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Gemma Baxter, 'What Happened Since'

 

Introduction Between 2005 and 2007, the Cultural Leadership Progamme supported 30 Networks, enabling leadership development across the cultural and creative industries through mentoring, coaching, shadowing, exchange, action learning sets and events as well as peer-to-peer support.

This year’s Step Change Coordinator, Gemma Baxter, talks about her experience as a participant in Step Change 08-09 cohort and the development of the programme since the initial leadership development funding support from the Cultural Leadership Programme.


What is Step Change?
Step Change is designed to provide emerging leaders in performing arts with development opportunities provided by industry professionals.  Participants undertake training, mentoring and the opportunity to take a secondment in a different role in a participative organisation.

Why the Step Change network?
When I applied for the programme I had been an Education Officer at the Royal Opera House (ROH) for four years.  Although I had been given as much responsibility as was feasible I was desperate for more, but it would be a while before the next step within the department would become available. I had started to believe I needed to experience life in a smaller organisation, but was worried about finding the right level to step into.

Reading about Step Change it felt like the programme could have been developed for me at that precise moment in my career.  The advert put into words things I had begun to suspect – that career development within the arts often comes down to being at the right place at the right time, and that this is “an ineffective way of identifying the best talent and placing it in the most appropriate context.”

My departmental director was incredibly supportive and agreed that this seemed like the perfect solution.  While participating in Step Change I’d still be able to work on a ground breaking project at the  ROH, which would culminate in a the ROH Education’s first date on main stage project and at the same time as beginning my transition away from ROH.  It would also provide an opportunity to experience increased responsibility within a smaller organisation, with the added support of my ROH colleagues and a Step Change mentor.

What was your experience?
My first mentor session with Abigail Pogson (Executive Director of Spitalfields Festival) was pretty daunting as she asked me many soul searching questions.  Despite the scary start, I learned to appreciate this direct approach and the luxury of someone devoting time to help me unpick my muddled ideas about my career future.  Through our sessions I was able to identify specific skills that I wanted to gain from Step Change and plan how I could achieve them.  Abigail played a vital part in helping me reflect on my experiences throughout the year and remain focused on making the most of the learning opportunities on offer.

Along with 14 other ‘Step Changers’ I attended a fascinating week of master class sessions covering finance, fundraising, producing, marketing, as well as coaching and leadership skills.  It was fantastic to be part of such a diverse group of people in terms background, arts management expertise and career goals; we gelled very quickly on the basis of our shared desire to get as much as we could from this opportunity.  It was also a very supportive group and many potential working relationships as well as friendships were formed.  One of the things impressed on us during this week was that in order to succeed in a job and live up to your potential you have to inspire faith and confidence in your abilities in the people you are working with – even if sometimes this has to involve a bluff!

To test out my potential, I decided on a four month part-time secondment to ATC – a touring theatre company with a permanent staff of three.  They had defined Education as an area they wished to develop and I therefore had a clear brief – to develop a programme of participatory work for young people in their home boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney.  Through this I gained vital experience writing funding applications, developing partnerships, setting and managing budgets and feeding into the long term strategic planning of the company – all of the areas I had identified in my mentor sessions. I was also able to utilise my expertise to create a child protection procedure, permission forms and risk assessments, to enable participatory work to continue after the end of my placement.

Applying to become a participant on Step Change has proved to be a very wise move. My skills and confidence increased through taking part in the programme to the extent that I have already taken a calculated career risk. I am now working part-time as Step Change coordinator alongside developing a freelance portfolio – something that I would not even have considered before Step Change.

What has been Step Change’s impact on participants and the host organisations?
The beauty of Step Change is in the flexibility that allows each participant to have a relevant and unique experience, as shown by the range of placements undertaken by last year’s 15 participants.  For example, David (the Young Vic’s Marketing and Sales Manager) became Assistant Producer for a Shakespeare’s Globe tour; Abdul (founder and artistic director of community based youth arts organisation YOCA) shadowed the artistic directors of National Theatre Wales and Theatre Royal Stratford East; Li (freelance interdisciplinary artist) created an Archive for Improbable.  Despite some inevitable teething problems, the majority of placements were incredibly successful for both participants and host organisations –in fact all host organisations have expressed the desire to remain involved with the programme in coming years.

What next for Step Change?
We are now about to advertise for the third intake of participants thanks in part to the 18 month funding from Meeting the Challenge. Along with developing various aspects of the programme, the main aim for this year is to develop a plan to enable Step Change to live on beyond the CLP funding and become part of the fabric of the National Theatre and the partner organisations of ROH, Young Vic and Battersea Arts Centre. I know the Step Change alumni will agree with me that this is imperative!

 

For further information on Step Change please contact gbaxter@nationaltheatre.org.uk