Kenneth Tharp explains the different ways that The Place nurtures the careers of talented dance professionals
‘Work Place’ is a programme for the support of professional choreographers. Launched in summer 2011, the scheme is led by the artist development team with the overall aim of giving Work Place artists a home, a space to bring their ideas in the knowledge that they will be met openly and proactively. It addresses some key issues for independent dance artists: the lack of a holistic professional preparation, and the resulting under-development of interconnected professional networks for them.
Work Place artists are supported in the creation of a bespoke plan for development that is neither time-limited nor product-oriented. The scheme doesn’t work by setting out deliverable results, measurable successes and producing lists of tick-able boxes, but focuses instead on the process needed to achieve professional sustainability, both for individual associated artists and the dance community. This can involve developing their skills in, for example, teaching, entrepreneurship and management; facilitating their next production; supporting them to find the right partners; connecting them with a dramaturg; and even writing and publishing a book.
A cohort of independent dance artists at different stages of their careers has been invited to participate in Work Place, so that they can benefit from each other’s experiences and form a strongly linked community. Each artist is given the opportunity to focus on the process necessary to reach their own individual objectives, and therefore grow professionally and autonomously. At the same time, they have access to The Place’s deeply networked platforms, at national and international level, and resources, which enable a broader and more organic approach to their strategic progression, at whichever point on the development curve the artists may choose to focus.
A specific role dedicated solely to the scheme, and funded by the Foyle Foundation, has been created at The Place: the Work Place Artist Manager. From supporting the associated artists administratively, to finding the best-fitting collaborations and offering ongoing counselling during any phase of the process, the Manager is a pivotal figure, and the reference point especially for artists without a skilled portfolio manager – a rare luxury, especially for those at earlier stages of their careers. Furthermore, a series of Work Place Weekends are periodically curated with the specific brief of offering Work Place artists time to reflect on their role as dance artists within a contextualised society. The Weekends are facilitated by invited artists and practitioners, enabling the Work Place artists to explore key issues and areas of interest, but without the pressure of necessarily creating a work in response to them, or leading others. The ambition is for them to continue developing sustainable careers as professional artists, not only for their own sakes, but for those of other independent artists, and the dance community as a whole.