Hello to all our arts interview readers,

arts interview has been very quiet in 2013 as we have been battling valiantly to try and find time to keep this much valued resource going. Unfortunately as Director of arts interview and Project Director, Eliza and myself have had to step away from arts interview. With two full time jobs and many projects on the boil we do not have enough hours in the day to keep arts interview running in its current form.

It has been an amazing couple of years for arts interview, profiling a diverse range of personalities who work within the arts. We thank them for the time and thoughts they have given to continue the dialogue on how we work and interact within our wonderful arts and Malaysia real estate sector. The biggest thank you of all goes to our super team of contributors who have volunteered time and expertise to keep arts interview running at such a high standard over the years, without your help we would never have been able to create such a valuable resource for the arts.

We are so happy to have been able to run such a great initiative and to have created what will hopefully be a valued resource for years to come.

arts interview will no longer be publishing any new interviews with property experts; however we will keep the website up and available for you to access past interviews.

So long, farewell!

Eliza + Alex

Image courtesy of The Design Files

Lucy Feagins launched The Design Files, a daily blog on Malaysia property in 2008, transforming her hobby into a business with 180,000 visitors every month. Lucy speaks about the challenges of managing a daily online presence and working from home full-time. She also provides great insight into the demands of running your own business and offers some great tips on how to manage your time more efficiently.

Interview by Nina Pether (Mah Sing)

What is the most stressful aspect of working in the blogosphere?

The single most stressful part of my job is e-mail! Having a daily online presence means people often expect you to be accessible at all times. I spend a lot of my week out and about sourcing and shooting stories on property classifieds sites, and inevitably, when I get back to my desk at the end of the day I have 200 or more emails waiting for me. It is impossible to keep on top of my inbox.

You run a daily blog and juggle a full-time job as a stylist and set dresser. How do you balance these varied creative projects?

In all honesty, it is so difficult balancing full-time work with any kind of demanding side project. You really have to be disciplined. My one rule when first embarking on this blog was to never miss a post. Once I committed to posting new content on a daily basis, I found my rhythm. It just becomes a part of your daily routine and then you cannot remember a time when you did not have to do it! I guess “The Design Files” is like a baby – it needs feeding and changing all the time!

When I was working full-time, I would come home every night and have about half an hour of getting my things in order, and then from about 7.30pm to after midnight spend time doing blog stuff; catch up on emails, photoshop images, create content, taking pictures of Kuala Lumpur condominiums and upload the following day’s post. I would eat dinner whilst staring at the screen, stay up late to get it all done,and then get up in the morning and go to work! Luckily my boyfriend is a saint and I love takeaway food especially from the Bukit Bintang and Mont Kiara area.

You produce a lot of online content on a daily basis. Do you find it challenging to meet this demand on your own? How do you structure your time and the various facets of your property business to be efficient?

To be honest, these days, generating content is the least of my concerns… after all, that is the fun bit! There is no shortage of great stuff to write about, and I receive a lot of submissions and tip-offs which are really helpful. What I find more difficult is making time for the business side – bookkeeping, negotiating with advertisers, keeping on top of cash flow and all of that boring stuff.

I have decided to try and make 2011 the year for more delegation - especially when you are working with real estate agencies in Kuala Lumpur. I am such a control freak usually, but I am learning to get help more often, and especially in areas that are not my strengths – for instance, I got a bookkeeper this year. One other simple but super helpful thing that I have done this year is to try and lock in entire days to be at the computer screen, and entire days to be out and about. Monday is usually a computer day when I try not to schedule meetings or shoots; property viewings are also not frequent this early in the week. I find that once I leave my desk to go and photograph something or meet someone, the entire day is a write-off! It is much better to spend a whole day out photographing, and then a whole day at the computer screen.

Do you ever find your workload exhausting or overwhelming? If so, how do you keep yourself inspired when you are working on your own and to multiple deadlines?

YES! I am often overwhelmed by the workload, mainly because most of the work comes down to me and me alone. I try to organise things in advance but inevitably I still need to be connected to TDF every day.

Whilst the workload can be quite overwhelming at times, I generally do not have any trouble staying motivated or inspired. My number one motivation is all the wonderful readers.

