Morvern Cunningham is a freelance creative, coach and writer and is working as Culture Collective’s Creative Lead. In this blog post, Morvern reflects on their own experience of coaching, as well as coaching within the Culture Collective itself.
Here at Culture Collective, the Programme Lead team are exploring ways to better support our 200+ creative practitioners across the Scotland-wide network, whilst exploring models of best practice in the arts sector more generally. One challenge for freelance creatives that we are very conscious of, is the lack of personal and professional opportunities for people operating outside of institutions in the sector. To combat this, and in addition to offering each of the 26 projects in the Culture Collective network training and ‘go and see’ opportunities (with appropriate budgets attached), we have recently launched a brand new coaching package in collaboration with Coaching for Creatives. As well as online introductions to coaching from accredited coaches, Culture Collective creative practitioners will have access to one to one coaching sessions and tasters, as well as facilitated workshops on group activities such as Action Learning Sets and Listening Circles. The latter was really important for the Programme Lead team, since we are conscious that as funding is finite, so too is this kind of support, therefore the more we can invest in equipping freelance practitioners with the kind of peer support tools they can take forward into their professional career and at no cost to themselves, the better.
Many folk have some idea of what coaching might be, though they may conflate it with other things. I’m personally passionate about coaching, having recently become an accredited coach with RD1st and benefitted from coaching in the past, so I know the power that coaching can unlock to help further individual’s aspirations and futures. A quick intro to the concept that I would run through with any prospective coachees, would be to initially say what coaching is not, as a means of understanding what it is. Coaching is not mentoring, and it’s definitely not counselling, though counselling can use some of the tools of coaching such as active listening and open questions. Active listening is a skill that not everyone is born with (ahem, are you listening mum?!) but which can be practised and improved upon. There are different levels of active listening – the most useful being where, rather than thinking about how what someone is saying relates to you or what interesting thing you can say about the topic once there’s a break in conversation, you instead immerse yourself in what is being said and encourage the speaker to say more about the subject. Furthermore, the use of open questions (as opposed to closed) can help to draw out additional information and new thinking pathways for the speaker.
The big difference between coaching and mentoring is that coaching involves giving no advice, or only when it is explicitly asked for. Rather than having someone telling you what to do with your life (which might not always be helpful for your situation), instead coaching is a means of hearing your own thoughts out loud and reflected back at you. It’s also a valuable space to carve out of your day to talk about whatever is important to you – often the folk that I coach have never had the opportunity to talk at length about themselves in this way, and having the time and space to think out loud can be transformative in itself. It has been described to me as someone walking alongside you while you work out the best solution to any of your challenges, which is an image I’ve always liked to picture when coaching people. Try it next time a friend or colleague comes to speak to you on a subject – rather than jumping in with advice or your personal impression of the situation they describe, instead try teasing out their own thoughts about how best to proceed and notice what changes in your conversation.
We are excited to roll out the Coaching for Creatives coaching package with our Culture Collective creative practitioners over the next 6 months, and look forward to hearing the results!
Morvern is Creative Lead at Culture Collective and has been part of the Programme Lead team since Sep 2021. They received coaching accreditation through a Coaching for Creatives initiative in 2021.