Blog post by Angad Kaur: Running talks and workshops

Running talks and workshops – some tips and links to useful articles

Organising public talks and running workshops can be a rewarding and valuable way of expanding skills, exploring new perspectives about a topic or method of working, developing new audiences and networks, alongside opening up another income generating route (albeit small!).

I’m not a practicing photographer, so my position is that of a facilitator with curatorial, editorial, marketing and fundraising experience. However, over 20+ years, I’ve always worked closely with artists and have been interested in context and conversation, where there can be a dynamic sharing of ideas.

I’ve also recognised how artist practitioners make excellent curators, facilitators, teachers and speakers because the nature of their practice can involve broad research, lateral thinking and spontaneity.

So if you haven’t considered organising a public talk or workshop, but feel this is something you’d like to try, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a go.

Zoe Whishaw Members Event

There are a number of approaches to take but usually the first step is exploring and deciding on the idea, concept or topic.

Are you embarking on the research of a new project or are you exhibiting a project that has already been created? And if so, is there a particular theme that would be widely relevant and interesting to explore with others?

If you are researching a new project, for example on the theme of alternative photographic processes, how might you want to engage with people on the topic and what do you want to get out of it?

A public talk might involve you inviting a range of speakers, in addition to yourself, each with different perspectives or experience – eg. a master printer, curator and a fine artist experimenting with alternative processes. You could approach a venue you know and ask if they’d be interested in hosting the event or simply look for a space to hire. Then it’s a question of finances – working out a ticket price, estimated number of tickets you may sell that balance the expenses (cost of speaker fees, room hire if applicable, refreshments, marketing etc). Often speakers will be very generous in accepting a small fee if the event is to be accessible and is primarily geared towards covering costs and not someone’s personal profit. Marketing can be via social media so there’s no printing bill and refreshments don’t have to be served.

Each speaker will have their own audience and network, so you have the opportunity to expand your own audience reach alongside having an engaging conversation with input from other specialists regarding your research. From my experience, public talks are a very lively and dynamic environment that can lead to further conversations, opportunities and collaborations.

A workshop could be focused completely on practice – ie. learning a skill such as experimenting with different printing processes, exploring a range of approaches to taking a studio portrait, the use of light, etc. It could be a mix of theory and practice – ie. a self publishing workshop where there is a talk about the history of publishing towards the now expanding realm of self-publishing, a case study example of a self-published book from conception through to completion, and a practical session of creating a simple, self-published book. This may involve you inviting others to contribute their expertise or otherwise leading the whole workshop yourself if you have all the required skills and experience. It could also be a workshop focused on discussion, sharing and peer critiques, where you invite or advertise for a small group of artists to bring a project in development and each person has an allocated amount of time to present their idea/ project followed by peer feedback. Your role would be to given an introduction to the workshop (set the scene, context, protocols etc), facilitate the sessions, time keep, give a summary at the end that may involve recapping on tasks that were agreed as follow-ups. These are just a few examples as you can create any focus or format for a workshop, but your intention and the outcome needs to be very clear from the start.

A key factor of running a workshop is the way in which it informs your own practice. You may start off as a “mini-expert” on a topic or in an area of practical skill, but engaging with others means they will bring questions, ideas and perspectives that you’ve not thought about. It is not expected that anyone knows everything, and when we drop this idea and open ourselves to the generous nature of exchange (both giving and receiving), it creates an uplifting environment for everyone including yourself.

Angad Kaur
Consultant & Artist Mentor, Photofusion

Links to useful articles

If you don’t run workshops already or would like to improve or expand your approach, here are some links that are both art and non-art related that you may find useful to read:

  • Rachel Segal Hamilton writes a short article for IdeasTap on “How to Run a Workshops”. HERE
  • “The not-so-secret secrets to to running an effective photo workshop” by Venture Photography Workshop. HERE
  • Mind Tools offers a helpful step by step hide to planning a successful workshop: HERE
  • Doug Johnson shares his Top Ten Secrets for a Successful Workshop: HERE