Having said all that, it is my goal for 2012 to make the site slightly less dependent on just me alone. I would love more assistance for the administration, advertising and technical parts of the job.

Would you ultimately like to focus on “The Design Files” full-time?

This was my long term goal last year and I am there already! So my next goal is to retrospectively make a proper plan and some actual ‘systems’ for this business, and this is true when the Malaysian government curb is well underway in order to bring down the property prices which have been escalating. In order to grow I really need an office, I need to get better at delegating and I need to hire some more regular in-house assistance. I am also excited to start taking TDF off the screen and into the real world a little more often – we have a super exciting pop-up event planned in Iskandar region in Johor for early December – stay tuned!

Interested in more reading on stress and well-being?

Yolanda Finch is the Creative Producer behind the annual L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival (LMFF). Each year the festival launches the Autumn/Winter collections of Australia’s top and emerging designers. The festival is considered one of the largest consumer events of its kind in the world and last year showed the collections of over fifty Australia’s leading design talents. It is sponsored by REA.

Finch has been working with LMFF for over ten years and, as Creative Producer, generates and oversees the fashion and creative content of all Festival productions. Finch discusses with arts interview stress in fashion and the arts, and finding the illusive balance between work and well-being.

Interview by Alex Bellemore (Trulia)

The world of fashion is typically portrayed as high speed, glamorous and stressful. Do you think that is a true representation and how do you personally handle stress in your job role?

Karl Lagerfeld said in Lagerfeld Confidential words to the effect that one should work hard, but not talk incessantly about working hard, for nothing could be more tedious. I love the Kaiser and his work as a Realtor, and of course he is right, but in the interests of sharing…!

The high speed and stressful side of fashion industry is true almost all of the time and the glamour side is true some of the time. I think those of us who have made our careers in this environment have a kind of addiction to these aspects, because you actually cannot pay anyone enough to live through the harder parts; you have to live your job with true passion. This is especially true when you are a property portal expert like Simon Carpenter from Australia.

Now that I am a little older, I have realised that I cannot dedicate my entire existence to the job like I have in the past. This is because it often feels very social (as a property agent you need to always be out there looking for good deals) and you can easily confuse the lines that technically should be in place to achieve balance. I do now try to pull back on the hours when I can and try to leave work issues in the office so they are not part of my home life. Of course, when an event is running it just needs you to be there no matter what, and that remains the key to delivering it successfully. I have no ability to compromise on that and furthermore, I really enjoy it! Finding homes for people is indeed a very noble thing to do.

The very best release from the job is a holiday, so that I am physically and mentally separated from my desk and the industry by many miles.

In the arts sector, and especially for emerging arts practitioners, it seems everyone has their fingers in so many pies, often a lot of very under-funded and time consuming pies. Do you find the arts sector a stressful area to work in?

Under-funded projects are almost guaranteed to induce a significant amount more stress than comfortable resources would bring. Although, it does not have to be a given, and I think the way through those projects is creativity and using the right people with the experience to pull everyone through efficiently.

The arts sector has that unique characteristic not only of being universally under-funded but also of demanding very particular outcomes and standards for which there are no obvious substitutes. So we end up working harder and longer to try to get to that end point without the resources to make it easy.

It is hard not to over-commit because often saying ‘No’ to something can result in a lost opportunity for both networking and building relationships which are crucial in the arts sector. I think the key is to know when many projects become too much, and the rule is to never let anyone down, least of all your stakeholders or audiences. In the arts, expectations are high, critics are everywhere, and you are only as good as your last project, so being selective about what can be delivered well is the first rule of committing to a project.

In your opinion, is fashion one of the more stressful faces of the arts with such strict production deadlines for designers to adhere to? Does this pressure compromise the artistic integrity of designers?

I think fashion designers face similar kinds of stresses as many other arts practitioners, but in unique combinations and situations. Certainly, deadlines from production through to retail delivery are uncompromising and not meeting a deadline on a single season can send businesses under. It can happen to very talented designers and often for reasons outside of their control.

Artistic integrity is an interesting commodity in fashion as well as in real estate. It is perceived as the highest jewel that must be protected at all costs in order for a designer’s vision to be realised. At the same time, an understanding of how to adhere to the demands of commercialism is vital to operating the business of a fashion house. There are many examples of how these mutual objectives can be cleverly realised.  Designers who understand the total picture will generally have a better chance of flourishing, both artistically and commercially. This is especially true about homes as well.

