Interview With Shanna Lennon

Interview With Shanna Lennon

I contacted Shanna Lennon, who is the Engagement Manager for the National Lottery Heritage Fund in the North. She previously was Community Investment Officer at Joseph Rowntree Foundation and has done a lot of work on culture work roles in museums.

I wanted t ask her to give me more insight into the business side of community projects as this is a topic that had come up in lots of my research into what skills I needed to succeed in this career path.

 

 

 

Hello Shanna,

Thank you so much for being kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding your job and career path. I am attaching my questions, please feel free to answer some of them and expand as much, or as little as you think is necessary for each question.

I am in my third year at Leeds Arts University, completing a degree in Visual Communication. This has helped me decide that I would like to work on Community based art projects, ideally within the charity sector. Although I have managed to have some practical experience, the pandemic has meant my planned placements at Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds City Museum and Temple Newsam were unable to go ahead. Any practical advice and insight into how to progress in this career/get my foot in the door would be greatly appreciated.

Please could you expand on your current job role, what a typical day (or week) is like for you and what kinds of problems, responsibilities, and decisions do you deal with? How does your position fit within the industry?

Hello Shanna,

Thank you so much for being kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding your job and career path. I am attaching my questions, please feel free to answer some of them and expand as much, or as little as you think is necessary for each question.

I am in my third year at Leeds Arts University, completing a degree in Visual Communication. This has helped me decide that I would like to work on Community based art projects, ideally within the charity sector. Although I have managed to have some practical experience, the pandemic has meant my planned placements at Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds City Museum and Temple Newsam were unable to go ahead. Any practical advice and insight into how to progress in this career/get my foot in the door would be greatly appreciated.

Please could you expand on your current job role, what a typical day (or week) is like for you and what kinds of problems, responsibilities, and decisions do you deal with? How does your position fit within the industry?

Hi Grace,

It’s no problem at all, I’m really glad if I can help at all. I have benefitted from many e-mail exchanges and coffees with people who have been able to give me advice so if I can be any use to someone else then I’ll try my best to be. Also, this is a pretty long e-mail so I’d get yourself a brew before you start!

First of all, you’ve done really well to get any experience whilst still at uni, that is not as usual as you might think. Lots of people come out of uni and it hasn’t crossed their mind to seek out experience in the field they’re interested in (me most definitely included in that!) – so well done. I can imagine it’s disappointing that the pandemic means you’ve been prevented from taking up some opportunities but, regardless of whether those come to fruition it does mean that you have contacts at some great organisations. So my first piece of advice would be to reach out to them for their insights and advice. These folks may also prove useful for finding out about ad hoc opportunities – I like to think people like to help others if they can!

How did you begin your career, and how do most people get into this field? What are the most effective strategies for seeking a position in community-based charity work, and what are the common entry-level jobs?

So my current role may not be as interesting to you, I am an Engagement Manager with National Lottery Heritage Fund (the equivalent for arts funding is Arts Council, that might be more familiar to you). They are the main funders of heritage projects (anything from community heritage to old buildings/museums). This means I work with community groups and heritage organisations to develop creative ways to explore and share their heritage and help them get our funding to deliver the projects. Each project has to meet defined outcomes the essential on being a wider range of people are involved in heritage but there are others around wellbeing and skills, these often mean that projects have developed new ways to engage people who may be under-represented or face barriers to taking part and creative approaches to improving wellbeing through heritage (which often includes arts-based practice) – so lots of projects I see work with creative practitioners which help the project engage people creatively with heritage. It can sound a bit abstract but you can read a little bit more about the sort of projects I’m talking about here.

Previously to this, I worked for a Centre for Voluntary Services, which support community organisations and charities whilst freelancing doing engagement work for Manchester Museum, where I’d worked previously on a year-long project. My freelance work with the museum was probably the most interesting to you – I was planning and delivering events for adults to engage with the museum so would often commission creative practitioners (mainly artists but sometimes musicians, craftspeople and community groups) to deliver sessions on a certain topic or activity that linked to a theme. Some of these aimed to improve peoples wellbeing through creativity or help people engage with social issues like climate change. Creative practitioners are used a lot in the museum/gallery programming – these tend to be freelancers who also do other things/work on other commissions.

How did you begin your career, and how do most people get into this field? What are the most effective strategies for seeking a position in community-based charity work, and what are the common entry-level jobs?

