|One thing You Are Here (and our funders) continually refer to is artist development. In this case meaning both the makers of artwork but also the development of people in the many other roles that are necessary in the creation and delivery of art.
The words ‘artist development’ or ‘developing artists’ go a long way to making it sound like there is a plan or a path, or in the least that one or some of us have some idea as to how an artist gets from here to there (wherever there might be). We don’t. And neither do you. There is no one route or series of actions one can take to cause artistic or career success to follow. The lack of predictability and rejection of rigid paths makes the life of an artist fraught with angst but graced by endless and often unexpected possibilities for learning and exploration. Sometimes (a lot of the time) these are born of accident and chance. These stories are unheroic.
Two such examples are Yolande Norris and Nick Delatovic, creative producers who got their start with You Are Here and are still a part of it. But why and how, and what?
Yolande: When I got invited to assist produce the first You Are Here festival I said yes without even knowing what that meant. I got straight onto Google and typed: ‘what is a producer?’ Turned out it was just a fancy word for management and administration, so I figured I could hold up a convincing portrayal. But I was unsure whether I had what it took – I came from the visual art world and at that point felt that I ‘didn’t know enough’ about other disciplines. If it had been a job application I would never have applied.
Nick: I’d just been a guy in bands who put on gigs before I got involved, and that initial involvement was because I wanted to do a gig there with my band.
Then it was 2013 that I made a rueful joke to (then producer) David about him turning me into a producer, and he replied ‘you were always a producer Nick’. And he was right! In any band or event collab or project I’d ever done I gravitated toward, not a leadership role, but a facilitator role. I’d do the invisible drudge-y jobs that needed to happen, or just as often find and co-ordinate the right people to do them.
Y: Totally. It’s all the stuff we’ve always done, with a different name. I’d curated a handful of exhibitions, and I after a while I could see that it was the same space, in many ways.
N: I’m also an artist who’s worked with producers myself so I can say with authority what they do—they handle logistics, they act as a creative voice and outside eye, they do the grown-up drudge work and they Believe In And Cheerlead for your work. It’s no contest between having one and not having one.
Y: The drudge work can’t be overstated, really. The bizarre tasks and errands, the hard labour you end up doing, all to get something off the ground. To see an artist’s idea realised.
N: The other thing that I’m only just becoming conscious of as a long-term obsession is that I love and am good at building teams of artists and producers. I find it compulsively fun to file away the skills and qualities of artists that I meet or observe, then match them to the right teams and projects as they come up. In fact, I somewhat consider Correct Team Selection as 90% of successful producing, at least the way I do it.
Y: I’d say the same, definitely. A producer is a collector of people.
N: But then also I’m being disingenuous because creative producing does require having a sensibility, a take on things, even maybe a vision, and building consensus and buy-in around that.
Y: It’s a creative practice unto itself, right? Using artwork itself as a medium. Playing with spaces. Playing with how people use spaces and guiding experiences. But that side of it—it’s not something that can be taught. You Are Here is one of those anomalous spaces where you can come fresh to something, try it for the first time. Low to no risk.
N: It was a really specific way for me to learn about all the other artforms besides music—suddenly being responsible for a bunch of different artists and having to divine their individual needs. I think one reason that YAH has ended up kind of specialising in interdisciplinary cross-form stuff is that we weren’t educated about where the conventional boundaries were meant to be!
Y: And we used these neutral venues that meant you didn’t have to have prior knowledge of, say, how a theatre works. That’s the really exciting form of artist development, for me, when someone is introduced to a whole new aspect of the arts industry, or a new role within a discipline, that they may not have know about but that meshes with their skills and strengths.
N: Yeah my ‘emerging producer’ antennae is pretty sensitive these days, and it’s never about someone’s CV. It’s a sensibility, a way of engaging with creation that tends instinctively towards the models of creation itself. And yeah that compulsively dwells on the nitty gritty invisible work that always needs doing. When You Are Here recognises that in someone we show no mercy in throwing them in headfirst.
Y: In recent years we’ve gone down the line of more typical recruitment processes, more formal, which is kinda tricky because that sets up a notion that the team only welcomes people with existing experience. And yet, many of us – like you and I – came in totally sideways. The idea of formal recruitment is that on the one hand it’s making the positions more open, more transparent. But on the other hand, it instantly knocks down anyone who doesn’t fit the stated requirements. It perpetuates the idea that there are right and wrong ways to conduct a creative career. Rather than just the beautiful hot mess that most of us are in.
That’s something that we need to work at, no matter what form the festival takes from here. Ways at finding new producers outside of our existing networks, but not in ways that mimic bureaucratic processes that bear no relevance to our work. Ways of facilitating beautiful accidents and meandering avenues.
Did you come to us by accident? What happened next?