Creative Careers: Putting your values into practice
For the Barbican Centre’s fourth and final Creative Career session in collaboration with Guildhall’s Creative Entrepreneur scheme, a panel of experts – including one graduate from Guildhall’s course – led an interactive session on determining your values, and deciding how to put them into practice. There is no one clear path when it comes to using your values in creative projects; each speaker offered an alternative way of working, in the hope that their tips and experience might be helpful for budding entrepreneurs keen to make value-led, ethical work.
Jenny Beer is Managing Director of Drum Works, a company designed to empower young people to direct their own futures. She started working on Drum Works in 2011 as part of her previous role in the Creative Learning team at the Barbican. She established Drum Works as an independent Community Interest Company, and the Barbican’s first ever spin-out organisation.
Amanda Fernandez is the founder of West-London non-profit arts platform FerArts. It is an artist-led collective offering opportunities in the creative arts, with a focus on diversifying the arts market.
Emma Warren is an author and broadcaster. She hosts a monthly radio show on Worldwide FM and founded publishing entity Sweet Machine, from which she published her book Make Some Space.
To start, the panellists introduced themselves and their work, and gave their industry tips for ensuring work is value-led.
Values are vital…
For strong project leadership, you want to be clear in your actions and intentions. Jenny Beer advised clarity. “Clarity about your artistic identity, your purpose and your values is always relevant,” she said, “whether you’re a building or a freelance individual.” People working with you will take their cues from you, so you want to set a good example of what values you are prioritising, and what kind of a workplace you want to create. “It’s about taking control of how your vision is realised.”
…but you don’t need to know them straight away
You may not go into a project knowing exactly what you want, reminded Amanda Fernandez. “Sometimes you don’t know your values but you have an idea, and you’re thrown into a new environment.” Rather than letting that overwhelm you, notice which aspects of the environment you like, and which you would like to change. “From that, you grow a sense of a message you need to give people. From that, you create a value.”
Give yourself parameters
When Beer started extricating Drum Works from the Barbican and making it into a separate entity, there were “an overwhelming number of questions and possibilities.” She needed to narrow her choices.
Think about what’s most important in your project. What are you willing to compromise on? This will help you figure out the kind of boundaries you’re working with. “It was essential to find some parameters to work in,” she said, “to focus on a few specific priorities.”
Ask yourself questions
Why are you making this? Who is it for? Where is the money going to come from? Who is going to benefit?
Imagine you are being interviewed about you project. Pre-empt what questions might arise, and try to determine your answers. This can help you work out what you’re aiming for, and your values may arise from what you prioritise. What questions would you hope someone doesnt ask, and what are the hardest questions to answer? These are the ones you’ll need to think about most carefully.
Think of the benefactors
If your project is designed to benefit a specific group, be sure to ask them what they want and need.
Beer works with two co-directors. This makes decision making easier, but they have a lot of stakeholders who have a vested interest. “We had conversations with our stakeholder groups about what was important. We did the pyramid activity [below], and got our strategy from that.”
Emma Warren founded publishing entity Sweet Machine in order to publish her book, Make Some Space. When she does a project, she asks herself: are you a reasonable person to tell this story?
“Ask yourself who is this thing for, and how they will benefit?” Ask if you’ll benefit more than the people you want to reflect in it “to make sure you’re applying maximum rightness.”
Activity 1: The pyramid
Draw a pyramid with five horizontal sections. Mission should be at the top, action plan at the bottom. Fill this in with your team and/or stakeholders. It will help determine the details of your project.
Mission: what you do/ why you exist
Vision: what you want to be
Values: what you believe in
Goals: what you need to achieve to get there
Action plan: planned activities to achieve your goals
Filling in the pyramid will help ensure all your projects are targeted. “If you start by thinking about your values, then everything relates back,” Beer said, “and there is clear rationale for what you do.”
Be willing to take risks
“I did the whole arts school, University thing because I thought that was what you had to do,” Fernandez said. She began teaching, but didn’t enjoy it, and she was teaching a curriculum she didn’t believe in. “You end up working so many hours that you can’t do your creative passion.” She decided to leave her job, went travelling and moved back in with her mum. “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices,” she advised. “You might lose, but in hindsight you’re going to gain a lot more.” Those sacrifices look different to everyone, depending on your circumstances and opportunities, but sometimes taking a risk will give you a gut instinct of whether or not a decision aligns with your values. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.
