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Looking through a different lens

Pauline BaileyPauline Bailey has worked in the arts and cultural sector for over 30 years as a visual artist, mentor and coach, working with a wide range of socially engaged groups. Pauline spoke to Jacqueline Haxton about her experience of being a mentor on the AMA’s Audience Diversity Academy.

AMA’s Programme Producer Bea Udeh invited me to join the Audience Diversity Academy (ADA) as a mentor in 2018. With my experience of working with diverse groups in different art forms from early years and the elderly through to working in environments such as housing estates, prisons, universities and galleries, Bea felt that I had something to say and offer the ADA Fellows — that I could add to their learning.

I love the fact that the ADA programme is interactive. It gives Fellows the opportunity to have the space to reflect and problem solve. As a group, they face similar challenges and through each other’s experiences they can help and support each other, and realise that they’re not alone.

Critical friend
As a mentor I see myself as a critical friend — getting the ADA Fellows to think about their baseline and what they want to achieve. I start by asking questions such as: where have you been; where are you now and where would you like to be? Getting Fellows to think about their audience development work and where they’d like to take it — to take a step back and to think outside the box.

I have four formal sessions with each ADA Fellow over the programme period and this usually happens online through Skype. In addition to these sessions, the Fellows will often send me updates via email or on the phone, and these can lead to mini sessions when we bounce ideas about the issues they’re struggling with. I like the Fellows to know that I’m always at the end of the phone or email as that critical friend.

As I’m not directly involved in a Fellow’s organisation or work I’m able to provide a different perspective on their work and often highlight small changes or opportunities that already exist within the context of their organisation. Having the opportunity to step back and consider something with a different lens can highlight simple and sometime obvious changes and opportunities.

Having the opportunity to step back and consider something with a different lens can highlight simple and sometime obvious changes and opportunities.

Scrappy experiments
As part of the ADA programme the Fellows also take part in online workshops and this helps them develop their ‘scrappy experiments’. The ADA Fellows can undertake either one big scrappy experiment or a few smaller ones. It depends on their individual and organisational goals. The experiments add to the learning — providing practical insights and flagging up difficulties that Fellows don’t expect.

For example, one Fellow was trying to engage with young people by organising open days at their studios to show the type of work involved in being an artist. The Fellow worked with a group of students from a local college to get them involved in marketing this event. What the Fellow discovered was that they had made assumptions about how the young students used social media. The young students actually had limited experience of social media in terms of marketing and engagement, and used social media in a different way to what the Fellow had assumed.

It doesn’t matter how small your experiment is, providing you fully engage with the programme you’ll gain a huge amount and by default your organisation will be gaining from it too.

Making things happen
The impact that the climate of austerity we’ve been living in has meant that people working in the arts and cultural sector need to rise to the challenge of making things happen. As we say in the arts: “the show must go on”. And in these times it’s even more important that the sector engages with diverse audiences.

As we say in the arts: “the show must go on”. And in these times it’s even more important that the sector engages with diverse audiences.

Arts and cultural organisations are working with increasingly limited funds and finances. Many are working to capacity and organisational changes often result in people having to adapt their roles and work in an agile way. Those working in smaller organisations have the challenge of broad job descriptions, with their roles covering many things. Whereas those working in larger organisations and in a team, have the challenge of working in silos and not collaborating across the organisation with other teams to achieve shared goals.

The Audience Development Academy allows Fellows to explore different approaches and have a dialogue that offers new insights. It’s easy for our work to be entrenched within an organisation and to feel like we’re simply firefighting. A programme like the #ADA enables Fellows and organisations to take a step back to consider new ways of working.

Changes can be challenging for Fellows as they often require organisational and leadership buy-in, and require organisations to adopt a more agile way of working.

Don’t listen to the imposter within
Being a mentor on the ADA has also given me the confidence to acknowledge and recognise that my experience and knowledge has value; that I have a lot to offer the ADA Fellows in their ADA journey.

I need to remember the work I did over the past 30 years from working with Second Sight in creating opportunities for women in broadcasting particularly in production and behind-the-scenes; through to the work I undertake now with different groups within different environments.

I need to stop listening to the imposter within me and have the confidence to recognise that my experience has value and that I can guide Fellows through this programme.

My top five #ADA takeaways

  • Opportunity to try new things and to experiment.
  • A space to breathe, reflect and grow.
  • Implement change and make a difference.
  • Become more audience-focused and thinking more strategically.
  • Fun!

Experiment and learn to reach new audiences
The next #ADA will start in April 2020 until December 2020. For more information about #ADA and to apply for this programme go to: AMA’s Audience Diversity Academy. Closing date for applications is 16 March 2020.