Development priorities

Artist Practitioner Placements

Into the Unknown

by Helen Carnac

The Artist Leadership Development Placements were established with the aim of ‘supporting the leadership development of artists/practitioners who have aspirations to lead through practice, and wish to gain experience through working within organisations on creative projects.’  Three artists were chosen to ‘shadow’ leaders in host organisations, these were: Helen Carnac with Craftspace, Nina Edge with FACT, and Kate Fox with New Writing North. This essay reflects on their placements, which began in March 2009, and draws on conversations between the three artists and a panel discussion that took place in July 2010 with David Jubb (Artistic Director, Battersea Arts Centre) and Nicola Turner (Assistant Director, CLP).

Information and research that comes from independent sites of practice clearly provide a necessary and relevant addition to organisational models that currently exist in developing leadership in today’s changing economy and working landscape. However, it has been evident from the placements and from research, that many who think about leadership from the position of the artist, have a discomfort with the words that have been used to construct and form today’s leadership models. This essay poses questions around how those practitioners engage with organisations and with leadership, asking whether leading through practice could be more transient: not positioning the practitioner-leaders at the ‘front’ with the associated power and prior rhetoric, but instead practising leadership through offering the ability to ask open questions from different sites.

This essay shows an often uncomfortable but nevertheless promising relationship between an artist practitioner and an organisation, addressing issues of: equity and control; differencing; status; in and out; them and us; professionalising and monetising; style and content; and value and trust. It explores how we might work in relationships where methodologies are so different, without losing the importance of what we all have to offer in a two-way process. The writer concludes that by embracing different approaches to leadership, and understanding each other’s working processes and differences, we may go some way to bring much needed change.

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