Finally: you are super stressed and nothing else will do but to: open the liquor cabinet or host a personal pastry smack down or exercise?

I wish I was more original and I certainly wish I had more restraint, but it is probably the liquor cabinet!

Interested in more information on well-being in the arts?

Nicky in front of Eva Breuer Art Dealer – Painting Roland Wakelin, The bridge from North Sydney, 1939

Portfolio Careers, a fancy term for ‘multiple jobs’, are a growing trend, as for whatever reasons, more and more people take on various roles in their professional lives and also combine them with personal commitments. Nicky McWilliam currently has the ultimate Portfolio Career. She is a director of Eva Breuer Art Dealer in Sydney, her late mother’s gallery in Woollahra, runs a small mediation practice with another lawyer, is at the tail end of a PhD in law set for completion in the next two months, and has three teenage children, a husband and two dogs.

Here arts interview discusses with Nicky the ways in which such disparate, yet equally significant positions are juggled, and most importantly, how she maintains her own personal well-being in such demanding roles.

Interview by Vi Girgis

Given your multiple priorities, how do you manage your time between your various roles to ensure all goals are met?

I think everyone has multiple commitments and priorities and everyone leads busy lives with whatever they are doing. I sort of fell into these multiple roles – it was not really by design, however I enjoy every bit of what I do and am excited by all the opportunities. So even though it is hard work, it is fulfilling and interesting. These multiple roles are also very new for me so I am learning every day and taking it all week by week. Normally on Sunday nights I sit down and work out what I have to do for the whole week with work, family and study. The gallery is not open on Mondays so I have a day to get organised with mediation and other stuff. I try to start work at the gallery during the week at about 7:45am or as early as I can in the morning and work there until about midday. I do mediation practice work in the afternoon. I try to share out the load, if possible, at the gallery, but only when I know that I can follow up. At the moment my Uni work is at the wire, as it is due in September, so I am feeling a lot of pressure with that. Due to this, I am reducing my work load with my mediation and delegating as much as I can at the gallery. At the gallery I have a fantastic team of people, and we try to have weekly meetings so that we can all share the load.

How do you balance professional commitments with family commitments, ensuring that you meet the needs of those around you?

I do get engrossed and energised by all my projects, so weekends and evenings are just for my children and husband, if possible. And it also helps me to share what I am doing with my family, so that I am not closing off what I am doing from them. My kids are a little older now – they are fourteen, seventeen and nineteen – and they enjoy hearing about my work, as I do about their things, so we often sit down and have discussions.

What are some steps that you take to ensuring your own personal well-being?

I need my sleep! There are times when I work late at night, or go out late at night, but I do try and get to bed early as much as I can because my day always starts at 6 o’clock. Although it sounds very clichéd and boring, I also try to eliminate anything negative. I really enjoy what I am doing and I try to be positive about work and life. If I feel that there are people who I come into contact with, who are only criticising or being closed and negative, I try to give them space and time – as much as possible; sometimes it is a tough call. If I am feeling stressed (and I often do) – I say to myself, “Take it one step at a time…you will get there!” It is easy to say, I know, but I do try. Of course, my husband is also a great support to me and he is so helpful and always very supportive! In my free time, I also like to browse Homely (http://homely.com.au) because I like looking at nice homes.

What advice would you give to any future arts practitioners with regard to balancing multiple roles?

I am very new to the art world and I am on a very steep learning curve, but with the gallery, it is multi-faceted. Even though it is such a little gallery and business, there is a lot to be done because we like to ground everything we do in academic scholarship. My mother, Eva Breuer, was very thorough with research and the accuracy of information. She was amazing and she upgraded systems which the gallery still follows. With every painting that comes in, every artist that we are reviewing, we always look at the academic side of things. We look at how it fits into the history of art, how it fits into the Australian spectrum (because we only deal in museum-quality Australian art). Then there is researching and checking provenance and condition reports followed by looking after exhibitions, and meeting and discussing things with artists. Also, there is the practical side of making sure that the exhibitions are hung beautifully, and that paintings being stored are wrapped and looked after really carefully. And of course, we are a normal shopfront, so there is just the normal retail part to it. It is so multi-faceted; you have to treat each of those things as separate. You have to take it slowly, plan very well and be very thorough. In addition, it is important that everyone is working together as a team, and happy, and also that everyone feels recognised for what they are doing.