In terms of what I’ve done so far/route to what I do now, I’m not an art or museum person (as in I didn’t do an art degree/practice and I don’t have a museum-related degree) so I started in community development and then was interested in the cross over between arts and community through doing a project at my first job (which I fell into through a paid internship with Joseph Rowntree Foundation – which I applied for wanting to learn more about the charity sector). Funnily enough, I then did what you’re doing now and sought out some people I could speak to about community/museum, one of which was mine and Mary Jean’s friend Heather’s Mum who is Community Engagement manager for Leeds Museum’s and Galleries. I would strongly recommend asking her the same questions you’ve asked me. After I spoke to her, she signposted the job I ended up going on to get at Manchester Museum, so she was very helpful. So my path was via community/charity work and then used that experience to get the job at the Museum (which was working on a fixed-term project), that community experience seemed to be interesting to them.

What current issues and trends in the field should I know about and be aware of?

In terms of current issues and trends, I’d say the appreciation of arts to people/community wellbeing is growing and I can only imagine that the pandemic has/will only serve to amplify this. I know from working in the voluntary/community sector that social prescribing is being championed as being key to relieving the pressure on the NHS when it comes to mental ill-health and other long term health conditions that could come under the broad umbrella of wellbeing. From working for a funder and a museum it is a condition on which lots of arts-based funding is reliant – improving peoples wellbeing. I’d say the overriding motivation for community-based arts project is the wellbeing benefits for those involved.

What are some common creative career paths in this field? Are there any other related fields you think I should consider looking into?

There are a few roles I can think of that combine arts/community/wellbeing but I will also tell you that there are also lots of roles that are only freelance and jobs in the arts/museum/community sector are not well paid, unfortunately. Lots of roles are through funded projects, for example, a colleague of mine had the role of ‘arts and health partnership manager’ across the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Museum as part of a project to bring arts and health closer together. Museum and galleries often win funding to involve more people in their work and this means working with community groups so the role would be with the museums/gallery or they would commission freelance practitioners to run workshops/activities. In terms of community settings, there are roles within organisations that work with people who may face barriers/disadvantage and use arts to support recovery, wellbeing and development. I’ve popped some examples at the bottom of this e-mail, you may want to have a bit of a look at what they do. These don’t tend to be entry-level so usually require people to ‘volunteer’ (aka work unpaid) to gain experience. Voluntary work (or even entry-level paid work) in a community setting, with an organisation who support people who may face barriers or are underrepresented in arts and culture, would be a useful experience and then seeing if there was an opportunity to bring any of your creative skill/interests into that sort of role. Also experience with any of the organisations you’ve already mentioned is great.

How has Covid affected your industry? As someone currently shielding, are there any opportunities you are aware of to gain experience or placements?

In terms of Covid, so much stuff has gone online and lots of organisations are having to be creative (/are scratching their heads) about how to engage people from a distance/online (but often those who are most excluded are also digitally excluded). I know it doesn’t help now but your experience of shielding may give you a real insight into the needs of people who face barriers to getting involved and how arts/creativity can support them from a distance. Maybe have a look at what some of those organisations that you had practical experience lined up with have done/are doing and have a think if there’s any way you can support with that or anything (exhibitions/topics) they have coming up in their programme and see if there’s something you can contribute to virtually, take a punt and ask – the only thing they can say is no and the most likely reason they’d say no is for practical reasons like not having the staff time to support volunteer involvement, not that what you’ve offered is pants!

Can you suggest anyone else I could contact or any other trade journals, magazines or professional associations for additional information and help with my professional development?

I’ve popped some links below of network/organisations that you may want to take a look at. Some are community arts organisations (I’ve worked with the ones in Manchester) some are more arts and health and some are networks of people/organisations who work in that field. The networks might be useful to join/ sign up to their mailing lists which might yield some opportunities or voluntary roles, or even meetings you could go to just to listen and soak up the info, it’s a bit easier to lurk in the background of a meeting and listen in this new virtual world.

Voluntary Arts – Have a network which may be worth looking at

Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance

Arts for Health – This is more looking at how health can integrate arts

Creative Minds

Community Arts North West

Arts Together – Leeds organisation – Lots of examples of arts/community orgs to have a look at
Inkwell Arts – Leeds organisation (run by mind) utilising arts for positive mental health
Arts and Minds – Arts and Mental Health organisation in Leeds

Hoot Creative Arts– Huddersfield

Venture Arts – Manchester, (I really like these folks)

Creative Design Manufacture – Manchester (these folks too!)

Men’s Room – Manchester

Beany’s House of Art and Knowledge – in Canterbury but were part of the Happy Museum Project that I took part in and did some interesting things around wellbeing/health

Anyway, I’m conscious this is a lot of info, lots of which won’t be useful, but I hope some of it helps especially at this strange and difficult time! Please feel free to drop me a line in anything I’ve said prompts more questions or if you think of anything I can help with in the future.

Best of luck with finishing your degree!

Shanna x

 

 

 

 

Following Shanna’s advice, I also emailed Gabrielle Siddle, who works in Leeds City Museum. She replied saying that she is more than happy to answer my questions but is currently on furlough and will do so once she returns to work.

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