Katherine the artist is on the left as her butler lays on the floor in front of large screens and a long dinner table.
Katherine Araniello performing The Dinner Party Revisited at The Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival 2014, by Rachel Cherry for Unlimited.

What’s all this producers’ talk about?

By Clara Giraud, assistant producer for Unlimited.

Unlimited expects commissioned artists to be working with a producer to manage their project. For some, it’s a straightforward ask, and a relationship already embedded in their practice. For others, this is a new element they had not fully addressed before.

As a freelance producer myself, I’m often asked how it all works, what do I do? This, in truth, varies hugely depending on the artist that I’m working with. But overall, I view my role as one that helps to manage the logistical and financial risks around a project. This can include fundraising, contract signing, HR management, marketing, press relations…as well as sitting in rehearsals, pitching in when the artist is stuck, and making endless cups of tea for the production team! For me, the producer carries those bits of the project that might be ‘getting in the way’ of the art-making, all the while being an essential element of the art itself.

Unlimited artist Katherine Araniello gave me an insight as to what a producer means for her practice:

There are many producers at different stages in their careers and with differing levels of experience out there. Because I am an Artsadmin Associate artist and have a relationship with LADA that is where I went when I was realised the level of my work required an experienced Producer.

Whether a producer is required will very much depend on the nature and scale of the project. As a disabled artist who needs assistance throughout the entire process I realised a producer is vital for commissioned and/or ambitious work. Two heads to discuss the art context, bring contacts/networks and develop and thrash ideas is vital. With a producer on board the realisation of the project is also key, in terms of what can be achieved within the budget and resources.

Especially as part of Unlimited, a producer can be all kinds of things, and their role will evolve based on their personality and the relationship with the artist. Lucy Gaizely is the producer of Unlimited supported work Dancer, by Ian Johnston. She explains their working relationship in more detail:

Producing the work of Ian Johnston, an artist with an unspecified learning disability has proven to be one of the most exciting and interesting roles I have taken. There is a correlation between the work I am passionate about supporting and the broader themes of social practice, visibility and permissibility to call oneself an artist; this marries the journey that Ian has embarked on and our professional relationship makes a lot of sense.

These ideas motivate my practice. Unlike some artists I have collaborated with, Ian doesn’t have the agency to self produce. However in exactly the same way as many artists, Ian is creating work that should be shared and the role of the producer in all contexts enables the potential life of his work to go further.

I believe so strongly in this and the consequent collaboration between Ian, Gary and I, that some of the problems that emerge in this role never seem insurmountable. Some of the difficulties producing an artist like Ian are financial; he requires 24 hr support on tour (although this is changing the more he does it) and has specifications relating to accommodation and travel. This creates a larger budget than most venues/festivals are able to pay. Ian’s day to day is heavily programmed with support related activity and it can occasionally be difficult creating the right ‘professional’ space for him to explore his arts practice as much as he desires it.

The more I can articulate and advocate the importance of this to those who are responsible for aspects of Ian’s welfare the more routine his life as an artist becomes, this feels like a significant role.

As a Creative Producer I instinctively embed myself into the creative process, this is really important when producing Ian as the shared ownership and responsibility for the work becomes more implicit and the role of advocate feels more seamless, knowing exactly how the work and creative process has taken place enables me to articulate and promote the practice more easily and passionately.

The next question we often get is ‘where can I find a producer’? Sadly, there is no easy answer – it’s as difficult and requires as much fine-tuning as finding any kind of artistic collaborator. The only advice we can give is to ask around, look at other artists working on similar scales and who they are working with, let organisations and venues know that you’re looking for someone, and maybe even put up an ad to come across someone outside your usual networks.