Conversations / Nicola Shipley & FORM

Nicola Shipley & FORM

We talk to co-founder and Director of GRAIN Projects Nicola Shipley. FORM are lucky enough to call Nicola our mentor and taking this week to interview an important and giving person within the industry.

F: Hello Nicola, your work often takes you around the UK. I understand this week you are working internationally from UNSEEN in Amsterdam. Can you please tell us about a day in the life of a producer and director. How it varies? Where it takes you? 

N: I am lucky enough to say no two days are the same and I get to meet lots of wonderful, talented and inspiring people.  At the moment my work is taking me from Manchester to Brighton, with many cities and places inbetween. I have also worked internationally including in Madrid, Oslo and Guangzhou.   GRAIN Projects is based in Birmingham and the team works across the Midlands in communities, museums, libraries and universities. This year we have worked in collaboration with so many people including with artists in the Peak District National Park, with the National Trust, with HMP Birmingham, with inmates and their families, with a homeless charity in Birmingham and their users and with a refugee centre in Coventry.  I also get to work with emerging practitioners to support their development and with those that are established and critically acclaimed. 

F: Grain and yourself, are both interested in interesting projects that explore representation, identity, communities and engagement. Can you tell us about some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on in recent years? 

N: Photography holds a unique place for all of us.   I have never been a photographer or made images but have always been fascinated by the process of taking pictures, narratives and representation.  Photography is a way in which people share their lives and so all projects are remarkable in some way. I have to mention the following recent and current projects to answer your question;   Enabling, witnessing and supporting artists like Edgar Martins, Liz Hingley and Anthony Luvera working with inmates, asylum seekers and refugees and homeless individuals is inspiring and humbling and I will never cease to be amazed in the impact that these projects have. 

F: You are very prolific within your work, can you tell us about what inspires you? What keeps you keeping on? 

N: Simply the artists and communities I am lucky enough to work with.

F: What are you top tips for those looking to become curators’ and producers within the industry? Can you talk a little bit about your own journey and processes?

N: I would suggest working on themes and topics that interest you and that you are passionate about and creating opportunities with others.  Often emerging curators and producers create the most innovative and exciting pop-up spaces and exhibitions, not held back by institutions or gallery walls.  Networking and being a self-starter certainly helped me as well as always being willing to learn new things and develop different approaches. I studied Art History graduating with an MA and then worked in the public sector as an Arts Development Manager for 10 years.  This is where I cut my teeth and was involved in everything from programming festivals to public art commissioning. I then went freelance and have enjoyed working on a project basis ever since.  

F: You are very giving within the industry, (and with your time!) Always aiding emerging artists, supporting Midlands based talent and of course mentoring. When did this first become a part of what you do, and can you talk about why you do it? 

N: I benefitted hugely from volunteering during my post graduate studies and an internship after my MA.   I am always mindful of that and how much I learned. Prior to GRAIN I was also involved in managing and producing a number of artist professional development programmes and can bare witness to the difference that mentoring, training and even just meeting up for a chat can make to a practitioner, their career and development.  It has been an absolute pleasure to work with the Form Collective and to support their development over the last 12 months, to work with Redeye again and to be part of your journey. 

F: Thank you for taking the time out to work with form, to your constant commitment to the industry and to your work with us over the past 12 months. Form would not be where we are today without a mentor.

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