Mentorship is something that I have always participated in during my arts career. I took it for granted that everyone knew what it meant. It is a career changing experience finding a mentor that you can trust, that inspires you and builds your confidence.
I have naturally always sought out mentors. These are people who have mostly informally provided me with guidance and motivation, as well as being a sounding board for my endless stream of ideas. They have been industry colleagues and often the mentoring relationship runs both ways. We learn from and grow with each other. These conversations leave you feeling energised and empowered to move forward with an idea.
Informal mentoring can happen in many ways - over catching up for a coffee with a colleague or peer, in the breaks of a conference or workshop or even through a late night messenger post frenzy. It can be intentional or an accidental meet up of minds. But when you find that person who gives you that creative buzz in your exchanges of ideas - make sure you nurture that relationship.
Formal mentorship is something that I have been delivering as a service for over 15 years. This is a planned session that is either face to face over a coffee, by phone or now by online tools such as Zoom, where a mentee books in a session for paid professional guidance based on the fields of knowledge I have developed over the life of my arts career to date. It is one of the most rewarding parts of what I do, especially when you see artists kicking goals and feeling confident in their work.
What are the qualities of a good mentor?
A good mentor is an ACTIVE LISTENER. They give you space to share your story, ideas and opinions whilst processing that within their own set of experiences to offer examples, challenge you with questions and sometimes offer an alternative.
They are HONEST and CONSTRUCTIVE in their feedback, whilst VALUING THE DIFFERENCES YOU MAY HAVE IN OPINION. It should be a NON-JUDGEMENTAL relationship so that both the Mentor and Mentee feel supported in sharing their information and ideas.
Great mentors are also CONNECTORS. They have industry contact and know where to find the resources you need to achieve your goals.
How do you find a formal mentor?
Firstly, don't expect that people will want to mentor you for free. Take a professional approach. Just like an accountant expects to be paid for their advice or a carpenter invoices you to install your new door, a mentor is providing a service based on their investment in their career over time that has made their advice valuable to you.
Try to hone in on what type of support you are looking for. Is it accounting advice, business structure, marketing, exhibiting at a gallery? Then look around to see who has the capacity to fill that knowledge void for you.
Ask others if they have worked with a mentor before. Find out what their experience was like with that person.
Do a bit of online searching. There are lots of alternatives out there. Makers' Shopfront offers mentoring as part of its programs and there are many others out there, including peak arts industry bodies, who are available for mentoring.
Don't discount those coffee catch ups!
One of the best places to start though is a coffee with a group of like-minded people. Ever wondered why that is so refreshing? It is because you are bouncing around your experiences and feeling connected about that and sharing ideas in a safe and supportive space. Take a look around and find your people locally.
Being the Mentee
You need to approach the mentoring relationship with the same traits that the mentor is offering you. Actively listen and be honest about the ideas being thrown around so that you end up heading in a direction that is comfortable for you. You will only get something out of a mentoring relationship if you are equally willing to put in the work.
So be brave and look around for ways of building mentoring relationships. We all need them at any point of our career to keep us motivated and moving forward.