At a first glance, the question above might appear a strange one. It's fairly apparent to anyone working in dance what the role of a company manager might entail – anything from booking tour dates to managing freelance artists, overseeing education projects to keeping an eye on budgets. But recently I've had conversations with a number of freelance artists who were surprised to find out what an independent dance manager can offer to artists working on the small-scale and outside a company context.
The majority of dance artists working in the UK at present are freelance and self-managed. A very common working scenario is that in which an artist representing him or herself is responsible not only for their own studio practice and creative work, but also for finding opportunities – platforms, commissions, residencies – to present this work, and ways to fund the process of making. This can be stressful – I know from speaking to artists that trying to manage the business of making work can leave freelancers feeling that they have insufficient time and energy to devote to creative practice or personal development. It's not hard to see why many independent artists work with a manager – perhaps only for a day or two a month – to relieve some of that administrative pressure.
What some artists are surprised to hear about, however, is the degree to which an experienced and trusted manager can have input into the creative aspect of a project proposal. A manager working with a number of different artists – or even across artforms – is likely to have their ear to the ground and hear about opportunities early; they may well have useful connections for investigating collaborations or new partnerships. As well as being able to address the pragmatics of running a project (such as who we can work with, how much it will cost and where exactly we can hire the 20ft scaffold you want to make your work on), they may have valuable creative insights of their own.
An artist and manager, working together over a period of time, often develop a close relationship whereby one can bounce ideas off the other and perhaps find a concept or way of working that otherwise wouldn't have occurred. At the same time, a savvy manager might propose commissions or project opportunities that necessitate new ways of working, further developing the creative practice of the artist.
I like to think that, like Yellow Pages, managers aren't just here for the nasty things in life, like chasing an invoice or crossing the “t”s on yet another turgid funding application. We can be here for the nice things too – helping you progress as an artist with suggestions and advice as well as practical support. Most dance managers entered the industry because of a passion for dance, and it's generally welcome when an artist we're working with draws on that passion. So don't feel that as an independent artist you need to tread that path alone – sometimes it takes two to make a thing go right!
Lise Smith is Manager of Srishti Dance Creations, SIN Cru Theatre and a number of emerging artists. She regularly contributes to http://www.londondance.com