Addressing the Dynamic: examining relationships between freelance artists and project managers

Post written by Annie Sheen (Projects manager Learning and Participation- Music Faculty)

As 2013 drew to a close, we,  Trinity Laban’s Learning and Participation team (L&P for short), were busy preparing for our next year of projects, classes and professional development training.

If you’ve not heard of us yet, we exist to develop access to higher education and offer our local communities the opportunity to work with high quality music and dance artists on a range of projects and programmes. Our team is made up of project managers and coordinators who have responsibility for developing and managing the diverse programme on offer.

As one of these project managers, I regularly work with a range of talented and inspiring freelance music and dance artists. I’m privileged to be able to work with such a diverse and varied mix of creative people, all of whom share  our belief that music and dance can, and should, be available for everyone to enjoy.

Managing professional relationships with freelance artists is an important part of my role and one that is often integral to the success of a project. Like all relationships, mutual trust, respect and empathy on both sides need to exist. However, the development of our work can often be fast paced and time-constrained and I don’t always have the time to develop as close a relationship with artists as I’d like. When we’re all so busy, regular communication is often a huge challenge.

Over the past three months Trinity Laban’s L&P team has played host to an exciting enquiry-based research project called Addressing the dynamic. Funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation through their initiative ArtWorks, the research brought together a range of freelance artists and project managers from across London. As a collective, the participants represent a range of art forms and types of organisations (from Chisenhale Gallery to The Globe Theatre).

The purpose of the research was to uncover why a good working relationship between freelance artists and project managers working in arts and participatory settings is so important. It identified when and why relationships can break down and what project managers can do to better support freelance artists in participatory delivery.

As the lead project manager for the research, the findings certainly struck a chord with the importance I place on nurturing my professional relationships, not only with freelance artists but with my other colleagues too. The research uncovered what it means to develop a great working relationship with others and helped all the participants involved to understand each other’s perspectives better. For example, it’s difficult for artists to ask for support from their employers without feeling it’s compromising their artistic integrity, and project managers are often the broker, having to deal with different expectations and political pressures.

Most importantly the research identified the importance of facilitating creative and honest conversations in which egos are left at home and two-way feedback is welcomed to allow discussions about quality and core values to safely take place.

It seems obvious doesn’t it, but we all know it’s harder than it sounds, especially in the world of the arts where artistic outcomes are often open ended and we all have different ideas on what we mean by quality.

Link to research document: Addressing the dynamic

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