Lean on your community
“The great thing about the creative community is exactly that – the community,” Fernandez said. FerArts is a collective of 48 artists, including illustrators, photographers, screen printers and graphic designers. Fernandez explained that collaborating helps combine vision with strategy. “It’s like chemistry,” she said. “Your audience is your art.”
This was proven to be true when the tragedy at Grenfell Tower fire occurred. FerArts is based near Grenfell and lots of the collective were directly involved in the fire. “It was a time in history where you didn’t have a rule.” The event was unprecedented and no one – not politicians not schools nor communities – knew how they were supposed to react. “Our values really came into play. Everyone was affected. Our creative networks held us together.” They decided to draw their friends and neighbours together through their work, in order to give people a voice when they felt powerless and ignored. “There was no way of expressing ourselves at that time except through our art.”
Catch those you see falling through the gaps
After Grenfell, Fernandez was most worried about 18-25 year olds. School could be a support system for younger children and teenagers, but young adults had fewer structures in place to help them. “They’re just expected to go back to life as normal.” Lots of people were carrying strain from their families as well as their own pain. “We wanted to change the narrative. So we did it ourselves.”
They made a 34 page spread with i-D magazine and photographer Juergen Teller. “Young people went out to capture what was going on, to show youth after Grenfell. That was when I discovered artivism – using the creative process to change minds.”
It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want right away. “Experimentation can be the time you make the most impact and meet the best people,” Fernandez said. She and FerArts have recently been experimenting with film as a medium to amplify young people’s voices. “We’re in a day and age to use it creatively and make a lot of change.”
Surround yourself with allies
“It’s all about the relationships you’re building,” Fernandez noted. “We make time to reflect, look and see if we’ve got the right people involved in our project. When it comes to choosing how to apply a value, you have to think about the people around you, and if it’s going to be a benefit to them, and how to use your community as a resource.” She adds, “It doesn’t have to be community as in postcode, but who you identify with and who inspires you.
Follow your passion
Warren’s book began as a much smaller fanzine for the Total Refreshment Centre, a building that looked as though it was going to close down. She was asking a simple question – where spaces have gone for young people? – and focusing on one structure – the Centre. As she dug into the history of the structure she became even more fascinated by it. “It used to be a chocolate factory, and as soon as you get to sugar you get to colonialism.” She began discovering secrets from its past and talked to people who worked there to learn more about it.
This persistence and deep-dive into her research led her towards her book. “Don’t worry if you’re not clear what your vision is. If you stick with your integrity and ask yourself questions along the way, you’ll end up there naturally.” She said the best projects are ones you are “deeply and genuinely interested” in.
If your project is collaborative, don’t leave anyone behind. When Warren had finished writing, she decided to send it to everyone she had interviewed and asked if they wanted to challenge anything. This is not always necessary in writing, but she wanted the book to feel like the whole community around the building had ownership over it.
Remember the importance of your values
“Values and purpose aren’t just these theoretical things,” Warren said. “They really affect what you build and how it goes out into the world; what signals it can contain and what change it can affect. What you do can affect what is around you in really important ways.”
After all of the panel had shared their thoughts, Beer divided us into groups and led us in an activity to help us identify our own values for future projects.
Activity 2: Identify values
Draw a graph. From top to bottom label “most important” down to “least important.” From left to right label “essential” along to “optional”.
On post-in notes, write down the key aspects of your idea. Take into account: personal development, project development, artistic development, professional development, finances, practices, research, admin etc. List everything you need to do and identify the most and least important aspects. This will help you determine your priorities, and what other aspects would be good but are less vital. Beer called these “nice-to-haves.”
We split up into groups, taking one person’s idea for a project and unpicking the key aspects, putting post-it notes on the key. It included the practicalities, the desired message, similar existing projects and funding bodies to apply for. Our graph turned into more of a moodboard, so when we had all our ideas there, we tried to pick out the core values.
The activity evidenced that presenting a fully formed idea and allowing people to ask questions can help flesh it out hugely. It also demonstrated the need for clarity.
The final piece of advice? Use each other. “You all contain resources”, Warren encouraged, “Those resources may help each other and can amplify what you’re doing. Keep in touch.”