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Photo: courtesy of Mosman Council

These responses were recorded as part of the panel discussion Who You Know: Building Networks in the Arts at The Museum of Contemporary Art on June 9th 2012 .An event in partnership with arts interview and VIVID Sydney.

Original panel discussion chaired and transcribed by Eliza Muldoon

Peter Nelson completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts with First Class Honours and the University Medal for Fine Arts in 2006 at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales. In 2011 he was an artist in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris and won the Art and Australia Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award. He is currently finishing a Masters by Research at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, developing a critical framework for analysing invented landscapes.

How do you manage the juggle between promoting your work and making your work?

I have a natural tendency to be isolated and work by myself. That has changed in the last few years though; I’ve found myself working with other people lately. That has broken down the distinction that I used to have, that either I was away by myself working or with others and being distracted from working. I now understand that I can work while being with other people and that promoting work feels like more of a part of making my work than it used to. I now think that being around others not only helps in building a profile it also is important because it allows you to put your work out there in your artistic community. Putting it out there forces you to engage in a community that challenges you intellectually.

I’ve seen a few interviews with you lately. How do you feel about doing interviews?

I often think I’ve said really silly things, things that I would not have said if I had responded via email. I’ve come to realise that interviews are not the worst thing in the world though. Somebody wants to talk to me about things that I’m interested in, things that I’m interested enough to build my career around. Usually we bore our friends to tears with that stuff. In an interview someone sits down with you and wants to talk with you about it for an hour!

How did the Cité (Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris) residency assist you with networking?

The Cité is unique partly because of its size. There are something like 218 studios in the one complex. There are always a lot of people around. Other residencies often have up to 8 studios. Everybody there is outside of their regular networks, their regular life and their regular commitments, so you have time to sit around and talk to them. These are people you might not otherwise get the chance to talk to, or perhaps might not otherwise ever be willing to talk to, simply because you are in awe of them.

An Italian architect and I actually ended up delivering a lecture together because we were both obsessed with particular periods of European architecture. That developed from a chance meeting and because we both had the time. We sat around and chatted and it evolved into a lecture.

What about follow-up? What advice do you have for maintaining a new professional relationship?

I think you need to make sure that communication is relevant. If you want to have a professional relationship with someone and remind them of your existence then it is good to have something valuable to say. I contact people a lot more when I have show coming up because I have something to contact them about- otherwise it would be a very strange email or telephone call.

The best connections happen when there is some purpose behind the communication.

How important do you think investing in a social media presence is for an artist?

It’s important. There is a blurred distinction on these platforms between your social life and your professional life though- they bleed into one another. It is a good way of putting things into the public forum without a whole lot of effort. You can also then build upon the discussion and interact with people. Most of the exhibitions I go to are via word of mouth or facebook. It’s where many day-to-day conversations happen, and it’s where many of the relationships are.

www.peteracnelson.com

These responses were recorded as part of the panel discussion Who You Know: Building Networks in the Arts at The Museum of Contemporary Art on June 9th 2012 An event in partnership with arts interview and VIVID Sydney.

Original panel discussion chaired and transcribed by Eliza Muldoon

Julia Lenton is a freelance arts, theatre and music publicist and administrator. Julia has run successful arts, theatre and music publicity campaigns for clients such as Carriageworks, Performance Space, PACT centre for emerging artists, Siren Theatre Company, Emma Davis, super FLORENCE jam, Oxford St Design Store and Alaska Projects. Julia also recently worked as Marketing Co ordinator at Queen Street Studios.

As a publicist is it important for you to have strong networks? Perhaps yours need to be stronger than anyone else’s. I’m curious about whether you started as a publicist that honed in on the arts or whether you knew a lot of people in the arts and then became a publicist.

I worked in arts production throughout university, I was studying media and communications, as part of the degree I had to do an internship- that’s how I actually went into this. I thought about what I wanted to do for my internship and my best friend had done her internship at Sydney Festival- she got lots of free tickets to things and went to lots of parties. It seemed like both a lot of hard work and a lot of fun, so I applied for that internship, and I got it.

Prior to the internship I didn’t know much about publicity. We got taught PR, but I knew I didn’t want to do corporate PR, I didn’t want to do PR for grapes (I mean that’s fine- grapes need PR) but I didn’t want to do that.

I had loved Sydney Festival and I got asked to do some publicity after my internship. Soon after I called up Helene Fox, who had been Senior Publicist at Sydney Festival, but by then Helene had moved onto the Opera House, and I said to her ‘I think I’m becoming a publicist, can we have a drink and chat about that?’. When I met Helene she brought with her lots of emails from people that had wanted to hire her recently but she didn’t have time to do all of their work. So she suggested that she mentor me and we work together on the work. I was still at university at the time and felt  way in over my head for a long time.