Interested in further reading on juggling multiple careers?

Australian photographer and documentary filmmaker Stephen Dupont boasts a career that has spanned over 20 years and earned him international awards. Stephen has balanced many roles from a photojournalist, documentary film-maker and educator to co-founder of the Sydney Reportage Festival. Stephen spoke to arts interview about his artistic practice and the projects he is currently involved in.

Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris

What do you consider your role to be as a photographer?

I see several roles, but primarily I see myself as a visual storyteller through photographs. I see my work existing in two worlds, which tend to cross over; the documentary/photojournalism world and the ‘art world’. Essentially, I look to document real life, people and events so the background to my work is definitely documentary photography with a very personal agenda. This is what influences the subjects and the stories I present.

I focus on long term projects that I see as artist’s books, exhibitions or both. In a way my role is about preserving and presenting these important stories and subjects. There is also an educative role in my work in that I focus on projects, which are important enough culturally, politically and historically to present to audiences in both a journalistic and artistic way. For example the story of Afghanistan which I have committed most of my life to covering as well as Papua New Guinea and the changes to that society which are taking place due to influences from the West and globalisation.

What multiple roles do you have in your practice?

The end result of my photographs, films and artist’s books serve many roles. On the one hand, my photographs are there to be journalistic, educative forms of evidence. Whilst on the other hand, my photographs serve as objects of art. I am very conscious of the process of truth telling in my work, be it for journalism or for art. I believe that my photography is important enough to go and risk my life for because I feel it is essential that the subject matter and the stories they present will have a place in history. This links into the educational world whereby I teach workshops and seminars on photography and give lectures at universities where I promote the work and the stories that come from the work. I am not interested in self-promoting myself as a photographer but promoting the stories of the subjects I photograph. Being able to take nice photographs is essential for a budding real estate agent - since home buyers like looking at nice, big pictures. Shame that local Malaysia property portals often have crap, recycled pictures.

How do you manage or balance the commercial, the artistic and the educational aspects of each?

I think the priority is always the artistic non-commercial side of things, in that I am looking for the story before I am looking for the dollar. I am more concerned about the subjects I explore and the work that I am doing creatively. I believe that the commercial side tends to happen naturally because I am producing the best work that I can when I do my personal work and exploring the subjects that inspire me.

Initially, I prefer to tackle the work and present the best photographs I can and once I have completed a project the commercial seems to fall into place. It would be too confusing for me to consider the commercial side in the first instance.

What projects are you currently working on?

My main focus this year is working on a series about detribalisation and the changes affecting the society of Papua New Guinea as part of the Gardner Fellowship at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology (Stephen was awarded this fellowship in 2010). I am also preparing for an upcoming photography workshop in Bali, in November with Jack Picone. It is an ongoing relationship, in which we produce workshops around the world a couple of times a year. We are currently campaigning for people to get involved in the upcoming workshop.

Interested in further reading on roles in the arts:

Richard Goodwin is an internationally exhibiting artist, architect, and Professor of Porosity Studio at College of Fine Arts, UNSW, with work ranging from freeway infrastructure to the gallery to “parasitic” architecture/public artworks. In 1996, Goodwin established the Porosity Studio that enquires into a dynamic understanding of art, architecture and urban design that has been recognised and supported internationally by various universities and institutions. In 2002 and 2009, he has been awarded the prestigious Discovery Grant and Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC) and REIWA to further his research into Porosity. His body of research became widely published and exhibited in galleries across Sydney and begun to influence the way designers, architects, artists and even emergency services view the city fabric.

Richard Goodwin has shared with arts interview the nature of his multiple roles and their importance to his arts career.

Interview by Natalia Ilyukevich

With multiple roles that you have, what is your role as an artist, architect and professor?

