As part of our campaign to #BuildBackFairer, we’re shining a spotlight on some of the movers and shakers working in the creative and cultural sector and asking them to share their insight and advice for those at the start of their careers.

Sarah Shead
Director and Creative Producer of Spin Arts

Tell us one thing about your job that we probably don’t know about?

You’ve probably heard people say that being freelance is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things to do. It is. It’s also relentless. Building in rest or care for myself and those I work with is essential. For the last year or so I have implemented ‘Innovation Fridays’ –  a day off of my producing duties to do all the things I wouldn’t be able to do if I was scheduled on projects every day of the week, sometimes that’s training, research, strategic planning, creative thinking, etc and other times it’s going for a walk, getting a massage, reading a book. Basically, a free day when I don’t need to respond to anyone else’s needs but my own.

It’s not something you would know about my job/business from the outside but it’s a crucial part of my development and sustainability.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your sector right now?

Inequity – our sector is built upon years and years of unfair pay and unequal say. We’re losing some of our best talent, either because a younger non-privileged generation can’t access the sector, or those older can’t sustain themselves – physically or financially.

I’d like to see greater focus and resources on workforce development. Surely this should feature in every organisation’s sustainability plan?

If you could give your 16-year-old self some career advice, what would it be?

To go easy on myself, take my time, listen, be patient and be ok with acknowledging failure.

I spent a lot of my younger days feeling quite frustrated, overlooked, uninspired and quite early on understood injustice or unfair and unequal opportunities. It’s only when I look back now that I realise how heavy I carried that anger. It was a useful attribute to drive me forward but it was at the sacrifice of my wellbeing. Letting go of that and choosing to side-step some battles, focusing on what I could contribute as opposed to what I could change, gives me a real sense of purpose and fulfilment. If I had my time again I’d spend more of it getting to know myself better – my values, strengths, weaknesses etc. so that I could channel my energy more efficiently into the things I cared about.

What’s been the most surprising moment of your career journey so far?

Just being here feels like a surprise. I was raised by a single parent for most of my childhood and the arts were a bit of a distraction mechanism, a safe place to feel part of a wider community and where my confidence could grow. I didn’t even know working in the arts was an option, even though my grandma was a professional pianist. I guess I always thought it was her hobby so it never crossed my mind that one day I could earn a living from it. I remember going to College and later University to study Performing Arts because I didn’t feel worthy or good enough to get a job in a shop or in a bank, like many of my friends were doing at that time. I figured that if I was in education no one could question my inability or lack of passion for ‘work’.

I hold on to this feeling and experience tightly because I don’t want to take my ‘career’ for granted, it drives a lot of my intention and practice. I hope to be here for as long as I am useful and whilst ever I can contribute something useful to the sector.

Who’s your professional hero?

I can’t say I have a professional hero, in some way that question implies hierarchy i.e. someone is ahead, better or higher than another and I tend to squirm at the thought of that. I guess my go-to role models are The Golden Age Pirates.

The Golden Age Pirates were a group of working-class people who fled the land for a better life on water because the systems and government were failing them. They recognised diversity, same-sex marriage, equality, transparent and equal pay, fair say and democratic governance, long before the people on land did. They were ahead of their time, great innovators, with a decent set of guiding principles, who recognised the value of community being at their core.

There are some cracking modern-day Golden Age pirates in our sector, Alan Lane at Slung Low, who refuses theatre’s capitalist superstructures, gives free resources, welcomes the community and works in public spaces. His ethics are at the heart of his organisation and this ensures Slung Low’s relevance and usefulness for the community, without lacking in quality.

Another pioneering pirate is Margaret Wheatley, an American writer, teacher, speaker, and consultant who works to create organisations and communities worthy of human habitation. She draws from many disciplines: organisational behaviour, chaos theory, living systems science, ancient spiritual traditions, history, sociology, and anthropology. She places emphasis on what can be done now, with what and who is available, rather than spending our lifetimes on battling power structures and systems that we’re unlikely to be able to change.

Sarah Shead headshot

About Sarah

Sarah Shead is the Director and Creative Producer of Spin Arts, an agency supporting artists and companies to realise their ambitions through fundraising, consultancy, training and producing. Sarah recently featured in our podcast episode exploring the issues faced by freelancers over the last 18 months.

Visit the Spin Arts website to find out more about their work.