Museum Makers: Emma McGovern, Waltham Forest Council
Emma McGovern is a producer in the London Borough of Culture team at Waltham Forest Council. Here she describes how she aced her job interview for the role and lets us know what to expect from the upcoming Art Assembly festival in Walthamstow.
I’ve always been passionate about the arts but wasn’t sure what a career in the sector might look like. When I left university I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I applied for all sorts of things, one of which was a six-month traineeship at the City of London Festival – a cross-artform, multi-site festival which took place at venues across London every summer. I was offered a place and learned a huge amount from the brilliant team there. For the next 10 years I worked as a freelance producer across a huge variety of projects before getting the job in the culture team at Waltham Forest.
I knocked a glass of water all over the table at my interview. I was hugely embarrassed but the panel was so nice about it that it actually acted as a bit of an ice breaker and I relaxed after that. I gain confidence from feeling as prepared as I possibly can before interviews so I did lots of research in advance into the council’s strategic priorities and the borough’s existing cultural programme, and prepared examples of previous projects I had worked on which I thought might help demonstrate how my skills fitted the job description.
One of the best things about my job is that no two days are ever the same. It’s important that I understand what’s going on locally so, although I’m based at the council’s offices in Walthamstow, I’m often out and about in the borough meeting with artists, arts organisations and local community groups, developing ideas for projects and scoping out venues for activity to take place in. We do also have lots of internal meetings (part and parcel of working for a big organisation like a local authority) but they’re important as we need the support of colleagues from across the organisation to ensure what we’re doing is benefitting all the borough’s residents.
Adaptability is key! When I look back I can’t believe the amount of change there has been in the four and a half years I have worked for Waltham Forest, both at the council and in the borough. A positive approach and strong relationships with colleagues have made it easier to navigate the challenges this brings. I also think it’s important to make time to step back and reflect: when you’re in a busy period it’s hard to see the bigger picture and you can forget how much you are achieving.
Good communication is one of the most important things in my job, so my phone is vital. Not only does it mean I can keep an eye on emails or chat to people I’m working with while I’m out and about but I also use it to take lots of photos of things that inspire me, potential locations for events or work that I’ve seen. Our social media channels are key to getting the word out far and wide about what’s going on and the phone is a great way of quickly and easily producing interesting content.
Working in the arts takes passion and perseverance. There’s no classic career path, so saying yes to whatever opportunities come your way will help you figure out what roles you’re best suited to. A huge amount of what we do as producers is about building relationships, so networking is really important: seek out people who you admire or who you’d like to work with and ask them for a coffee. You never know where a conversation might lead!
This year Waltham Forest was awarded the honour of being the very first London Borough of Culture. It’s given our programme a hugely exciting boost, enabling us to expand our team to include lots of brilliant people with amazing experience and the opportunity to work with fantastic new partners. Crucially we’ve been able to deliver high-quality cultural activity in every corner of the borough, reaching residents who’ve never engaged in the arts before. An area of focus has been young people, and to see the impact that arts and culture can have on their lives has been incredibly inspirational.
I’m the lead producer on Art Assembly. It’s an exciting new event taking place on 23 November in Walthamstow, in partnership with Art Fund. Central to the programme has been socially engaged practice, demonstrating that arts and culture can provide tangible solutions to some of the biggest issues facing our residents. We wanted to use Borough of Culture as a platform to showcase organisations from around the country who are demonstrating best practice in this area. Working with the Art Fund team we’ve invited five partners to come to Walthamstow on the 23rd to curate an afternoon of activity for audiences to explore, examining issues from knife crime to ecological collapse.
Art Assembly, a one-day festival brought to you by Art Fund and Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture, takes place on Saturday 23 November 2019 in central Walthamstow. Visit artfund.org/assembly for more information.
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