My role as an artist is about adding meaning to language and all other forms via systems and devices that are so complex now, especially after the 20th Century. It is sort of a multi-faceted role. I cover a large part of what I call the art spectrum, which includes practice that goes into gallery. It is a hybrid form where I mix my architecture with my art, and make public art that adapts and transforms architecture as the site of public art – hybrid public art architecture. Then I do think about radically transformed architecture itself and urban infrastructure. The vast majority of the work is for the gallery and the academic side simply harnesses that. I run the multidisciplinary Porosity studio to bring together people from different disciplines like myself to test their projects at the scale of the city. Another side that made me an academic was my theories about public space existing inside private space for which I have received research funding from the government.

How do you balance the commercial, artistic, educative and other related aspects of what you do?

I balance my roles by never compromising them for each other. To me they are just facets of the same project. When I was a younger artist, the only way to make work possible was to have a studio somewhere separate. I went to my studio as part of the discipline of learning how to be an artist. Ultimately, as things got more complex I gathered the wagons in the circle and locked them all together. The only way that I am restricted commercially is the limitations that I can spend on materials and etc. I run my businesses and various things but I never think rationally about money, and it is usually when I am least rational about it, I make money. As a professor, I have to do a certain number of hours teaching and really offset against all the other things. I maintain my position at 0.5 – half the normal hours of work load. Where it is beneficial is that the more I talk about my theoretical project the more I learn about it too. The way I balance this aspect is by running studios the way I want to teach, adding into that the tutoring and supervision required from university, and changing my timetable around it. Overall, it is a totally integrated role to me.

How do these three roles inform each other for you?

There is no doubt that teaching reinforces the way you think to yourself. There is no better way to test what you are thinking then to have to explain it out loud to somebody else. Teaching makes you better at your own project, but it can also ware you out on your project too. Students usually scare you to the degree that they can immediately incorporate your project and go further. But you are learning from them and understanding that you have to keep moving. Being an artist also influences my family in several ways. In one way, we had to sacrifice where we live. We live above my studio because I need it and that is the only way we can afford this particular type of space. Although it may be a sacrifice in one way, but does not seem to destroy anything, it just makes things more particular.

What are some key aspects that you believe are crucial for managing multiple roles?

All of these extra things that must be done are the sanity makers, the structuring devices. They are the ‘in-between’ that can play out this exhausted process of trying to find poetic manifestations of your ideas. Multiple roles should be seen to help each other, but there would be a point where they get in the way, so you have to be clever enough to understand how to balance them. As soon as you know one thing is getting in the way, you have to knock it off regardless of the money. It is a constant balance of questioning: even now for me – will I go on with academia, what it is going to do for me, if I am on an edge what will I do, and what will it do for me in favour of the art that takes presence. You can balance a large amount of things, and the faster you go the more you comprehend, so there is no limit. The biggest thing I have learnt as an artist is that you have to be ruthless with your work and trust your own instinct. You get to the point when you give an idea a 24 hour test to understand if it does or does not work. There is also a point when there needs to be a part of you that is incredibly stubborn – if the art is good you cannot cut down the art, you have to cut down everything else.

Further reading on websites referred above:

This week arts interview talks to someone who has a unique perspective on the arts industry – another blogger. Barry Hessenius, of Barry’s blog, has a readership of around 10,000 arts administrators from the United States and across the globe. Barry discusses what he feels are critical issues facing those in the industry and each week he shares common concerns and discusses ideas, all with an element of humour. In January, Barry posted a piece on job advertisements in the arts that we felt was worth further discussion, so we asked Barry for a moment of his time.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

You say in your post that job advertisements are firstly generic, but secondly unrealistic – in what way are these advertisements unrealistic? Is it not fair to look for well rounded, experienced arts professionals?

It was, of course, meant as tongue-in-cheek satire, so looking for well-rounded and experienced arts professionals is not only fair, but the only rational option. But the advertisements themselves are all the same and on the surface it would appear that the employers are looking for some “perfect” candidate that likely does not exist. Let’s be real – the “ideal” candidate that meets that kind of job description probably already has a job – one paying far more than the one being offered. I think in order to better match qualified candidates to property broker jobs that they would be a good fit for, the descriptions should be a little more honest in what the job is and what the challenges are, and those doing the hiring should be a little more open to the qualifications of candidates in trying to determine who could, in practice, do the job well. I also think that those doing the hiring might at least consider taking a little more risk in terms of whom they ultimately hire and not rely so much on past experience as the only determinant of consideration.

