Artquest’s Professional Development Programme with New Contemporaries

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Peer Network for NC2020 Artists

Tom Pope, artist and NC Mentors lead for Artquest, reflects on the Artists' Professional Development Programme with New Contemporaries.


23 November 2020

Since 2014, we are proud to have been partnering with Artquest on a programme of one-to-one and peer mentoring. This year, even more so than ever as we all face disruption to our working patterns and isolation from friends, colleagues and others that support us emerging and early career artists needs the strategies and tactics to help them maintain and sustain their practices. We are hugely grateful that all our mentors this year adapted to create a safe space online where ideas and solutions to the challenges of practicing now could be explored and shared.

Kirsty Ogg, Director New Contemporaries

I believe that professional development is a key skill to help make your practice as an artist as sustainable as it can be and to help develop helpful networks when it comes to navigating all the art worlds out there. There's also a lot of transferable elements that you could ring over from other professions or learn from freelancers who work in a different field about how to manage taxes, develop a contact into a work prospect and furthermore. Even the basics of having good documentation, a website and CV to hand can be invaluable when trying to meet a tight application deadline. The key thing is not to be afraid to ask for help and don't worry about looking stupid or naive, these are important parts of the 'work' that should be readily discussed in a clear and supportive way - especially for artists coming from underrepresented backgrounds, we may not have anyone we know who is able to guide us when it comes these issues.

Abbas Zahedi, artist and 2020 Peer Networking host

Living and working as an artist, both pre- and post-Covid-19, is not simply about creating artwork. Surviving Thriving as an artist requires a holistic approach to developing a sustainable practice. It’s necessary for artists to undertake administration duties such as promotion and marketing, accounts, archiving, funding applications and generating other income, production and networking: all in addition to making work.

For recent graduates leaving an arts course (BA, MA, PhD) or Alternative programme, can be both an exciting and precarious moment. The reduced structure with its tutors, facilities and a network of peers can result in a loss of immediate critical feedback, emotional and logistical support, studios, workshops, technicians and mentors. The loss of all of this can hit an artist hard. “I have my artwork, but where do I go from here?”

New Contemporaries supports artists in their last year of study, during their postgraduate studies and in their first year after graduation, as they transition from education to professional practice. In addition to an annual touring UK-wide exhibition, New Contemporaries works with Artquest to deliver a professional development programme that offers exhibiting artists the tools required to develop a sustainable practice. The programme focuses on connecting and building networks, exchange of ideas and support, recognising needs and finding solutions, and critical professional feedback.

Through our own research at Artquest and carefully conceived projects, we recognise early-career artists’ needs around networking, sales, peer mentoring and promotion, and develop tailored support programmes in response to such needs. These programmes bring together arts professionals, artists, educators, curators, and writers with relevant experience, skills and expertise. For a number of years we have worked with artist and educator Chloe Cooper: her knowledge of giving structured feedback amongst peers, in addition to her understanding of contemporary artists needs, are a valuable contribution to the professional development programme.

New Contemporaries & ArtQuest Peer Mentoring workshop at South London Gallery, led by Chloe Cooper. Image: Tom Pope

As someone who didn’t leave my BA with an established group of peers, it was early networking opportunities that provided me with the chance to develop support networks with artists who shared my commitment to artistic practice. Activities like the ones we initiated recently online with New Contemporaries 2020 cohort of artists offered up the tools to start building connections, fostering curiosity for each other's practices, sharing interpretations, asking each other to reflect on where they’re at and what they need to be able to keep practising. These are all necessary skills within community building and it’s communities that we need right now, more than ever. The power of the collective is strong!

Chloe Cooper, artist, educator and 2020 Peer Networking host

This year we developed a new Peer Networking for Artists workshop to bring the New Contemporaries 2020 artists together to share their practice. Due to the lockdown, this workshop took place online and consisted of five concurrent, rotating workshop groups – each led by a different invited practitioner. As well as Chloe, the invited artists were Lorrice Douglas, Ali Eisa, Abbas Zahedi and myself.

The Art Quest & New Contemporaries programme also delivers one-to-one advice sessions with respected art world figures. During these sessions, mentors provide feedback on the artists’ work, suggest potential directions it might take, where it might be sustained within contemporary arts ecology and introduce artists to organisations and individuals who might professionally support them. This is a rocket-boost to these early career artists: the opportunity to meet experienced and networked arts practitioners with a wealth of knowledge about the realities of forging a career as an artist is invaluable.

In 2020 our mentors include Benjamin Cook (LUX), Ceri Hand, Evan Ifekoya, Ama Josephine Budge, and Chris Rawcliffe (Forma). Previous mentors have included, Lucy Day, Mary Doyle, Janice McLaren and Soraya Rodriguez.

Chris Rawcliffe, Artistic Director of commissioning agency Forma and 2020 mentor, understands the challenges and struggles facing emerging artists. Having mentored NC artists for 2 years, his enthusiasm to share knowledge and expertise with artists and to aid them with creating a sustainable practice is precisely the kind of support artists require.

Emerging artists face stiff competition for artistic opportunities and funding when they leave Higher Education – let alone the prospect of repaying their student loans. Genuine and useful professional development programmes like those proposed by Artquest fill the gaps that university, family and friends haven't taught artists. Artquest's focus on peer to peer learning and making many of their programmes available online for free ensure it remains relevant and accessible to all.

Chris Rawcliffe, Forma

In conjunction with the touring Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibitions we deliver workshops to other artists around the UK in sessions that focus on the impact and methodologies of peer mentoring.

New Contemporaries & ArtQuest Peer Mentoring workshop at South London Gallery, led by Chloe Cooper. Image: Tom Pope

These participatory sessions are led by Chloe Cooper, who introduces the practice of peer mentoring and its benefits, suggesting ways to establish groups and models of feedback. Attendees share their practice within a small group during a practical demonstration of peer mentoring. A beautiful and unintended outcome of these sessions has been the organic formation of peer mentoring groups: each year we hear about peer groups that have formed out of these workshops.

The importance of professional development, peer-to-peer support and advice for developing a sustainable artistic practice is a somewhat overlooked aspect in the arts. With New Contemporaries, we equip artists with the tools they need to build and expand their peer networks, support each other emotionally and practically, and generate a sustainable practice that allows them to thrive. We develop the programme continuously, listening to artists to better understand their changing needs, helping us assist artists where and when they need it most.

New Contemporaries and Artquest’s One-to-One mentoring & Peer Networking Sessions form part of the Bridget Riley Artists’ Professional Development Programme which is supported by the Bridget Riley Art Foundation