Here are a few thoughts on spending my working week part time in academia and the rest in the art sector. I have had this dual role for a year after leaving a full time academic position. It has shifted my perspective in many ways.
This concept is often promoted in academia but rarely committed to. The reason – it’s difficult! I knew what it meant when I worked full time as an academic but the experience of working in the arts, alongside artists, gives me confidence and commitment I didn’t have previously. It involves a lot more than ‘taking your disciplinary hat off’ and listening. It also involves a genuine willingness to change - your ideas and ways of working. It’s challenging yet really enriching- personally and professionally.
I find myself an exotic and novel addition to the arts team. Rather than one of a bunch of researchers I’ve this natty new dual role that seems more interesting to others (and me). This cross-fertilises my different workspaces and brings freshness to my interactions and contributions in my various roles. It has nurtured a creative and innovative perspective, which has greatly enhanced my skill set. Within the University sector I have skill and experience to bring e.g. for public engagement and in building meaningful collaboration outside academia. This has been very useful in exploring the impact of art in the ‘dementia and imagination’ project.
Yes, it’s good to share yet I’ve always found work very competitive and colleagues can be guarded about giving too much away. I’ve become more democratic; liberated from strict hierarchies and competitive boundaries. Affect is more openly discussed and expressed too. Emotionality is part of the creative experience. After all it’s ok to let off steam in the studio, swearing optional! The practices I’ve learnt within the arts can also be taken into universities. For example my research area is art and mental health and I’ve now a much more nuanced understanding of arts practice from involvement with it first hand.
Small arts teams means that job roles include all sorts of things. I may have a PhD but I answer the door, take out the rubbish, and do the washing-up alongside the rest of the team: volunteers, artists, producers and managers. I also have a lot of responsibility e.g. management and strategic input. When I’m in my university job I flip back into academic mode, perhaps with renewed humility. I find that doing things part time means that routine tasks aren’t as repetitive and dull as they used to be.
Throwing yourself in at the deep end can create discomfort. When I gained a visiting scholar position in an English Literature and Linguistics Dept. a few years ago, I was initially afflicted with imposter syndrome. Now I feel at ease and as comfortable at exhibition openings as I am giving a presentation at a conference. Familiarity and spending time with people from differing disciplines has immersed me in the arts and has given me a deeper understanding of the sector.
What is an Associate Professor anyway? Good question. Or an Assistant Professor, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Teaching Fellow, Reader or Professor for that matter??? I too was obsessed with status for years. It’s interesting that in the world outside academia people are less impressed and often bemused. Experience is respected more than qualifications in the arts. I do however get a kick out of being a scientist who is also a curator.
Fun in the arts is not seen as an extra-curricular activity but as core business. Artists know that having fun is fundamental to creativity and a lot of emphasis is placed upon ‘hanging out’ together e.g. team outings to festivals and cultural events. Fun is a criterion for whether or not to do something. This means working with people that you like and get along with, and who have similar values. I’ve found this liberating and a great motivator, conducive to creativity and productivity.
The other day I was facilitating a workshop for artists with learning disabilities. Watching them paint became too tempting. I therefore pulled up a chair, dipped my brush in the ink and spent a fun 2 hours being creative.
A fun workplace