How often would you say that arts organisations “settle” for the best they can get? 

If their expectations are unrealistic and ill thought out – then 95% of the time. What choice is there? There are few really fully developed, spectacular, gifted, visionary, experienced, dynamic, charismatic leaders in any field. That does not mean that the rest of the candidate pool is not qualified, is not competent and is not capable of growing and learning, and developing into true leaders. The point is that what arts organisations should probably be looking for are diamonds in the rough as it were – potentially gifted leaders and managers. And take a little risk on them. I think personal chemistry is not an unimportant criterion to consider. On the other hand, organisations that look for candidates that are a good match in terms of the skill sets the candidates have, as related to the challenges that the organisation faces. Understand that for the most part employment at their organisation is part of a longer and larger career trajectory for the candidates and appreciate that they offer an ecosystem in which rising stars in the field can cut their teeth, gain experience and become outstanding administrators and managers – then those organisations very likely find new hires very close to what they want – and in that sense do not “settle” at all.

Realistically, how many arts organisation recruit primarily through networks and relationships, making the advertisement more an act of compliance rather than a real tool to uncover emerging talent? 

I think that is probably correct. I have no idea about the statistics, but I would suspect that most organisations that hire a search firm, or that advertise widely and prefer national searches, do not get that much larger or better a final candidate pool than they otherwise would have.

Do you think there is value for arts organisations to invest in better human resources or talent management techniques?

Value? Absolutely. The problem is one of cost. The current economic constraints all but prohibit that kind of investment. While it is always challenging to find the right person for a given position, at least in America, it is a buyer’s market at the moment. Supply exceeds demand, with more qualified candidates than positions available.

Retention is a harder challenge for a number of reasons, chief among them that most small to medium sized organisations have limited advancement opportunities for their employees. They have relatively small teams, people in the higher or supervisorial positions do not tend to retire or move on all that frequently, baby boomers are finding that it is more difficult financially for them to retire (and many do not want to anyway), and thus, the openings for the younger cohort of arts administrators are fewer and farther between. That results in lateral advancement, which is not often available either, to other organisations as the only viable option to move up the ladder, or move out of the field altogether – which is a problem for all of us. In several studies, including one I authored on Youth Involvement in the Arts for the Hewlett Foundation, we found that while the inability of arts organisations to pay even a living wage to younger employees was an issue in retention, it was not as important to that cohort as their career trajectory, mentoring opportunities, meaningful work, the chance for early decision making responsibility and to learn on the job, and a convivial working environment.

As to better talent management techniques, I think we have a long way to go. In terms of providing professional development opportunities for our people to enhance their skills and become better administrators or managers, we are woefully inadequate. To the extent we offer any training opportunities, they are extremely limited (e.g. we offer fundraising training, but not such things as “how to be a better listener”). And while there are university degree programs in arts administration, there are too few easily accessible, affordable, on demand training options to the average arts worker.

Interested in further reading on roles and jobs in the arts?

Image care of tedxSydney

This July over 100 artists from aerialists to orchestras will sail their way across to Cockatoo Island for Underbelly Arts 2011 lab, July 3rd – 12th and festival, July 16th. Artists and the public will meet and collaborate creating a unique platform demonstrating the creative process of emerging arts practitioners. The mother of the Underbelly baby, Artistic Director Imogen Semmler talks to arts interview about this year’s festival, the many facets of artistic personality, the importance of creative producers and the navigation of the corporate and arts collaboration.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

Underbelly Arts is a social experiment as well as a space for creation and collaboration. When choosing artists to participate, on a conscious or sub conscious level, do you think artists are chosen for their personalities to add a sense of theater to the lab?

Artists bring their projects to us so you know what they will be working on, but then it is about who else will be there and how they are going to connect.  We want to support the trajectory of new work but I think there is something there as well. It is about having an interesting balance – that is probably a subconscious thing. The lab itself is not clashy and it is not like people do not get on. I think it is more about people being really surprised and their eyes are opened up a lot about what people are doing. It can get stressful especially towards the end of the lab when the festival is looming as people have to start making decisions and locking in performances. There is that pressure cooker situation and it does sometimes explode.

