When being an independent sucks

one white cloud in a blue skyUsually I love being independent and not working simply for one organisation.

I love the flexibility, the variety, the ability it gives me to follow multiple interests simultaneously, the avoidance of office politics and the fact I don’t have to sit through team meetings. I don’t like ‘being told what to do’ but oddly I love working with clients to get the results they want – I think the difference is about coming in as an equal rather than being squashed within a hierarchy.

I was reminded the other week of just how much flexibility I have working for myself. I was interviewed by the amazing Claire Hodgson of Diverse City for some research she was doing about diversity in the workplace.

I was describing how I work full-time hours, but not in a 9 – 5 way. When the kids were younger, I might get up early and work from 5-9am, spend the day with the kids and pick up for an hour at lunch say, and finish up from 7pm – midnight when they were otherwise occupied.

And it works with travel too. I tend to work 2 or 3 days away each week and then the rest of the time from home. Or if my husband goes away for work for a couple of weeks (he is the artistic director of Mind the Gap), I tend to stay near home and vise versa.

The flex works for me – it means I can manage my family, manage myself and manage my access needs (lip-reading is tiring – and there is a great read on that here that I caught the other week).

And as I said at the start, usually I love it.

Usually. Not all the time.

Not the other week.

The other week my dream arts tender came out. An opportunity to shape and run Unlimited II.

Unlimited was a commissions programme last year for disabled artists to stretch their work as part of the London 2012 Festival and the Cultural Olympiad. It wasn’t perfect but it was the best bloody thing to happen to disabled artists for a long time and boy did it have impact.

I managed to play a tiny part in it. I was on the selection panel as an independent advisor, I supported a couple of commission holders directly. I created film work on 12 of the commissions for The Space (see www.pushmeplease.co.uk). I programmed, hosted, chaired and spoke at sessions during the Southbank Centre’s Unlimited festival and got to meet with people from around the globe to discuss the work, the ambition, the potential. And I loved it.

And now there is to be round two.

And there is a commission to form it, develop it, improve it, run it and generally in the words of Captain Kirk, make it so.

I can’t apply.

It’s a big sum of money (1.5 million over three years) and so only organisations with a turnover of £800,000 can apply. Makes sense, I understand the logic, but I am still gutted.

In a moment of mind wandering, I began to imagine pulling together a ‘dream team’ to deliver this work – bringing together the cream of our sector’s independent practitioners, each uniquely skilled, each fired up to focus solely on the delivery of this without the distractions of organisational bureaucracy to distract them. A time limited fusion of people and passion, simply committed to making Unlimited II the best it could be. But I pulled myself back.

Of course it has to go to an organisation that has a track record. It’s public money and to do anything else would be too big a risk. Track records are vital to provide solidity, reassurance and a steady guiding hand. Handling big project budgets can be destabilizing – there are risks to manage and sometimes only the ballast of a big organisation can provide the weight to hold things steady.

So I’m going to watch and wait with interest. Who is going to tender? Who is going to get the gig? And how is it going to go?

Who ever it is, do remember – there are plenty of us independents on the outside who would be happy to take on roles to help you make it the best it can be (providing the roles were flexible enough, of course!)

Image by Andréia Bohner and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

2 thoughts on “When being an independent sucks

  1. So well put Jo. I appreciate your clarity and objectivity in the face of such disappointing news. I feel your super team of independents could work so well and so innovatively within the framework of your excellent organisation and communication skills and with governance provided by a <£800K NPO to generate opportunity for them to 'step-up'. Maybe one to not put in the 'black box' just yet?

  2. Great article and I share your frustrations with independent-ness at times like this. All to often new, dynamic and exciting funding is restricted to larger organisations. Maybe there is a partnership solution for we small fry? The ideas coming from the independent sector are so fresh.

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