Melanie Stidolph: networking for artists

Networking for artists has a bad name, even though it’s the most effective way to secure opportunities and a profile. Think about it instead in terms of ‘making friends’.

Listen to artist Melanie Stidolph talk about the importance of networks in the life of an artist, and tips on building them.

A personal recommendation – particularly in the art world, where reputation is everything and competition can be fierce – is more likely to bring opportunities, friendship and trust that working with you will be a good an interesting experience.  With so many artists in London, curators, critics, writers and galleries would rather work with artists who are easy to work with (although still professional, rigorous in their practice and methodologies) and also have stimulating and intelligent work.

As with friendships, the power of your network can be accessed only if you put in as much as you get out, or hope to get out. You are as useful to others as they are to you.

Networks are probably the most important part of finding an audience, getting exhibitions, learning about being an artist, hearing about opportunities that could be useful, sharing experiences about your practice and talking about your work. The art world is small, even in London, and being friendly to everyone is the best rule of thumb: with so many artists to work with, curators and collaborators will be looking for a personal as well as professional connection to make work.

Most artists already have a network, at least their peers from art school and their friends, colleagues and tutors. Gallery openings are often a good way of meeting new people, and the talks and conferences you attend will attract people interested in the same things as you. Being selected for opportunities means that judging panels will start to see your work and how it progresses, so even if you are not selected your potential network grows.

Ask yourself: who do you know? Who do they know?  What are the informal ways of meeting the people you have identified you need to meet?  You can ask your friends to introduce you to their friends; go to opening nights and parties; meet people at exhibitions, seminars, conferences or other events.  Remember that by introducing you to their friends, they are vouching for you to their contact that it’s worth getting to know you; if you abuse the contact your friend or colleagues reputation will suffer as well as yours.

If you need to meet people but don’t have a personal ‘way in’ through a mutual contact, pick people in your peer group, people who are at a similar stage in their career as you.  Your peers have as much to gain through a connection with you as you do with them.  You can usually find a contact for them through a quick Google search for their website, or that most generic matchmaker – Facebook.

Always remember: first impressions are crucial.

The single most important thing about growing your network is getting someone’s details and following up with a brief contact shortly after you meet them: ‘Glad I met you yesterday, if you want details of that curator we talked about let me know’. With this in mind, any situation can lead to additions to your network.

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