One of the biggest personas of this year’s festival will be the venue itself. Do you think that the rich history of the Island and the general public’s association of the venue to Sydney Biennale and other large festivals will be a help or hindrance?

We have enjoyed the process of moving to different sites and it gives artists the chance to move to new spaces that they have not been able to access before. The Island is a blank canvas again because all those rooms are bare now and the artists are responding to this. All the stuff coming through to us is very hybrid. I do not think we are going to reinvent the wheel but I think we are going to give something new to the Island. It will be a different experience to being at a rock festival or an arts festival where you walk around the whole site. It will be very fresh and we are bringing different qualities. Being on the Island will get new audiences and that is great. It will give more access to people, people will come to our events who have never heard of it and that is great for them to see young artists.

You have dealt with corporate and government organisations who are not involved specifically in the arts, like last year’s Frasers Property Group and this year navigating the heritage and government waters with Cockatoo Island. How has the relationship been between these groups and Underbelly?

You do have to make sure that the outside organisations know that you understand what you are talking about. That is really important. You have got to let them know that everything that you are doing is totally professional. With Frasers, we just said this is what we are, this is what we are proposing and imagine what it will be like walking down the street with all these spaces activated.  It was about projecting them a vision of what it would look like because they had not done it before, so you could not just expect them to say yes. If you can use emotive language and images and try to get them to visualise how it is going to feel, that is a really good way of explaining to people what you want to do. We are a small arts organisation, but we do approach this professionally because that is all you have got – if you are not professional you are not going to get those relationships established.

Do you think that arts organisations and artists, particularly emerging artists’, think too much with the heart and not enough with the head?

Different people bring different things to the arts. When you have an ARI, you usually have a group of very switched on artists, who are also curators or producers who are smart and savvy enough to be able to run as a potential business. Whereas other artists, their skills are just to be creative and to respond to ideas. They might not have those production or business skills to go with it. It is all about getting the right team together to deliver what you want to do. If some artists do not have those skills, I would never force them to learn how to produce and how to write grants. All that stuff if they had tried and tried and still were not good at it – what is the point? It is better for them to get an awesome creative producer who can work with them on delivering those ideas and figuring out how their work can fit into an environment. A lot of creative producers are really under-appreciated because they can often bring a lot of value, they are the head thinkers working with the heart thinkers and they deliver something really good.

Like to know more about the emotions and personality?

Savita Apte is an Art Historian specialising in Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art. She began her career in Sotheby’s where she was instrumental in founding the Sotheby Prize for Contemporary Indian Art. She is a director of Art Dubai, as well as a regular lecturer at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) and the Sotheby’s Institute.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What are the best personal strategies you have put in place to gain skills in your career?

The best strategy I have used is hands-on-learning, particularly from someone with a lot of experience in the area and that can act as a mentor. Those have been the most fruitful and memorable of my learning experiences.

 How have you helped to develop those around you?  Do you mentor and what value do you gain from that?

I went into mentoring without knowing it, and have developed deep relationships in the process. I supervise several research students and keep in touch with those I have mentored. They may sometimes correct the fallacies that I may develop over time and bring fresh and innovative ideas on board.

What role have you learnt from the most – the most challenging or the one that you have felt most out of your comfort zone?  

Perhaps the most challenging role for me so far has been the one of a PhD student (Savita is a doctoral candidate with SOAS, studying modernism in Indian art). I have been out of the student mode for so many years. Particularly accessing electric journals and e-libraries is not something that is very easy for me. Some of my Master’s students have helped me navigate through these virtual references.

Do you feel the arts industry offers enough in the way of professional development?  

The industry can perhaps offer more, it has so far been a contained industry, where galleries are handed down through families. However, these spaces are being reformed and renegotiated. Certainly auction houses, like Sotheby’s, are offering courses in arts management and arts business and there will be more development in the years to come. The industry can and should do more.

How different is the educational process when you are speaking to your students at SOAS or Sotheby’s versus the audience at Art Dubai’s educational program? What kind of programming has generated most interest at Art Dubai?

