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Gloucester Future Producer 2020: Polly May

Hi, my name is Polly and I’m a 28 year old neurodiverse queer creative, community collaborator and events producer based in Gloucestershire. I’ve been working in the cultural sector for just over six years now running community programmes, workshops and events. The main artforms I produce and work within are Fine Art (especially printmaking and editing/producing zines), Poetry and Music. You can find out more about my work or get in touch here: pollymayarts.com

I’ve been following Strike a Light’s work for a couple of years and have attended and enjoyed a handful of shows they have put on. I found out about applications opening for the Gloucester Future Producers Talent Development Programme through their mailing list. I saw that they were doing it alongside Gloucester Culture Trust & Jolt Gloucester (who I had heard lots of great things about).

Dance and Theatre performance, what Strike A Light specialise in, is something that I don’t have much experience with as a Producer. I thought this would be a great opportunity to gain more insight into this particular area, as well as building a stronger network for myself within Gloucester. I decided to put in an application, which was an easy to navigate short form with questions about my experience and what I wanted to get out of the programme.

The group meet on zoom and there was a really great mix of people from different backgrounds, who are at different stages of their career and we all specialising in different areas of producing. I was really nervous before going onto the first call, but the leaders Jess and Dylan were friendly and welcoming, they really put everyone at ease. There is also a facebook group where people can share their work and links to interesting projects they have come across. Having this peer support network and being able to bounce ideas off various people has been really valuable and I’ve gained a lot of different perspectives on areas of the sector I don’t have much experience in.

For the first part of the course, Strike a Light programmed a series of guest speaker talks from various producers and arts professionals. These covered marketing, festivals/outdoor performances, working with artists/managers, health and safety/risk asessments, negotiating contracts with venues, working with local authorities and much more.

Ellie Harris the producer of Greenwich & Docklands International Festival was one of the brilliant guest speakers on the programme.

All of the speakers gave a real insight into their career progression, the experience of projects they have worked on and the highs and lows of being a producer. There was also a lot of really constructive and conversation about being creative when adapting work around the pandemic and the positives/challenges it has posed. Inviting these speakers in expanded my network, as they were very generous with their time and shared their contact details to get in touch for further support and opportunities.

Strike a Light and Jolt also keep us updated and get us involved with projects that they are running, as well as opportunities with organisations they are partnered with, including Of Earth and Sky a public art poetry project with artist Luke Jerram. Since joining the Future Producers programme, I have also become a member of the recently established Youth Advisory Board run by Jolt, which is for 18-30 year olds living in Gloucestershire who love art and culture. 

As well as zoom masterclasses and offering practical project experience, the leaders of the Future Producers programme have given me one-on-one mentoring sessions. Jess has supported me with updating my CV and putting together a website to showcase my freelance work. She’s also offered very valuable feedback on project proposals and pitches. Her insight, support and encouragement has really pushed my work in progressing to the next level. She then told me about an upcoming programme for Women in Leadership and encouraged me to apply, which I did.

When the pandemic started, I wasn’t sure if this programme would go ahead, or what the impact would be on it. I’m really glad that Strike a Light and Jolt worked creatively around the situation and made this opportunity happen. The cultural sector is notoriously difficult to break into and now more than ever, I feel like programmes like this one are needed. Up and coming arts professionals are increasingly feeling the pressure due to loss of work and a decrease in opportunities, but it’s been great to have that support and to use this time for peer to peer learning and reflection.

The Gloucester Future Producers Programme has not only presented me with a toolkit and filled my diary with useful contacts, it’s made me think differently about resilience and how to still make cool things happen by navigating the challenges and utilizing the positives that 2020 has presented to Cultural Producers.

Polly May