Industry news

De-Mystifying Board Recruitment: An Invitation to Observe

By Annabel Turpin, October 2023

For the last three years, ARC Stockton has been giving supported artists, producers and other freelancers the opportunity to observe their Board meetings. Annabel Turpin explains how this came about, and what the benefits have been, both to the artists and to ARC itself.

Back in 2019, we advertised for two new Board members, particularly looking to appoint artists and/or freelancers to balance the skills and perspectives already around the table.

When we met the candidates, several said that they had never been to a Board meeting before. It struck me that we were asking people to apply to take on a role that they had never seen in action.

This seemed like quite a simple thing to fix. We always tried to operate openly and transparently at ARC, and with the exception of a few HR matters, we considered very little to be confidential.

We decided to invite artists and freelancers we were working with to observe future meetings, if they wanted to find out more about how ARC and arts organisations boards worked.

This was not with the intention that they would necessarily progress to join ARC’s board, but more to help our wider aim of reducing the mystique around boards. We wanted to equip more artists and freelancers with the knowledge and experience that might encourage them to apply to boards in the future.

It turned out to be a brilliant initiative. We invited two observers per meeting, so there was a balance with board and staff members. We shared all the papers in advance, along with additional information about who would be attending the meeting, what would happen and what being an observer meant. At the end of each meeting, there was an opportunity, if they chose to, for any observers to comment on their experience of the meeting.

Having them in the room heightened my awareness of how things might seem from an artist’s perspective. They were often asked to contribute to elements of the discussion where their experience would be valuable, and their reflections and feedback was incredibly useful.

ARC’s Chair at the time, Lynne Snowball, was a big supporter of this move and also felt it brought new perspectives into the room: “We’re committed as a Board to reflecting each and every part of the communities ARC serves. Bringing artists into meetings has opened our eyes to new perspectives. It is another step in our drive to be more representative in our thinking and planning to make ARC an even more welcoming place for everyone, including making our Board more diverse in future recruitment.”

Most importantly, artists themselves found it valuable. Here are a few things they said:

“It was brilliant to observe and experience such a fab venue board in action. It felt like a really welcoming and supportive team. The breadth of topics you covered was brilliant and it was really exciting to hear your future plans.”

“What an absolute privilege to see behind the scenes at the Board meeting like that. Such a great thing to offer artists and incredibly impressive transparency. Thank you for the invitation and thank you to all for such incredibly hard work and decision making in the interests of ARC and its future.”

“As a freelancer, there is a huge amount of uncertainty in the industry at the moment, and hearing how that was being discussed at Board level was really valuable.”

“A really useful insight into how everything works.”

“It gave me a real boost and has energised me to get our Board developed, which is our next exciting step as a company.”

Maybe this is something other arts organisations could offer too?

Annabel Turpin
Former Chief Executive & Artistic Director, ARC. Annabel is going on to be CEO of Storyhouse
Co-Director, Future Arts Centres

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