How important do you think it is for an artist to have a public profile? To make yourself known?

I think it’s incredibly important. As a publicist it is much easier for me to work with someone that already puts themselves out there. I met an artist recently that said ‘I don’t want to be on facebook and I don’t want a twitter account, I don’t want to have any of that’. I respect that but they then can’t expect to have as much of a public profile and they may miss out on opportunities. Some artists are reluctant to do interviews, to engage with media or to have photos taken of themselves and I understand that it might feel like it doesn’t align with what they’re doing in their arts practice, but if they want people to come along and they want people to see the work then they have to give a little.

This week I had an example actually. Getting good artist images that I can give to the press sometimes feels like pulling teeth. I said to the artist that I needed a range of images, I need landscape and portrait and I need high res and he said that I want you to only use this image this way, but those limitations mean that the listing probably won’t run. I have to be a little bit hard-line.

What are the keys to good networking?

I think it’s about having genuine conversations with people. You’re in the wrong industry if you don’t actually want to chat to people about their art or what they’re doing. You might meet someone that you might not immediately want to work with but you take their business card and then maybe one day something will come up that they will be interested in, and when it does you’ll invite them along. You have to also respect people. Just because you may not want to work with them doesn’t mean you should look over their shoulder and go ‘alright, I’ll go and talk to someone else because there is nothing in this for me’. Who knows where they might one day be and what relationships might exist with them in the future. As a publicist I can’t ignore a blogger because one day they might be the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. Just be nice.

twitter.com/julialenton

After roles at Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Casula Powerhouse and recently as the Gallery Manager of Australian Galleries, Will Sturrock has taken residence as the Gallery Manager of the young and uber- contemporary Gallery 9. Will took some time out from his day to chat about the practical realities of working in a commercial gallery and working with artists.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

What are the challenges of working with artists in a commercial gallery context?

There are different challenges faced by different artists according to what stages of their careers they are at. I think one underpinning challenge of recent years has been a sense of frustration with artists simply not selling work, this can be manifested in a bitterness which can end in a dissolution of a good working relationship or friendship. For me personally I haven’t experienced this but there have been some significant departures of artists from galleries who have not supported them and vice versa.

Given the brief of working with younger emerging artists, financial stress can cause unnecessary and unnerving frustration for all involved. This has meant that people have had to become more resourceful, more proactive and in a sense more driven because there are no easy sales for anyone.

How do you balance personal relationships with business relationships?

Honesty is always a virtue which has to be handled and managed properly. I think letting your emotional response to a body of work or the state of an artist’s studio overwhelm a situation can be incredibly detrimental. I haven’t experienced it personally but I have heard absolute disaster stories in this respect and it can be hard not to engage in an emotional response when you work in visual art. I think approaching the profession with objectivity and a desire to fill the needs of the artist, client and gallery is a difficult job and it’s about learning those balances.

You have to also stand back and not allow yourself to be involved in any disputes going on in the highly political and highly sensitive world of artists and studios, and also in talking with artists from other galleries or other gallery workers.

What are the major ‘do not’s for an artist dealing with their representative gallery?

What underpins the entire point of having a gallery represent an artist, or what keeps us afloat is the fact that there is some degree of exclusivity and that commission is maintained. What I mean by that is in this world of high interaction in social media, web sites and online e commerce, the referral in interest from clients should always come back to the gallery. I think it is just too easy for that information to not be handled properly. People in commercial galleries have a degree of expertise in developing client relationships and client management, in the same way that within a company it’s quite distinct that you have different departments. If you could use some essence of that business model and apply it to an artist/ dealer relationship I think it makes sense that the gallery is left in charge of dealing with the commercial activity and the artist remains in control of their artistic careers.

What core skills do you need to develop to work within a gallery?

The ability to approach new art and new artists and their work with completely open eyes and a great sensitivity to the hard work and dedication that they put into their practice is very important. I think remaining objective and critical without necessarily being vocal about it is a skill I am grateful to have acquired early on.

The ability to be able to expand your skill base is vital, once upon a time we could have contractors to do everything and in tougher times you have to be the web designer, print and graphic designer, then jump straight into a conversation with an executive client and then the next minute counsel an artist. There is a degree of psychology involved in it which you have to take in your stride. The ability to multitask and a willingness to learn new skills is potentially the most important skill. I cannot stress how important this is as often there is no one else to do it.

www.gallery9.com.au

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