As we move closer towards the deadline for applications for Unlimited, one question keeps being asked more than any other – what do we mean when we say people have to have a ‘producer’ on board in order to apply to the main programme?
So, what is a producer? Producing means ‘to bring forth’ – and in the arts it’s basically a role that ensures stuff happens in a way that remains true to the artist’s vision and the requirements of the world into which it is being shown or shared. It’s about keeping focused, finding solutions, negotiating with others and generally being a constant force pushing the work forwards.
My favourite definition is ‘to create by physical or mental effort’ as I reckon it takes both to serve as producer to a piece – or a programme.
As Senior Producer for Unlimited my roles are many – at the moment it’s about looking for additional funding so we can make the programme as fully developed as we can, maximizing our potential and our impact. It’s also about setting up good systems, building good teams, establishing good communication routes and most of all being able to listen carefully to what people around Unlimited are saying – and respond as quickly as I can to any concerns. I’m responsible for searching out the right people to help us, and for keeping the momentum going. It’s an outwards looking role which sees me constantly juggling my time and priorities – and I love it.
For performing artists and companies, the concept is more usual – independent artists often have independent producers, many theatres have producers on staff to support the development of new work from both companies and individual artists, even established companies often pair up with other companies to push into new markets. Basically no artist or company is an island and one lesson learnt from Unlimited last time was clear – having a dedicated producer or a producing company in place made for more successful commissions, especially in terms of reach. This time round Unlimited is really pushing reach – we want to support the development of the most amazing, high quality work, yes, but we also want it to be seen, widely, across the nations.
Clara Giraud, our newly appointed Assistant Producer on Unlimited is herself an independent producer:
I’ve been producing artists on a freelance basis for five years, and it’s been a real rollercoaster ride! I stumbled into producing – I was making work as a performance artist with a company, and someone needed to actively build the professional relationships for our work to reach more audiences. Producing is really about solution-finding in creative ways, and jumping at opportunities with bravery and passion. Most artists, no matter their field, produce themselves. When ambitions to expand reach and impact grow, however, it becomes really helpful to find a producer to help advocate for the work at all sorts of levels, from the idea and fundraising, to framing the artistic process and marketing the public presentation. Artists should look to work with producers that truly understand their artistic aims and ambition, and that are ready to jump on that ride with them to make things happen no matter what.
I’m really looking forward to supporting applicants and commissioned artists to make the most out of the amazing opportunity that is Unlimited.
In the visual arts, the concept of a producer is perhaps less well understood – but don’t get hung up on the word. What we mean is someone – perhaps a curator, a gallery representative, a support organisation, an administrator or production manager. Basically someone who can get behind you and your work and help with the negotiations and explanations and make sure that the project gets realized in a way both you as the artist and we as the funder are satisfied with.
Tony Heaton, CEO of Shape and also an established visual artist in his own right had such a person supporting him to deliver his commission for Channel Four in 2012.
Like many sculptors or artists, it is one thing to generate the idea, it’s another to resolve it! When Channel 4 selected my work for the Big 4 to celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic games I was given the opportunity to work with Adam Scott, Co-Founder and Creative Director at FreeState, a Company who are expert in architectural & 3D design, creative conceptualization, production management and business development, amongst other things. Adam worked with me as a critical friend, asking me questions about my methodology, choice of materials, helped me to explore options. I know that it is difficult for artists to sometimes move away from ideas when they have been set but this sort of rigorous analysis is vital to ensure that the decision-making is sound, these often quite deep conversations that took me beyond a ‘thinking’ process really had an impact on the final shape and structure of the various components that we used. He was my ‘producer’: sourcing samples of materials, helping with the visualisations, setting up the meetings with the design and construction company ‘Millimetre’ who work with architects, artists and designers to find manufacturing
solutions for bespoke 3-dimensional structures. It would be very unusual for an artist to work alone on a project of this scale without someone like Adam and his skills and expertise in first understanding my vision for the piece and then working with me to resolve the sculpture; I simply couldn’t have done it without his collaboration.
It’s often said that artists aren’t always the best people to talk about their own work too – they are often too close, too involved. Advocating for work is another key role of producers – particularly work that is going to tour or been shared in more than one location.
We at Unlimited want to help. Currently, we are pulling together lists of people and organisations that might be able to take on this role – or who might know people who can – across all the art forms, so if you don’t know of someone, ask us. We can’t work miracles but we should at least be able to put you in touch with people who can help.
So producer, curator, advocate, creative support – call it what you will. To apply, you really need to think about getting one in place. But as I said before, we do listen, so if you genuinely still think you don’t need one, don’t let it put you off applying – you’ll have to articulate extremely clearly how you are the exception that breaks the rule though.