How mentoring has changed for arts organizations

As the name suggests, Guildhouse began its journey as a craft association for South Australian makers in 1966. But a lot has changed since then.

Today, the nonprofit is embracing savvy interdisciplinary business models for creatives that include – and extend beyond – artisans and manufacturers to visual artists and designers, as a hub for the networking, opportunities, markets and mentoring. In short, their modus operandi is to help them build sustainable and sustainable career practices.

The Guildhouse website simply states, “We help nurture and expand artistic practices and business development. The key word here is education.

What does “nurturing” look like today, and how has mentoring perhaps adapted to more contemporary demands?

ArtsHub spoke with Guildhouse CEO Emma Fey about what this change has meant to shape careers in the 21st century. “The development of the sector and the strengthening of the ecology of artists are at the heart of everything we do. It’s about bringing our community together and uplifting, and being proactive in the way it plays out.

With funding cuts escalating over the past decade – and more specifically the past five years – Fey sees mentorship as a way to scaffold career development.

“Mentorship is absolutely essential to how we, as a sector, manage the boundaries between the arts and business,” continued Fey. “Mentoring helps you build trust, which is essential to any meaningful job. “

“Certainly, when it comes to connecting different industrial sectors – building a common understanding to bring together skills – artists should be seen as experts in their field. I want to draw parallels with this same respect for “expertise” that is attributed to health or to an engineer. And the only way to achieve that is time and a real exchange, Fey told ArtsHub.

Emma Fey of Guildhouse is a great advocate for mentoring to strengthen the ecology of the arts. Photo Denis Smith.


Fey said his advice to an organization wishing to set up a mentorship program would be to “allow the program to be run by artists – it is essential to our success.”

“… and allow the artist to define what he wants to work on and achieve through scaffolding experiences, rather than through an overly structured program, including finding the mentor to best help him. to achieve its goals. They are already 50% there to come to you. Our role is to provide that scaffolding and a safe, structured environment for an artist and mentor, ”continued Fey.

Regarding a creative looking for a mentor, Fey offered the following: “Knock on our door first and tap on our advice bank. Make an appointment at our clinic, where a member can have a one-on-one interview each month and talk about that exact challenge – which is the right thing to do first – and sit down with someone to help them define this challenge and the necessary steps. to take the path.

Fey says we all need external sound boxes, and what the aspiration might look like is very individual. Mentoring in our day is all about helping develop that flight plan and landing points.

“Mentorship is absolutely essential to how we, as a sector, manage the boundaries between the arts and business. “

Emma Fey, CEO of Guildhouse

“This is one of the many challenges artists face – the isolation that comes with studio practice. Artists are brilliant at building a community, but they also need to recognize how they go beyond their studio practice and be able to bounce their ideas and build their connectivity in a professional sense, ”added Fey.


“Whereas in years past, mentoring was absolutely about giving back – and still is – the financial insecurity of our time undermines that principle a bit,” said Fey.

“Artists, well established in their practice, reflect on a time when it was entirely possible to support their creation through teaching positions and grants. Today, the challenges are greater and they are therefore forced to deepen their practices to make them sustainable, and this is where mentoring takes on its importance, ”explained Fey.

Today, mentorship is twofold. There is of course the creative boost, but today the business perspective that mentoring can offer is also essential.

This axis of sustainability has always been present – and difficult to balance – for manufacturers, designers and creatives, but Fey says it has “gotten sharper.”

“This business imperative looms large overall, but for craftsmanship and design it’s more obvious,” she added. “More compelling than mentoring to develop creative skills is how to be a professional artist, how to network – that’s what people are looking for today. “

Guildhouse worked with the University of South Australia to bring together qualitative research on mentoring in the report Mentor Mentor (published in November 2020). A three-year project, among the results was that 77% of participants involved in the mentorship found it “invaluable.”

He also demonstrated that there has been a movement towards a two-way reference and a move away from the hierarchical mode.

“… it is expected that both parties will work on an equal footing,” the report said, with one recipient adding: “I think a mentor is someone who is willing to learn as much from you as you are. want to learn from them. Someone who can roll with the punches and who is not too rigid in what he does.

Fey added that the report “paints a picture that mentorship is more important than ever.”

She concluded from their own organizational experience in this area: “Partnerships are key to amplifying us here at Guildhouse – but also in any mentoring partnerships to build capacity in other areas. 80% of our programming is delivered in partnership. In the past we depended on government funding, but in the last four years we have grown to 70%

“We are building a social enterprise, and these connections outside of the arts are vital for new employment models for artists and work in other sectors – building, health, tourism, construction, welfare. Artists are set to create that future and can be the primary navigators of what it might look like, ”Fey concluded on an optimistic note.

Find out more about mentoring and Guildhouse, including The Guild Community, The collections project and CATAPULT mentoring.

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About Bernice Dyer

Bernice Dyer

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