It is that time of year. A time when every well-meaning relative, mouth full of canapé, asks, "how's the job going then?".
But how is it going? Career progression in the art market tends to be a game of snakes and ladders, working it out as you go along. Working in the art world is, we are so often told, a privilege. But too often art businesses, particularly smaller operations, present little in the way of career guidance and opportunities to progress. Many do not even have HR departments.
After she left her longtime job as global head of communications and corporate affairs at Christie's at the end of 2020, Cat Manson was discussing career options with her New York-based colleague and friend, Caroline Sayan. "We realised many across in the industry were also facing significant change," Manson says. "The pandemic had accelerated restructure, the requirement of new skills and, for many, a reassessment of working life.
So together they set up Art Market Mentors (AMM), with the aim of building a collegiate network in which mentors could be matched with mentees. "The art market also has historic issues—lacking any consistent cross-industry access points and even when you have secured a role, there are very few practical support structures outside of the largest employers," Manson says "This has resulted in fairly appalling Gender Pay Gap and Diversity results. It is clear that consistent support and advancement remains a real challenge."
Manson and Sayan's combined address books have helped bring in some well-known names. Last year, mentors included Amy Cappellazzo (formerly of Sotheby's, now co-founder of the advisory Art Intelligence Global), Jussi Pylkkanen (Christie's president and chief auctioneer), Stephen Brooks (now chief executive of Phillips), Brooke Lampley (chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art at Sotheby's), Koji Inoue (international senior director of post war and contemporary art at Hauser & Wirth), Victoria Siddall (global director of Frieze Fairs), Ben Clark (group chief executive of Gurr Johns), Katharine Arnold (Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe) and many more.
Mentors do not necessarily have to be older—in the 2021 programme, a "reverse mentor" in her 20s helped a mentee in her 50s "rebrand" her CV and upskill digitally, which helped her to secure a new job. Another mentor worked with a mentee on confidence skills when asking for a promotion and pay rise, and another helped a senior manager from British Airways, who had been made redundant, to get a front of house job in the art market.
Anybody can apply to be a mentee. It might be that you are considering a career change, been made redundant, or simply feel without direction, especially after many months of home working. For 2022, AMM is specifically looking for three types of people as mentees:
- Those who would like to work in the art world but currently have no network or access—they can be current students, recent graduates or those struggling to gain an "in" to this world.
- Those who have been displaced during the pandemic, are seeking a change and need some support.
- Those who are struggling in some way, and want to make a change whether that is work/life balance, a different career or a new skill set.
Each mentee will receive up to three hours of mentoring between January and April next year with "a seasoned, industry professional." According to Manson: "We aim to run a series of open Zoom round tables to discuss specific career areas and share stories which will, we hope, will include law, finance, HR and what recruiters are looking for, aswell as advice on marketing and communications, and working in galleries and auction houses."
How to apply
The deadline for the 2022 programme is 31 December.
To apply as a mentor: email firstname.lastname@example.org putting MENTOR in the subject line with a summary of your career.
To apply to be a mentee: email email@example.com putting MENTEE in the subject line with a CV, short summary of goals and a referee.
Matches will be made over the festive period and AMM aims to have partnerships allocated and group mentoring sessions scheduled by mid-January.
So, how do you get the most out of being a mentor or mentee? Here are Manson's tips:
How to be a good mentor
- Listen actively. Your mentee wants to learn from you, but listen to them to help you focus on the best advice.
- Share relevant stories and ideas. Be generous with your experience and choose stories that will be relevant to your mentee.
- Give constructive feedback. Ask yourself this question: what is practical for your mentee right here and right now?
- Be candid. Honesty is important. As Brené Brown says: “Clear is kind.”
- Offer encouragement. Be positive, helpful and solutions-oriented wherever possible.
How to be a good mentee
- Remember your mentor is a volunteer. They are not obliged to introduce you to anyone or to hire you.
- Be respectful. Successful professionals are busy, so use the time wisely.
- Prepare. Set up the meeting and ask the right questions. Have a transparent agenda. Don’t sit back and wait.
- Take responsibility for your own learning. Set realistic expectations with yourself and with your mentor about what you want to get out of the experience.
- Be open about your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on what you might do next. Just remember that the mentor is there to help you map out how to get where you want to go—not drive you there themselves.
And finally, Manson encourages everyone to build their own "kitchen cabinet", i.e. a team of mentors or advisers with different experience and expertise that are happy for you to call on them. But, remember we all need some tough love sometimes: "Do include ones who are tough with you, hold up a mirror, it may feel nicer to listen to people who only reflect your views, but the discomfort of challenge is vital to growth."