Jack Brown — Artist in Residence at Tidemill Academy and Freelance Artist Educator

Bit by bit you’ll find your style, you’ll work with organisations and other practitioners that will inspire you and you’ll find you get invited back by organisations that liked working with you.

What do you most enjoy about your role?

I’ve always enjoyed working with other people, through my work at Tidemill and other freelance roles I’ve worked with elderly artists, 5 year old painters, sculpted with investment bankers, collaborated with teenagers and have got to know and love Deptford over the many years I’ve worked at Tidemill.

Quite uniquely my role at Tidemill is a permanent position. I’m there three days a week and have been there for 13 years. This has allowed me to build an arts curriculum that is skills based and tailor made to the pupils interests and innate artistic ability. The three days in a school allows me time outside of the role to make my own work as well as taking on a wide variety of freelance projects. These projects have taken me far and wide; into secondary schools in Totenham, up to my knees in mud in Deptford Creek, making wearble sculptures at the Tate and sculpting with 20 investment bankers using potatoes and sticks at the Saatchi gallery.

What are the main challenges you face in your role?

Fitting it all in, there is a lot of prep, meeting with project partners, coffees and emails before I even meet project participants. Agreeing project goals early on is worth doing, while excepting that something, somewhere down the line will make you have to change track or compromise helps too. Its often the gate keepers not the participants that hold things up; school receptionists, gallery technicians, funders and local councils.

What’s a ‘typical’ day in your working life like?

If it’s a school day I’m in work by 8 planning a prepping the art lesson for that afternoon.

I teach all pupils across the school and work to a skills based curriculum I’ve written and re-written over the years. Each term the whole school focuses on a key art skill; clay, drawing from life, print making, looking at art etc. So, I spend the morning planning that afternoons session and working with individual pupils as the schools learning mentor. There may be a meeting with a local gallery or seeing the head to float an idea for a new project, sometimes I’ll be working on a new exhibition of pupils work for the in- school gallery space.

If it’s a freelance day it could be a range of things; meetings, planning, applications, workshops, making art on my own, making art with other people and evaluating what I’ve just done.

Why did you decide to go into gallery/visual arts education?

I’m an artist, I trained as an artist, I’ve always made art. I started working in education years ago as a learning support worker. I moved to Tidemill as the School learning mentor. After a year or two I started to do a few art projects, then I was asked to teach a few classes and slowly I build the role I have today – artist in residence.

While I began to find confidence as an artist working in the school I also started to build a freelance career in galleries. So it slowly became a big part of my working life. About 8 years ago I was still separating my own practice and my work as an educator and realised things would make much more sense if I call it all ‘my practice’; the school, the freelance stuff, making art with other people and making art on my own.

How did you get where you are today? What skills, experience or qualifications have you needed?

I’ve got a Degree in Fine Art and did a brilliant Foundation at Manchester Met, they helped me think and work like an artists but didn’t really get me ready for work, for managing time and workloads, that all came through experience in the job. Being able to communicate with a wide range of people about your practice is a really important skill, if you can’t explain your work to a five year old your not articulating what you do well enough.

What advice would you give to those thinking about a career in gallery/visual arts education?

It will take a while to build up a head of steam, you’ll start with bits and bobs and some jobs you might think are a bit rubbish, but bit by bit you’ll find your style, you’ll work with organisations and other practitioners that will inspire you and you’ll find you get invited back by organisations that liked working with you. Also apply for stuff, you’ll find that gets easier with time too, and its actually quite useful in itself – a chance to look at what you are doing, take stock and show off a bit.

How has being an Engage member helped your career?

Engage regional meetings have helped me build a network of fellow artists and potential employers. The annual Engage conferences have also provided great network opportunities as well a time to hear to ideas, refresh and be inspired by other artists and educators work.