In this post Christina Lister, marketing and comms freelancer and co-founder of the Museum Freelance Network, gives insight on establishing the Museum Freelance Network and reflects on the success of the first event.
Fellow freelancer Laura Crossley and I founded the Museum Freelance Network following a #museumhour chat I guest-hosted in the summer of 2016 on freelancing. It seemed there was an interest and demand for some kind of platform for freelancers working in and with museums to come together, learn from each other, share ideas, jobs and issues.
We began with the @MuseumFreelance Twitter account, #museumfreelance discussion hours on Twitter, a LinkedIn group (now with 350 members) and an orange logo with a teapot!
Fast forward 18 months and I’ve just run our first event, with 52 freelancers and people thinking of freelancing attending. Entitled Proactive, Empowered and Confident Freelancing, it aimed to plug a gap in the market by providing high quality, relevant and good value training and time for reflection, organised by freelancers for freelancers and covering some of the main topics that regularly come up in our Twitter discussions.
Two external speakers and trainers delivered sessions on how to get the most out of networking (Joanna Gaudoin from Inside Out Image), and making the time to think and plan what you want to get out of your freelancing business (Anna Lundberg from One Step Outside). We also heard about the UK’s freelancing landscape from Lydia Wakefield from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), advice from Helen Wilkinson from the Association of Independent Museums and from Tamsin Russell at the Museums Association (MA) about how the MA is planning to support freelancers in the coming years. In a ‘lightning talks’ session we enjoyed five punchy presentations from freelancers Dana Andrew, Hamish MacGillivray, Alex Homfray, Padmini Broomfield and Charlotte Tupper, hosted by Marge Ainsley. The event was priced more affordably than typical similar events, with a range of discounts for the Young Freelancers group, early birds, people who had helped with research and were helping run the event on the day. We also started later and finished earlier to allow more people to travel off-peak and do school runs or make other commitments.
Although I had done research with museum freelancers about their needs and tweaked the programme as a result, it was still a bit of a leap of faith and personal financial gamble and I had no idea how many people would come.
Fortunately however, the event seemed to resonate and we had a brilliant diverse mix of freelancers – from new to very experienced – and potential freelancers from across the country, covering almost every area of museums work and expertise.
For me it was a hugely rewarding day which met and exceeded my hopes. Hearing people connect, contribute ideas and questions, seeing reflections being shared on Twitter (see #mfconf17), reading and hearing all the positive feedback and the appetite for more was brilliant. Some of the feedback has included:
“It was a very friendly, supportive event. I was so pleased to see it advertised as I am considering freelancing but assumed getting any advice would be hard. I assumed it would be more of a closed and competitive world!”
“On the way home I looked through my notes from the day and wrote 15 things to do. Sign of a useful day! Thank you for organising!”
“I started the day thinking “I need to make a plan” for my freelance practice. By the end of Anna’s session I had one!”
We will now look at the evaluation that’s coming through, take stock and see how we can build on this day. I certainly have ambitious plans for what the Museum Freelance Network can become as the number of freelancers in the sector continues to grow. Watch this space!
Below are some reflections and insights from three of the event’s delegates:
Heidi Hollis, writer / editor / interpreter / creative collaborator.
The sun shone on our gathering on the waterside at the London Canal Museum. As someone returning to the sector, I enjoyed meeting a wide range of people – some just considering freelancing, some well-established consultants. I watched as two long-established colleagues, connected often by Twitter, finally and joyfully met for the first time!
Two big themes emerged for me:
1) Partnership – collaborative relationships with other freelancers help everyone – gaps in bids are filled and the skill package expanded.
2) Approach with care – in networking with other professionals, and in the gentle work of boosting a museum out of a risk-averse mentality, we perform a delicate balance of firm but flexible, strong but vulnerable, nurturing but fiercely creative in our approach to the work … when the work flows, we have the opportunity together to create something truly inspiring and astonishing.
Kathleen Lawther, Curator & Freelance Consultant, www.kathleenlawther.co.uk
I attended the conference with the help of a CPD bursary from the South East Museum Development Programme. I’ve worked in museums around the South East for several years, and having taken a new part-time employed role at the beginning of 2017, I am keen to develop a freelancing portfolio to round out my work. For me, as a beginner, the most useful thing about the event was the chance to talk to so many more experienced freelancers in a relaxed and supportive environment. I also found the networking and ‘how to get what you want from your freelancing business’ talks really useful, as most of the CPD I have done is focused on museum-specific skills, and working on these kind of personal skills is so important in developing my offer and my effectiveness as a freelancer.
Ben Couture, exhibition designer Jardine Couture Limited, www.jardinecouture.co.uk
The speakers covered a breadth of subject matter, centred on the growing tribe of freelancers within museums, and offered encouraging and informative content therein. Lydia Wakefield from IPSE (an NPA with 20k members) told us about their good work, lobbying and supporting the self-employed from all areas of industry. Coaches Joanna Gaudoin and Anna Lundberg gave a host of tips to ensure we were all presenting our best selves and suitably assessing life/work priorities.
Some excellent insight came from the quick-fire ‘Lighting talks’ giving condensed experiences from a range of practitioners, with refreshingly honest accounts from freelancers Padmini Broomfield and Charlotte Tupper. Of particular interest was the presentation by Helen Wilkinson from AIM (Association of Independent Museums) touching on the subject of organisational change, and musing the subject of trust and credibility – and how suppliers (enablers) can benefit from building a stronger methodology within their work.
The day as a whole provided the opportunity to meet a wide range of specialists (curators, educators, archivists, conservators, marketers, designers, consultants) – probably enough to start a museum.
If you are a freelancer or thinking of freelancing please join our LinkedIn group www.linkedin.com/groups/8438251 and follow us on Twitter @museumfreelance