Ten Top Tips for… community groups working with artists

Working with artists can be an exciting way for your community group to animate your local area, bring people together, do something different or a offer a fresh way of achieving your group’s aims.

To help you navigate the process, we asked Susan Clarke, Director of  B-Arts, to share a set of pointers to help community groups and organisations begin to think through the process of working with artists.


1. Why bother?

Artists will bring skills you don’t have, and will get access to some groups and people in a way that is difficult sometimes for people on the ground. They will bring insights and points of view and ideas for ways of doing things that should surprise and challenge you. They could connect you to a wider world of opportunity and ultimately, together, could put you and your community on the map. Check with you and your organisation that you want, and need, to work with an artist.  It’s extra work, rather than saving you work, and probably involves extra fundraising.


2. Let’s keep this brief

What is it you want to achieve? Do not start the process of working with an artist without knowing this.

Artists work best too if you know what you want to achieve.

So, present them with a framework (generally called an “artist’s brief”) which should include:

  • what you want to achieve (e.g. for old and young residents to get on better)
  • who you would like them to work with (e.g. kids hanging round on the rec and Darby and Joan Club, the police, local allotment gardeners)
  • who is going to be the audience (e.g. parents, local residents)
  • when do you want the work done (e.g. summer holidays)
  • a budget (i.e. how much have you got or would you like to spend)
  • a deadline (e.g. finished by August Bank Holiday Weekend)

3. How much?

Know your budget and be clear with artists about what that covers and what it doesn’t.

Who is responsible for paying for which elements? Artists love to use both people’s skills and things that might otherwise be wasted or surplus. So make the most of what you and your community already have and tell the artist about anything (or anyone) you can get your hands on.

Together, you can make the best use of your community and you’ll find a role people can play in making the project a success.

So, if you know people who can tap dance or translate, or have free working space, or loads of big bits of cardboard, or a warehouse full of old bicycles – tell the artist. If they can they’ll work it in.


4. Who’s the artist?

Let’s be clear here, you are not the artist. The vision of the end result – for example, that the very youngest children and their families in your community having an amazing creative experience in the summer holidays –  is something you need to be able to talk about, agree with your group and share with the artist.

The artist’s job is to design and deliver a project with you that delivers that vision. They might challenge you, because they are bringing fresh eyes. They might push your expectations and surprise you.

If you already know what you want to happen then do the project yourself! If you lack skills then learn them and just do it.


5. Choosing one

It’s good to pick an artist that you can get on with, and that means being able to talk to each other, honestly, so it’s best to meet them before you start working together.

You can select through open advertising – creating a brief (see above), advertising and then processing the applications, interviews and appointment. Or ask around, have a look on social media, and find maybe three artists who you might like to ask to make a proposals – it’s good to pay them a small fee to do that, and then select form that shortlist.

Or, take advice from local professionals to find an artist you might like to work with and have a preliminary meeting with them. People to ask in North Staffordshire include: Rachel Rhodes at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Gemma Thomas at Appetite and Nic Winstanley at Voluntary Arts West Midlands.


6. Getting on

Remember artists come in all sorts of shapes and guises –  they might be a company or an individual, or a group that you put together. Artists don’t have magic powers, and certainly don’t run on fresh air, so all the rules that apply to working fairly and equally with people and groups apply to working with artists – contract them, agree what’s to be done; do your part of the contract and pay them fairly. Please don’t ask them to do things for “exposure”, or “to help out”. That’s like asking teachers to give you a quick lesson in something in the pub, or doctors for a consultation when they’re at your party. They don’t need “the practice”, so treat them with respect and they will do you a good job!


7. You’re having a laugh

Enjoy the process. It’s meant to be fun. You should be enjoying it, and getting a sense of satisfaction, so do what it takes for everyone to have good time. This might be as simple as providing refreshments at sessions for everyone, or remembering that artists have lives and need to pick their children up for school, and so do you!


8. Remember to remember

Keep good records of what happens. Everything; from receipts, to minutes or notes from meetings, decisions, who came to workshops, when the workshops were, what did you do and what did people think of it. Get everyone involved – you can use Facebook or WhatsApp groups, photos, hashtags. Then when you come to review and report to funders or other partners and your community you can really show not just what you thought of what happened, but what everyone else did too.


9. Celebrate

When something great happens, celebrate it. This could be anything from Hassan finishing his butterfly hat, to all of the Derby and Joan Club learning the Bollywood Dance routine or the whole neighbourhood coming out for your finale exhibition. It’s going to have meant a lot of hard work by lots of people to get to any of those points, so when it goes well – take time to say hooray, well done and a massive thank you to everyone involved.


10. And now…

Don’t be afraid to plan “what next”. Doing a project makes you want to do more. In workshops you will hear people say, “What about if we could….” That’s not only the idea for your next project but also the sound of commitment, of people engaged and involved, of people learning a new language of creativity, of confidence building- it’s golden and so it’s another moment to celebrate, and make sure you’ve got their number.

Beware! Working with artists is addictive, fun and life changing! So get ready for the ride.

Now, where did I put those bike wheels…


Written by

Susan Clarke

Director, B-Arts



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