For Love and Money - The Importance of Networking

Image by Imagistic.co.uk to accompany keynote speakers at FLAM conference

Pictured above are the topics raised over three sessions of key note speakers at the FLAM conference, drawn by Emma of Imagistic.co.uk

 

If January has had a theme, it's been the importance of communicating and networking. On the 25th I was in Fareham attending the first ever For Love and Money (#FLAM2018) conference, and on the 30th I attended a networking event with Lower 6th students at the Burgess Hill School for Girls.

The first event was all about funding work, activities, and outreach in the creative sectors. Speakers and attendees included representatives from national and regional organisations, including the Arts Council and a-n, alongside individual artists representing a range of creative practices. Speakers offered insights into finding and making the most of funding opportunities in the face of ever shrinking resources, and ran development workshops on storytelling, public speaking, and social media. 

Of the takeaways that stood out for me:

The power of positive thinking cannot be underestimated. As paraphrased from opening remarks by Susan Mumford of Be Smart About Art, "you might be a glass half full or a glass half empty person, but I've been described as a glass overfloweth person." And while that is a hard thing for many of us to sustain, it is true that when I've been at my most positive, most open-minded about solutions, and most curious about the good in other people ... the most amazing things really do happen. 

"Don't ask, don't get" or as I put it after many a surprising conversation, "Keep asking for the moon." You might not get it, but if you don't ask you'll never know. And why the moon? Because in asking for the moon you actively engage with your imagination and by setting out the full ambition of what you're trying to achieve from the start, others are better able to make informed choices on if/how they can support you. No one will ever give you everything you want in one go, but if you don't share the full scope of your 'ask' at the beginning, you won't ever know what they might be able to offer you - and it might be something you'd never considered asking for.  

Ask with gratitude. THIS. Ask knowing they might say no, ask giving them permission to say no, ask with an offer of what you can give in return. Also, I would add, ask when you're not even sure of what you're asking for. In asking those vaguer questions, you open up a space for the other person to ask you questions, a space for clarifying your thoughts, possibly even a space for collaboration. Which leads to ...

A "no" isn't necessarily forever. A 'no' may be because you've asked the wrong question of the wrong person, or only that you've asked at the wrong time. Respect the 'no' but don't let it stop you from asking again at a later time, in different circumstances, and to different people. And the closer to the start of your journey you are, the more important it is to remember this.

Which brings me to the second event ...

a networking event for Lower 6th (16/17 yo) students from the Burgess Hill School for Girls and local professionals in fields of interest to the students. This was my first time attending this event, and following so closely after the FLAM conference it really high-lighted the role we can all play in bridging networks and making introductions across time and space. It also reinforced the importance of networking not just within an area of interest, but across specialisms and across generations.

There is no project I've undertaken that wouldn't have been achieved without the help of others. Without regular doses of outside interest, faith, and confidence in me to provide inspiration and counter my own self-doubt, I'd be no where near the person I am today. As a result, I would add one more thing to that list of networking takeaways above. It's related to asking with gratitude, but comes from the other side and that is ...

Pay it forward. When someone comes to you asking for your help or advice or support, lean into it. You might need to say 'no' eventually, but hear them out, offer them the support you can, introduce them to someone else, boost their confidence by taking them seriously, offer them alternatives they might not have thought of.*

Whether it is in the arts or not, regardless of age, gender, and professional qualifications, we are always learning and we learn best from each other. From the stories we tell each other to the questions we ask of each other. So, if it's the word 'networking' itself which puts you off, do as I do and think of it as 'connecting with curiosity.' A little bit of that kind of networking might change someone's life. It might change yours. 

 

*Yes, this article is one of my ways of paying it forward. If you're an aspiring artist or still finding your feet, follow the links above. Find out about the organisations that might help you and start building your own networks ;)

 

Final Footnote:

Arts Council England has launched a feedback forum to shape the next 10 years of arts funding. Given how many local and community engaged artists rely on ACE grants to fund their work, this is an important consultation. Most funding opportunities are too small to pay for an artist's time researching and planning their projects, and none cover the costs and time devoted to fundraising itself. It's right there in FLAM's name ... artists do it for love, but we need the money to keep going. As such I would like to take this opportunity to ask you, whether you attend community arts activities or run them, go to the Arts Council England web page, register as a member of their online conversation forum and add your voice. The link is http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/haveyoursay

 


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