Here at The Arts Society we pride ourselves in providing fantastic opportunities for people to gain experiences in the work place and to develop their professional skills: and we are pleased that many of our interns have gone on to forge careers in the arts and heritage sector. We always look forward to welcoming interns whose enthusiasm, insights and knowledge bring new perspectives and ideas to our team. This year, things were a bit different....
The first few weeks were fine.
I commuted daily on packed Tube carriages, spoke with my colleagues without wearing face masks, took lunch in crowded places, and went home on the same packed Tube carriages.
Life was normal in Britain…for now.
Hello readers! My name is Nigel Ip and I have been interning within The Arts Society’s Education department for the past three months. I am responsible for finding the best speakers to deliver exciting new lectures and workshops to our Society members. As you can probably imagine, this is easier said than done.
Having spent much of my nascent career working in the nation’s museums and interacting with academics, I developed a growing network of specialists in differing areas of the arts, which has since proved useful in this role. Building upon this core, I need to actively research new talent. These may be young historians at the beginning of their careers, or renowned experts looking for some freelance work to pass the time and feed the beast that is the curious public. You may even recognise some of them from that documentary you saw one day.
My internship at The Arts Society started like any other. I was introduced to the friendly team, shook hands with the CEO, guided to my workstation, and shown the Holy Grail of tea collections which would fuel me for the oncoming weeks. It was pleasant and I felt like I belonged there. I was even invited to the private view of the RBA Star Students exhibition, which featured exceptional works by young artists worthy of international acclaim.
So, where, and how does one find a speaker? Like how one would check multiple news outlets for the latest current affairs, we rely on museum and university leaflets, word-of-mouth, podcasts, and the truly endless rabbit hole of searching over the Internet. More importantly, the latter sometimes allows us to screen potential lecturers if a video or podcast of them in action happens to exist. This enables us to pre-assess their presentation style for spoken clarity in addition to depth of knowledge.
Next, the approach. If they appear to be suitable and can provide our members with interesting content, we begin the arduous task of obtaining their contact details and saying ‘Hello!’. Sometimes this is as simple as finding their contact page on their work or personal website. But every now and then, an individual simply has no digital presence and we can only hope a friend happens to know them personally.
Making further use of my personal toolkit, I have a knack for finding people through social media and will happily introduce myself in the hopes they can offer our members an enjoyable experience.
Speaking of our members, part of my internship experience was to visit one of the monthly lectures organised by our affiliated Societies to better understand the quality standards of their accredited lecturers. I was assigned The Arts Society West Essex, where Lois Oliver delivered a splendid lecture on Boris Anrep’s mosaics in the National Gallery.
I frequent the National Gallery quite a lot and know their Renaissance artworks by heart, yet I never stopped to contemplate the mosaics on the floor of the entrance hall. Even art history graduates like me still have much to learn. Being onsite was also a good opportunity to know the demographic of our members and the organisational structure of the affiliated Societies.
As my headhunting continued, the fear of a nationwide lockdown was looming over our heads. To ensure the safety of my parents at home, I made the decision to work remotely. It was already bad enough that my commute was on the busiest Tube line on the network.
A few days later, everyone in the office was required to do so. Suddenly, two buzzwords commonly found on job adverts gained more importance than ever before.
Until the time comes, you never really know if you possess those qualities.
Working from home was both familiar and strange. On the one hand, my previous research roles have almost always involved working remotely, occasionally visiting libraries or museum departments to consult objects in person and writing material at home.
On the other hand, working in The Arts Society office was my best way of learning how each department runs and contributes to the overall workflow of the Society. Oftentimes, this came in the form of problem-solving conversations, discussing the right words to use in a public statement, meetings, even during tea breaks. Every minute spent in the office was a minute for learning as much as possible.
Although remote working had little effect on my responsibilities to recruit new speakers, the lockdown certainly had an impact on my resources. Public lectures in cultural institutions were cancelled and leaflets were no longer being received. These were significant places for finding interesting individuals in the field; my saving grace was a strong Internet connection and a willingness to enter the uncharted waters of a digital era.
The Society’s largest annual internal event, Directory Day, was also cancelled. I had heard of its preparations everyday since my induction and would have had a hand in helping at the event itself. Suddenly, all the hours spent towards it by my colleagues landed with a disheartening thud. But the enquiries started flooding in and work carried on as usual. Again, a missed opportunity for me.
So, what did I learn during lockdown instead? Funnily enough, I had my first experience delivering work meetings remotely and navigating the frustrations that come with technology. Without a webcam at home – and many in short supply – I had to come up with a solution to use my DSLR instead.
I also saw the importance of delivering excellent content on a consistent basis. To ensure our audiences receive the most out of their membership, it was fascinating to see how The Arts Society quickly developed a strategy to provide digital content by launching The Arts Society Connected. Online lectures provided our current speakers with work and new ways of working offered even more creative solutions.
As I approached potential speakers daily, I learnt the importance of diplomacy and empathy during our correspondences. Many were also currently out of work or had future lectures cancelled. Although we were a potential saving grace for them, our recruitment process would take time. Nevertheless, my duties put me in touch with fascinating individuals and broke any sense of loneliness during this time.
But most importantly, throughout all of this, I saw how an organisation rises immediately to face unforeseen challenges with the support of a strong team and an excellent leader. I am proud to have been a part of that and it is a lesson that will certainly guide me in the future. Many thanks to everyone there for welcoming me with open arms, especially Katherine Sutton and Pat Wood for providing me with this opportunity.
My name is Nigel Ip and I was The Art Society’s head-hunter.
We would like to thank Nigel for his contribution to The Arts Society and wish him all the best in his future career in the arts: I have no doubt that our paths will cross again!
This blog is composed by Florian Schweizer, CEO of The Arts Society, and made up of contributions by him and invited guest bloggers.