Unlimited Ambition: Creating a Support Network for Artists

Tim Barlow chatting during an Unlimited event
Photo of Tim Barlow at Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival 2014, by Rachel Cherry for Unlimited

Clara Giraud, Assistant Producer for Unlimited, tells us of how beneficial an artistic pairing can be.

Unlimited is about ambition – in audience reach and impact, but most importantly in artistic quality. Mentoring, training, peer exchange, artistic development, professional development…so many labels to talk about artistic development! At the end of the day though, it’s really a personal affair.

Through the commissions and our Impact projects, Unlimited sits at a busy crossroad of exchange: commissioned artists have mentors, but they themselves might be mentoring emerging artists, their producers may be receiving or offering mentoring, as might the venues they present work within. It’s a complicated web of generosity which is ever expanding.

We ask commissioned artists to consider their professional development as part of their application, so that the project they pitch sits clearly in the wider curve of their career.  Even though we’re only supporting one of their artworks, we embrace their broader identity and the often multi-faceted nature of their work.  We invest financially in one project, set in time, but do our best to invest at a human level to strengthen the artists and their teams in a variety of ways.

And it is personal – it only works if it’s individually tailored to the people concerned. As funders, we try to support the processes. Our aims are to help the artists to have a more sustainable career, expand the reach of their work, gain confidence in their artistic vision, be challenged with new models of working.  But artists sometimes have other vital objectives too – specific asks related to an aspect of their work, or ambitions we just wouldn’t have imagined.

At Unlimited, we’re sometimes the initiators, sometimes the supporters, facilitators or even matchmakers for encounters and relationships; and the benefits unfold, feeding straight into the work.

Extant, Yellow Earth and Upswing’s R&D project Flight Paths had significant technical ambitions involving directional sound, so bringing in a technical advisor helped them to delve into this aspect with confidence. Noemi Lakmaier paired up with a producer during her R&D, to approach the practical logistics of her idea, and plan its future stages of development; this initial exchange has lead to a professional partnership as they now work together to realize Cherophobia, Noemi’s new Unlimited commission.

Artist Aidan Moesby was paired up with Creative Producer Andrea Gunther as a mentor, as their lines of enquiry seemed to have common ground.  Aidan reflects on this relationship as part of the R&D period funded by Unlimited:

“Having a mentor supporting your practice is invaluable. A critical friend, someone to cast an outside eye over your work, engage you in a critical dialogue, someone to provoke you as to why you’re making the piece, where does it come from, what am I trying to say. Do I achieve what I set out to? Is it any good?  Have I thought about… All this is invaluable, especially when you are trying to develop your practice into a new area, process, format. Just having a sounding board. I remember Andrea said I need to be aware of the Black Swans. I have held this in mind in nearly all my work since. Andrea engaged with me and my work and was present. But also it was a two way thing, an exchange, a dialogue. The importance of this process and relationship, no matter how brief, can not be under underestimated”

As funds for the arts are dwindling, we mustn’t forget a core resource for the sector – each other.  Joining the dots between ourselves and nourishing rich exchanges to push the boundaries ever further is key to our resilience.

Might you be keen to be a mentor for an Unlimited artist? Or be running a development programme some artists might benefit from? Do you have expertise and experiences to share with people in our network? Maybe you can help us join some dots by becoming an Unlimited Ally? Together, we can build a stronger, diverse, resilient artistic ecology that is genuinely accessible and supportive to all.

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