Who Mentors the Mentors?

Alexander Kelly, 5 October 2012

This session was inspired by some current discussion in my company, Third Angel, and particularly by an event I attended in Edinburgh a year or so ago:
- It was a day's discussion about support for emerging artists. One of the speakers asked us “Who here mentors?” Most of us raised our hand. Then they asked us, “Who has a mentor?” Half of us lowered our hand.

I explained that at the start of the session, and the conversation took off from there.

We talked about:
> Whether ego is involved in (not) wanting/needing a mentor once you are “established”? Whether a mentor can be a peer, or if it needs to be someone “more” established.
> The idea that we (as an industry) mentor people up to a certain point of proficiency, and then leave them to fend for themselves. The transition from mentee to mentor - why shouldn't they overlap?
> Needing a mentor with a bit of grit - someone who will be hard and honest. Someone to destabilise your process - “hard but fruitful.”
> The time commitment needed from a mentor - how much to ask for. More than one consultancy. You need to build up a relationship, to gain trust, understanding. How long is enough to commit to? Two years? Mentoring for life? Having to divorce your mentor five years in when it is no longer working. It's not you, it's me.
> Setting timeframes and targets. Being clear about what you know you want or need.

Being clear about what isn't decided, what will be responsive / bespoke.
> Different words for similar relationships / roles: mentoring, coaching, supervision, governance. Conversation.
> In therapy (and other industries) it is embedded. A therapist has to have a therapist. Space for reflection on your work is built in.

> A good relationship: the mentor and mentee both striving to be better. It's a two way relationship.
> Why do we mentor? Because we were mentored - to give something back - the cliche is true. But also because it is rewarding - you can learn about your own practice by helping another artist to think about theirs.

> “I can't tell them how to do things.” But we can help them think - give them space and licence to do some good thinking about their own practice.
> To let them talk through a particular issue/problem/dilemma - when actually they have made their decision, know what they want/need to do - but just need to say it out loud to someone they trust, someone who knows them, but someone who isn't implicated in the situation. To listen to themselves saying it?

> A mentor has/needs distance - “fresh eyes.” Not the same as someone who is in the process the whole time.
> The range of mentoring - from individual projects, a range of practice, to careers. Bespoke responses to what we need:

- help you to make the work you want to make.
- keeping you anchored to your own process.
- someone who can look with a different timeframe - not just this week in the reeharsal room - can see problems/timebombs you might be setting yourself.
- stop you making the same mistakes that they did.
> Artists being more open source? “It's my duty as a funded artist” to share my

experience and resources. Share my mistakes. Funded research has to be published. How many of us publish/share our budgets and business plans? For registered companies, this information is in the public domain via Companies House, but younger artists may not know this. Why not make it easier for them to access and put on your own website? (Blast Theory used to publish the budgets for their touring shows in their programmes).

> Being prepared to say - “I'm not the best person to help you.” Wondering if it is okay to ‘pass on’ a mentee to someone you know has the expertise they need? What if they're really busy? Ask yourself, would I mind if they passed someone on to me - usually you wouldn't. Mentoring as brokering - it isn't passing the buck.

> Mentoring in relationship to PhD supervision - helping someone to see that they are the expert in their own practice. Sharing fundamental principles - but the detail of your individual practice / experience is different.The conversation goes back to the mentee's line of enquiry. The mentor brings expertise around the mechanisms of the industry.

> “mentoring is not giving advice.”
> Helping them to be more themselves.
> The Mentoring Pyramid - if we all have a mentor - who is at the top of the pyramid? Could it be a loop?
> Peers mentoring each other. Companies of a similar age/interest sharing/discussing work. Shared learning. But this is a different thing. (> back to the idea of distance.)
> ITC exists as an anecdotal mentoring bank - because they know what their members are doing, and can advise enquirers. But could this be deveoped, formalised? “Help companies to not have to reinvent the wheel.” An experience bank. Is this something ITC and / or ACE could host?
> The importance of the enquiry coming to the right person. Case study: person new in a creative learning post asking for ALL telephone enquiries to come through to them

for first month to get a picture of what the public/audience want to know.
> A mentor can tell you what they know in an afternoon, but they need time to get to know you and your situation in order to help you.
> How do people meet advisors / mentors? Through recommendation; workshops; particpatory projects; education work. Can we signpost this better?
> Why do we choose to mentor? Did we choose to do it, or did it just happen? “Yes, it's a conscious decision to do it.” “It's an ethical responsibility.”

I'm sorry now that I didn't ask the group the specific question that triggered the discussion, about who currently has a mentor. But over the course of the discussion I got the impression that we had all been mentored, and all had mentored or were currently mentors. No-one said that they were doing both at the same time.

A useful discussion for me as convener. It helped to clarify some issues and thoughts. Thanks to everyone who sat in and contributed.


skills, Emerging Artists, coaching, supervision, Process, mentor, career, process, emerging artists, mentoring, Mentoring