I never used to believe this cliché about freelance workflow. I thought it was one of those easy phrases that sound good but are so reduced they can’t possibly reflect reality. But I’ve discovered that against these odds, feast or famine really does seem to be the pattern. With 3 ½ freelance years under my belt, I’ve realised that quiet times can be predicted – December, January and August – but that otherwise, there are no rules. Some organisations have run out of money by December; others have budget left they want to spend between January and April. And the quiet months might be quiet in terms of new work coming in, but doesn’t necessarily mean no work. December and August are great months to be finishing projects and catching up on delayed admin – just like in the PAYE world.
But then you might decide that you want to start your own project, as many freelancers do – because they have a great idea and passion they want to pursue, because it allows them to specialise and develop their own ‘products’, and because it allows slightly more control over work and income (in theory). This throws another googly into the workflow. A new project is time consuming to get off the ground, but when it starts to fly, it’s exciting and you want to soar with it. Time management becomes even more challenging.
And if you’ve been doing an MPhil for three years, as I have, then any slack (and much other time) is taken up with fieldwork, and reading and writing papers, followed by the hard graft and pedantry of actually writing the thesis, as I am now. I first had the idea of doing a PhD when I wanted to write a book about biennials of art and realised it would be greatly enabled by associating myself with a University. “Sounds like a PhD to me” said Professor Jonathan Woodham of Brighton University, when I bumped into him in a tapas bar one night in October 2010 and pitched it to him (Brighton is a small place). And so the idea was planted. I began in January 2011. It has been an incredible learning experience in all sorts of ways. But I realised that as paid work became much more about feasting than famine, I was struggling to put the required time, energy and concentration into it. “Contributing original knowledge” to the sum of human endeavour was incompatible with working pretty much full time on paid work, I found. I decided a year ago to stop at MPhil level – still a substantial amount of work with a 45,000 word thesis – but without the requirement to contribute original knowledge.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I’m fortunate enough to have been incredibly busy with interesting, satisfying, exciting and useful work for the last three years, and this year looks no different. I’ve written three chapters of my thesis and a fourth is drafted. I have had the privilege of completing two large pieces of work for a-n The Artists Information Company already this year. One is research into Artists Associates Programmes across England, Scotland and Wales – the photo above is of me presenting the key points of a longish paper to the inspiring and rather wonderful a-n team in York last week. A subsidiary of this work will be new guidance for artists published shortly on the a-n website. The second piece of work is the third phase of a unique project for a-n that I began last year, which will be unveiled when the brand spanking new a-n website goes live (imminently! Watch this space).
And finally, my own project Interpretation Matters was awarded delivery funding from ACE in February. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to push this forward through the four project strands: developing and animating the IM website; workshops with project partners De La Warr Pavilion (first one on 8th April!) and the Bluecoat; a text exhibition at the Bluecoat; and writing The Interpretation Matters Handbook – by the end of June – for publication by Black Dog Publishing in the autumn.
So it’s full speed ahead with focus and determination. I’m delighted to say that this year already looks set to be as rewarding, satisfying and full-on as the previous three.