Women and Work in the North’s Art World  - The Open Source Arts Interviews: Hannah Burgess, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

This week we’re speaking to some of the big brains behind the running of Open Source Arts, a multi-faceted space on Kirkstall Road that aims to bring local communities together through a mixture of exciting events throughout the year. From circus and yoga to river clean ups and metal welding workshops and visual art exhibitions, this space hosts it all! First up to chat with us about working within the creative sector is Hannah Burgess, the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at OSA and project producer at Bradford’s Artworks Creative Communities.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do and the company you work for? 

At Open Source Arts, I work predominantly on the marketing and communications so I develop our front-facing image, voice and branding as well as maintain our communication with press, public, other arts organisations and educational institutions. I also create the overall design of our print and digital promotional material. But I should note that, as a small team, we all find ourselves chipping in to all aspects of running an arts venue and every day can be different here!

Open Source Arts is a multi-arts venue that hosts a number of in-house events, workshops and masterclasses in aerial arts, dance, physical theatre, yoga, practical workshop skills, music and food! We also run out-of-house environmental projects including River-Cleanups and Precious Plastics - a creative plastic recycling initiative. 

We pride ourselves on the variety we offer and think there’s a real need in Leeds for our space that provides opportunities for creative learning, arts participation and environmental engagement at every level. 

I also work as an arts project producer over in Bradford for a participatory arts organisation called Artworks Creative Communities, not too far from Leeds! We run loads of art projects with vulnerable communities within Bradford - my role is essentially getting those off the ground and bringing together all the different elements of organising those projects - it’s another very diverse and interesting role.

How did you decide that you wanted to work in the arts sector? How did you get to where you are now?

I knew I wanted to work in the arts in some form since I was at school. I followed a more academic pathway as I enjoyed writing, studying English Literature at University, but throughout my education I loved the creative process of making and pursued art in any spare moment. 

After university, I worked as a display artist assistant in the shop Anthropologie, with a fantastically creative arts department. We would create large-scale sets and window displays that provided a visual narrative to the space. I learnt some invaluable practical and creative skills whilst in this role and still love to look back on some of the installations we created. Alongside this, I started a three-month internship in marketing and communications with a craft organisation called Craftiosity, which helped me develop my digital marketing skills enormously. I then went onto work for them on for a year and half after this. Having volunteered in various arts organisations/venues growing up, I knew I wanted to move into arts community engagement and found out about the job here at Open Source Arts, which was perfect! I also started my role as an arts project producer over in Bradford. 

What made you pick Leeds (or the general Leeds area,) as somewhere that you wanted to work? Are there pros and cons to working in this city as opposed to a bigger one like London or Manchester?

I’m from Leeds but have always had close connections to Bristol so for me, it was a toss up between the two. Leeds has changed so much over the last 20 years and it’s an exciting city to be a part of, especially within the arts. The North is having a huge arts and cultural renaissance and there are loads of opportunities to get involved with smaller projects in and around Leeds. I’m not saying there aren’t super interesting projects in those larger cities like Manchester and London that I would love to be involved in, but the stuff happening in this area is more grassroots and exciting.

Was it a challenge to get a job in the arts sector? Were there any obstacles that you had to face in order to get to the position you have now?

It’s always a challenge to get a job in the arts sector as it’s very competitive and sadly the government have cut arts and cultural budgets enormously, making it even harder. I have had my fair share of job rejections over the years, even for entry-level jobs, but I think you have to keep hope that something is around the corner. Also, as skewed and wrong as it is for capable graduates, it’s inevitable that you do have to work for free before you can get a paid role in the arts. So yes, there will be obstacles but I think if you want something enough it will work itself out eventually.

Do you think sexism is still something prevalent for women working in the arts sector? Is it something that still happens in the workplace, or have measures been put in place to prevent this from happening? (Do you know of anybody who has experienced discrimination in the workplace for instance? What is the best way to resolve such a situation?)

I’ve been aware in my previous roles of discrimination against women, so yes, I would say it’s still a big issue that we can’t ignore. The best way to resolve situations like this is to talk. It’s hard, but I think ultimately if we have more frank conversations with colleagues etc. about the existence of sexism in the workplace, and what we can do to address it, then we’ll have more of a chance of moving forward. 

What do you enjoy the most about your job? Does it allow you to realize your full potential?

I enjoy the creative and social aspects of both my jobs. For my role here at Open Source Arts, I get to meet a lot of great people including emerging local artists and activists, as well as fulfill my love for design and visual communication. 

As for my role in Bradford, we work on various arts participatory projects with lots of different groups, including asylum seekers and refugees. It’s been really interesting to see how powerful the arts can be firsthand and I’m really grateful to be involved so closely with those projects. For example, last week I was teaching silk painting workshops with a group of refugee women from Syria, Somalia and the Congo, which was wonderful!

How is Open Source Arts successful in being an inclusive and welcoming space for Leeds-based creatives?

We’re a small (still growing), friendly team and hope that comes across when people come in to visit to enquire about a project. We want to act as a springboard for folk from all backgrounds to realise their creative projects, big or small. If people are struggling to get their foot in the door in the arts scene, it’s well worth getting in touch as we aim to develop individual and collective skills in various creative disciplines. If nothing else, it’s great place to make connections!

While there have been a lot of positive changes with regards to women representation in the arts world, do you think there’s a lot that still needs to happen before arts organizations are fully fair and equal?

Whilst Open Source Arts are quite rare in that women currently make up most of the organisation, I know there are still overall gender discrepancies in the arts and even more so when it comes to the highest earning positions  - there’s still a huge way to go across all sectors of work in that respect. There’s definitely a strong and pervasive hierarchy in the wider arts world that needs to change, especially when those at the top are predominantly white men - it’s not an accurate reflection of our society.

What tips have you for women in the North who are hoping to find a successful job in the arts? What do they need to do to be able to stand out?

Just be confident in your abilities and don’t be afraid to show your passion when being interviewed. A good character and attitude can get you a long way, regardless of experience. How ever useful, so many of the technicalities of working in the arts can be learned, but if you have enthusiasm in spades you’ll find a way in. Get yourself out there, meet people and you’ll make your stamp on the growing and diverse arts landscape of the north!

Finally, name your favourite hidden treasure in the city!

I love Bare Coffee tucked away in far Headingley – it is such a warm and friendly little cafe with delicious food and coffee!

Image Credit: Open Source Arts

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