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Te Manawa in Palmerston North, Aotearoa, NZ (museum)

Stedelijk Museum Schiedam in Schiedam, Netherlands

Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI, USA

Oakland Symphony in Oakland, CA, USA

Marfa Public Radio in Marfa, TX, USA

Laundromat Project in New York, NY, USA

ARTZ Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA, USA

Oakland Public Library in Oakland, CA, USA

St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, IN, USA

Dakota County Library in Eagan, MN, USA

Los Angeles River State Park Partners in Los Angeles, CA, USA

Divis and Black Mountain in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

Movement BE in San Diego, CA, USA (youth empowerment)

Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition in Minneapolis, MN, USA

Genesis Centre in Calgary, AB, Canada (community wellness)

I can’t wait to learn and build the Change Network with this First Wave in the months to come.

Nina Simon

First published on the MuseumTwo Blogspot

OF/BY/FOR ALL is a new worldwide initiative brought to you by Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

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