Hannah Prothero, Exhibitions and Arts Marketing Freelancer
Many creative graduates, especially those with non-vocational degrees, find that they have broad areas of interest in which to pursue potential careers. If you are prepared to be proactive, there’s no need to limit yourself to one avenue of creativity. ‘Portfolio’ and freelance working are great ways to combine different strands of work, giving you a sense of autonomy and a varied workload.
Hannah Prothero has created a successful career working as an 'Exhibitions and Arts Marketing Freelance.' She explains her flexible, alternative working structure and the ways in which becoming a freelancer enables her to satisfy her own creativity whilst meeting the demands of the industry.
1) Could you tell us about your life before work and your university experience?
My passion has always been for both the visual arts and writing. I didn’t want to choose between them, so I studied a combined degree in English and Fine Art at Exeter University. I am fortunate to have been combining them ever since; curating and organising contemporary art exhibitions and working in arts marketing and freelance journalism. I also create my own work as a ceramicist and I find it incredibly grounding to work with clay in the studio after a day of mind-based word-smithing at the computer.
2) So, what led you to 'go it alone' as a freelancer?
Being a freelancer is often characterized as being the more risky option but, in the arts, employed jobs are difficult to come by and usually have temporary contracts. After 10 years in the industry, my career has flowed quite naturally between the two.
Initially I was self-employed because no-one will offer you a job without experience. I wrote a column about the visual arts and then worked for a UK ceramics magazine as a journalist, becoming editor after a few years.
When that contract came to an end I decided to offer freelance arts marketing to museums and galleries in order to stay in the industry. Ironically, the contacts that I made meant that I was offered a fantastic job within a few months at Spacex Gallery in Exeter as Exhibitions & Marketing Co-ordinator.
I have just opted to ‘go it alone’ again following the birth of my little girl so that I can work more flexibly. It has been an amazing few months and I am so glad that I took my chance.
3) Have there been any particular high or low points so far?
Reviewing the Venice Biennale was perhaps my most glamorous job. But by far the best opportunity was being mentored for 18 months at Spacex by marketing consultant Janette Scott, who works for Artangel in London. I wrote a marketing strategy based on extensive audience surveys and then relaunched the brand and website.
For me, the low point of working as a freelancer in the arts is the financial uncertainty, but it is worth it to be working in a sector where creative ideas are the currency.
4) Which projects are you currently working on?
I am curating a photography exhibition called ‘Artful Encounters’ for the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery in Exeter, as part of their off-site programme, whilst they temporarily close for redevelopment. The work is by undercover photographers who were inspired to take photos of the Museum’s collections and were then talent-spotted on Flickr.com. It is great to be in a position where I can encourage emerging artists. I am also editing and designing publicity brochures for arts clients, running press campaigns and writing reviews for several art magazines.
5) What are the essential skills in your type of work?
Being able to write creatively and accurately is essential whether you are working as a journalist or a press-officer. There is a very similar skill-set for both these jobs and I have crossed the fence quite a few times between ‘poacher’ and ‘game-keeper’. Keeping well informed about artists and exhibitions is also a must. When you are about to send a brochure to print of 15,000 copies, it helps to be able to spot a typo from a hundred yards.
I have found it very useful to be able to use design packages such as In-Design, QuarkXPress and Photoshop as well as the standard Microsoft Office suite. It helps to have a personality where you are able to communicate passionately about the work you are representing, but also to follow up your work list meticulously.
6) What advice would you give to someone who aspires to move into this field?
Everyone will tell you that there are very few jobs out there and it is hard to get your foot on the first rung of the ladder, but it is possible. The best way to get into the industry is to simply start organizing your own projects and try to get press coverage; or volunteer to write a column for a local magazine. It is a way of getting experience and making the contacts you need. Once you are working inside an organization, then it may be possible to carve out your own role and then fundraise for a post.
7) Can you recommend any reading matter or training for students and graduates who aspire to work in arts marketing?
Creative Arts Marketing by Liz Hill, Catherine and Terry O’Sullivan is a great source of marketing strategy.
In my experience though, the best training is found on the job. I leant about arts marketing through taking the initiative whilst volunteering for an organization and deciding to improve their marketing in whatever ways I could think of. I then received training that consolidated what I had been doing intuitively.