I heard you’re wondering about how to network in this horrifiying world we call the arts. It’s a pretty sexist, classist and racist world that has long survived off of the money and ideas of older, rich white men.
Not only did they decide that good art is usually made by fellow white dudes, they have also made the rules around networking that can be pretty exclusive. And if you Google “Networking,” you usually end up feeling slimy and inauthentic.
But building a network doesn’t have to be this way. We let it be that way, and therefore keep perpetuating the idea that it is for a certain type of person. So I want to state what I do, and what I think is pretty effective.
So to me, networking is all about building long term, loose relationships. You help each other out whenever you can. Yet, since many of us can’t really provide connections to jobs or links to good donors, we are sort of useless on that front right now. Instead, our great benefit we provide a fresh and exciting perspective. We re-energize our mentors and contacts with our passion and frankly naive way of looking at the art world. We remind them why they even do this work, why it matters beyond the day to day.
Think about it this way: networking is a bunch of nerds talking about the nerd thing with other nerds and helping each other be nerds.
With that in mind, what I do is I mostly leverage my college connections. For many liberal arts colleges, these are people who want to help you. They see something in you and you always have something to touch back on if conversations get awkward. “Oh, how was the food in Smith Dining Hall when you were there? The burgers were awesome!”
I don’t focus on a geographic area, but basically any woman who clearly is in the GLAM field. My college has a sub-Facebook full of message boards and groups, so I am lucky in that I can take a more casual approach. I send a woman a message on Facebook and say, “I loved your post on X, Y or Z in [a particular facebook group.] I’m a recent grad interested in [art topic like “accessibility in label writing”] and would love to talk to you about this. Would you be able to answer some questions for me?” Then you make a list of questions, decide if it’s a phone call, meet up or email. Then you do the thing, take notes.
If you wanted to do this without Facebook, I have heard tell of a way of building relationships on Twitter through careful curation of your message. I’ll report back what I learn when I spend more time on it. Today, it’s important we are using social media in a natural but careful way. You don’t have to lie about who you are but there is a line between being real and being immature.
A more efficient, though maybe not as effective way of doing this is going on LinkedIn, and making your profile really detailed and then searching for alums in your desired area and in institutions that you like. Then you can message them or find their email as recommended by your college or university. For example, Wellesley has a semi-updated directory.
If you find someone who is EXACTLY WHO YOU NEED TO TALK TO but you don’t have an obvious connection, try to find anyone who can put you in contact. You have to have some sort of “cred’ as a person worth talking to, which is usually provided by someone you mutually know going “you two should meet.”
Then you make a spreadsheet of people, their email, Linkedin profile link, their job, institution and their interests. You then set up a contact for them for six or so months from them to just check in quickly over email. If you find a really cool article they would definitely find interesting, then you send it at the 6 month period or when it feels very timely.
Your professors are a fundamental part of this network. If you are still in school, get them to know you well so they can be there when you need a reference, connection or advice. This is especially important if you don’t have access to internships or work in the field.
But, honestly, my recommendation is to
Find a small museum or archive and offer to volunteer in whatever capacity they want. It sucks but until you have some sort of “experience” people don’t hire. Even if it’s a half day a month, it counts.
Be open to meeting people in random places. When you meet someone in the arts, talk to them for 7 minutes, ask them if they would be able to get coffee so you can learn more about the arts in the area.
Develop a smooth sounding explanation of why you like the arts, what you’re interested in, and something that you’ve noticed. For me, it’s the lack of information on late 19th century photo travel albums.
There are usually groups on Meetup for people “interested in the arts” or “arts young professionals.” Join them and go to the events.
Print business cards so you stand out as someone with your life together. Vistaprint.com usually runs good deals.
Send really nice, not butt kissing emails to departments in institutions you like. Don’t ask for anything beyond maybe information about something you wonder about how they work. DO NOT ASK FOR A JOB OR INTERNSHIP.
Research topics: “how to network,” “informational interview etiquette,” “LinkedIn profile tips”
Read academic or news articles about the part of the art world you want to be in. For me it’s 19th century photography so I can talk about it like “someone with experience.” Take notes, brainstorm projects relating to the subject.
Write thank you notes for informational interviews. Emails are nice but a card has to be physically opened and has a tactile element to them that is appreciated. Buy the best cards you can afford. It’s better if they are tied to art. I have black and white photograph cards. I also made some for my friends and people who like handmade cards.
It’s a long haul, but I walked into four jobs/internships because of authentic networking. For two of them I was basically recruited in. And I am not some special unicorn. I just expressed genuine passion and drive.
This is way longer than I thought. Apparently there’s more to this than I thought. This is what works for me, I’m not as successful as all people in getting exactly what I want, but I think my network is pretty deep and supportive. I see it lasting a long time.