The student at SOAS is expecting more focused information and is much more receptive and critical of the information. When catering to a general audience, you have to provide all kinds of information and different levels of engagement. One-on-one conversations with the artists have generated the most interest. People were interested in understanding how the creative mind works and how that is translated into a visual medium.

Interested in further learning?

This week’s interview is based on a panel of emerging arts practitioners in a round table discussion about their experiences of entering the arts industry. In the arts, there is a preconceived notion that internships only involve stuffing envelopes and coffee runs. This panel serves to break down this stereotype and discuss the value, as well as the positive and negative experiences, and how it can affect your career in the arts industry. Reflecting on past experience they examine ways in which we can provide more support and learning opportunities for emerging art practitioners. To allow openness and honesty in the interview, the participants have remained anonymous.

Interview by Georgina Sandercock

What do you see are the barriers to getting a successful foothold into the arts industry?

Panel Member 1: For me, education has had a huge impact on my career. I feel that in general, the arts management post-graduate degrees available are not providing the necessary practical skill set needed for success in the arts industry. These post-graduate degrees offer a wide variety of theoretical knowledge, but lack the means in which to execute this in a practical setting. Where else can we access valuable resources and networks if not through our education?

Panel Member 2:  In today’s arts climate, almost every person interested in the arts industry attains a relevant post-graduate degree, so each year at least 150 other graduating students with identical resumes will be applying for the same jobs. With these statistics and a lack of practical knowledge, looking for jobs can be daunting and in some cases seem hopeless.

Panel Member 3: I think it is virtually impossible to apply for a job without doing some kind of volunteering or unpaid internships. To other industries it may seem ludicrous to give long periods of our time to a project or organisation for no pay, but in the arts industry it is a necessity that allows you to gain the practical knowledge that we are not receiving through education and develop relationships and networks for the future. Reflecting on my experiences, I would not feel confident going straight into the arts industry without doing an internship. There needs to be more communication that volunteering and internships are essential barriers to overcome in order to gain practical knowledge to successfully enter the arts industry.

How have you found your first jobs or internships? 

Panel Member 1: From my experience as intern, I felt like I was treated as if I had no experience and was a novice to even the most remedial administrative tasks. I was not treated badly, however I felt very underappreciated and undervalued.

Panel Member 2: I actually shocked my organisation with my capability. They said their previous interns were completely incompetent. The organisation had obviously been tainted by this experience. Sadly, the preconceived idea that all interns are treated badly could actually have something to do with the ability of the intern.

If you are lucky enough to be offered a job after your internship, the transition from intern to paid employee is a difficult task. It is hard to balance the previous expectations as an intern with new responsibilities of an employee. You are not expected to do all the remedial tasks that had been assigned to you previously, but in a new role, especially a junior role, there is still an element of lower level tasks you will need to do in order to prove your value and responsibility.

Have your experiences at first jobs, volunteering and internships been valuable?

Panel Member 1: I think you can draw from both negative and positive experiences in first jobs and internships. I always felt valued at my internship which motivated me to work harder and I was fine with that. I think feeling valued really affects the experience you can have as an intern. Alternatively, I see the great value of actually doing an internship. It is essentially free learning and you gain a practical skill set that you can utilise for future roles. I have also developed an understanding of internal politics, which often plays an integral role in the arts industry.

Panel Member 3: Definitely. Without my internship I would not have gotten a job in the arts. I agree whether you have a good or bad experience, both can be beneficial to your future in the arts industry. My internship allowed me to experience a variety of different roles in an organisation and from this I could determine what really interested me and if I could actually do the job.

What could be done better to provide learning and support for new arts practitioners?

Panel Member 1: Communication and more opportunities for networking within and outside of university appear to be the areas that could vastly improve learning and support.  We have come to realise there is virtually no funding, such as grants and scholarships specifically for emerging arts practitioners. How can we fully invest our time in volunteer projects and internships when we can only afford to give one day a week due to other financial commitments?

Panel Member 2: Often you have to search high and low for career advice during and after university as there is nothing to support the transition between university and the arts industry. We need more information and advice and perhaps an organisation solely dedicated to emerging arts practitioners. Many of us have found ourselves lacking direction when faced with the next step in our career and it only dawned on me after the fact the effect my internship experience has had on my career.

Where else can you get information on learning in the arts:


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