The following is a guest blog post on skills needed to work as an arts consultant published by Western States Art Federation in September 2011.
Keep your car tidy … and other Consulting Career Tips.
Karen Constine blogs about the skills needed to work as an arts consultant.
Over the course of my career, I’ve been hired for a number of reasons including being a highly seasoned expert in public affairs and management. But one of the most memorable job interviews included this question, “what’s in your car?” Later I learned this question was testing my project management and organizational abilities – good consulting skills to have. (Correct answer: nothing!) And yes, I got the job.
Being a consultant requires a great deal of personal discipline, as well as being highly motivated with a specific strong skill-set in one or two arenas along with a clear brand. Traditionally, most consultants spend many years in the workplace developing hands-on experience, gaining expertise and cultivating a strong network.
This was true for me. I spent years working in public affairs (media, government and community relations). Later, I would specialize in government followed by appointed public service leadership positions in arts, culture and entertainment. This focused professional experience has served me and my clients well as I frequently work with agencies, nonprofits and business entities, where arts and culture are intrinsically linked and tied to economic and community development programs and strategies.
How does one actually become an arts consultant?
Many advice columns and career specialists will tell you that mid-career and experienced workers (e.g., development officers, communications & marketing directors, arts administrators, etc.) with good credentials and know-how are re-hired or engaged by their former employer or associates because of their reputation, skill-set, contacts and network.
However, with today’s economic realities, gig-combining or ‘giganomics’ is changing the practice a bit. People are more frequently combining multiple proficiencies, talents and abilities to generate income through freelance work.
Teaming Up to Network, Network, Network
Entrepreneurial job seekers may also find consulting work through these avenues:
- Being part of a Team– combining skill sets and talents with another consultant or team may help you secure a project;
- Finding a Consultant Mentor– requesting informational meetings with respected consultants might help you formalize your services, pricing, branding, etc.;
- Securing Short-term Projects Work– being hired for a short term project or temporarily replacing a full-time employee are also ways to grow your consulting skills and practice;
- Networking within your alumni groups and with colleagues and friends- it still often comes down to who you know and who you can reach out to. You need to talk to people about your interests; obtain local job lists (some contain consulting leads); and let people in your network know you are especially interested in consulting opportunities.
I, too, have utilized some of my own tips to enter into consulting. Here’s how and perhaps my story has practical applications to you:
- Earlier on in my career, while working as Corporate Contributions Manager, I freelanced in the evenings providing strategic communication services to selected clients;
- After completing a 4-year post as Director of the California Film Commission, I regularly partnered with a consulting colleague on providing strategic planning, organizational development, and project management services to nonprofit and public sector organizations (and also took on solo consulting projects); and
- I’ve held an interim leadership position in arts and culture.
Of course, there is much more that goes into developing consulting practice and delivering quality results for your clients. A few must-have qualities include: truly knowing, articulating, and always working to increase your strengths and skills – along with being passionate about arts and culture, artists, creativity, education, etc.; and having incredible integrity. This along with outstanding time-management, managerial and communications skills – are just some of the indispensable distinctions needed in this career path.
P.S. My car is still neat & uncluttered!
Karen Constine is a consultant to arts & culture, entertainment and economic development nonprofits, government agencies and corporate clients. She specializes in program and policy development; capacity building and strategic planning; feasibility studies and business planning; fundraising and resource development; civic/cultural engagement.
Karen’s leadership credentials include serving as Interim General Manager of the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs; Senior Policy Analyst of Arts and Culture to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; a statewide gubernatorial appointment as the Director of the California Film Commission made by Governor Gray Davis; Chief of Staff to Los Angeles City Councilmember Laura Chick; as well as a Public Affairs Manager-Corporate Contributions position for a major California utility holding company.
Karen is a native of Los Angeles, and earned a BA in Communication Studies from UC Santa Barbara.
Public affairs & arts/culture managing consulting