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  • Info OFS

Getting My Label Back

I started as a zero-hour Front of House Assistant, so I was initially just front of house kind of working behind the bar, did some shop shifts, at the same time was working other places. And then I went to Front of House Coordinator. And then the Front of House Manager at the time moved on, and then I went for that job and got that, so I just worked my way further into the team.

It’s interesting, because like when I left Uni I never thought ‘oh I’m going to go work for an organisation like this’, because I don’t think you really know organisations like this exist. I started in such a casual way, doing front of house, using bar skills I learnt and customer services skills and then the building being the way it is, and the team being so small and open is that they kind of recognise in you skills you can bring in other roles and then they give you that opportunity. They allow people to grow into the roles, even if they might be under qualified, which I think I probably was at the time of getting the Front of House Manager job. So the journey itself into that Front of House Manager role was awesome and really well supported and I learnt loads, like I learnt how to manage people who were older than me, that I’d literally never done before, I learnt how to manage people coming in drunk, and how to deal with that and how to resolve a situation.

Before I worked at The Old Fire Station and a little bit of overlap, I always worked in visual arts so I did a visual arts degree, worked for a couple galleries and then worked for two local Councils in public arts. So visual arts has always been a really big part of me and my interests. Then I came and worked here a more front of house role, which I also really enjoy and uses other skills I had from other work, but visual arts are still within me, they’re a thing I’ve always wanted to do more of. When I took on the Front of House Manager job here, I was aware I might lose some of that.

The first thing I did for ‘Our Place’ was I helped the member interview panel for the Lead Artist. Because of front of house I do a shed load of interviews, I’m always recruiting new staff. So after the interview, I didn’t have that much involvement in the initial planning, it wasn’t until later, when the workshops – the specific ‘Our Place’ workshops were in the timetable, and it started getting busier, then I got involved in providing admin support - basically exactly around that point they realised, who’s going to be doing all the travel re-reimbursing and the material ordering.

Jeremy (the director of AOFS) and I have always talked about wanting to do more visual arts stuff because he’s always known what my background is and he’s mentioned a few times about doing more stuff for Christmas Light Festival and some other ideas, but it’s that difficult thing of juggling it. But the visual arts department had reduced their hours between them for various reasons, and so there was a bit of a gap in terms of admin support for a project that’s the size of ‘Our Place’. So Jeremy offered me the chance to do some ‘Our Place’ admin and I was like ‘visual arts hell yeah!’

My role was admin support, so checking over the budget, authorising payments, email logistics, setting up meetings, room hires- basically everything and anything that Sarah (the Visual Arts Manager) needed help with, I was there to help her. I did bits and pieces around the public opening, just making sure that all the artists had food and some drinks, their travel reimbursed and had a space to all meet together before walking into the public opening. I was in the meetings taking notes, so I got to be involved in the creative conversations, which was awesome; being there in an admin role gave me the opportunity to also be there in a creative role.

The projection was a really nice part of it as well, it happened very late in the process, and I think something we really learnt was to do it early next time, so we’re going to plan further ahead. We got an external artist who needed time to understand what the project was, who the people were that had engaged and what we needed as an organisation. We learnt to make more space for that process next time, which was a good learning experience. I had done stuff like that before but in a very different context, I had experience in terms of putting on outdoor site-specific art and the logistics and the legal stuff you have to think of, but it’s quite different when you're working for a building and for a venue because there's a lot more ownership over making sure that it fits, and its ok and its approved by people involved. So I learnt a lot from that, things I developed most was just staying calm– for example, the public opening night not only was it the light projection going up, plus supporting ‘Our Place’, but also there was front of house, because I still have a Front of House Manager hat to wear, and there was a lot on for front of house that night. So, I definitely learnt how to juggle multiple roles whilst staying calm, even just on the surface.

I was like a duck where I was like ‘I’m gliding’ but my feet were like ‘argh’. But I did it, and the thing I love most about this building is the people we work with, whether its colleagues or the public or Members or whatever, people can make your day so easily and I think this project, really enabled me to meet and work with more people in that sense. I just really like people, so to be able to get to know more people and understand why they're here, hearing people’s stories and backgrounds and interests and working with them in different ways, I think that’s the thing I got most from it, was being able to just meet and work with even more people than I usually do.

I think what this project really enabled me to do is find a role in this building which I love so much, that then engages with a part of me that I otherwise couldn’t have, that visual arts part of my day was back again. I mean I loved, loved what I was doing anyway, but now I get to do both, so it’s like, win-win. It’s also really varied which I like as well, one minute I can be in a meeting creatively thinking about how an exhibition’s going to happen, and the next minute I’m training volunteers in how to usher a show and chatting with the company about what merchandise they need selling. It’s such different things, but uses similar skills and keeps my day really varied.

It enabled me to work in a building that I love; with people and an ethos that I love, but then actually still do the visual arts part of my passion that I’d lost otherwise. I’m hoping to be able to carry that on and continue doing it, it’s enabled me to get my label back, get my passion back.


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