Director of Art Licks

Director of Art Licks


Holly Willats is the Director of Art Licks, a website and magazine dedicated to the underground London art scene. Art Licks also runs tours of artist-led spaces. Holly tells us why it's worth setting up your own project, despite the long hours and hard work...

Full name/age/job title:

Holly Willats, 24, Director of Art Licks

Please give us an overview of your average day.

It is hard to say what an average day is, as each day really does vary – especially if there is a magazine deadline looming. But I suppose a normal-ish day would be heading over to the studio in Bermondsey, having my first coffee and settling down to check emails. Then I’ll make sure all is running OK for the listing for the following week – that we have all the content and images from the galleries. Often in the afternoon I’ll have a meeting with a gallery or artist, particularly in the run-up to a new issue of the magazine. I’ll meet up with the contributors to discuss what they would like to work on. Then in the evening I will go to a private view – I try to go to a few, if geography lets me.

What is the most common misconception about your job?

People always seem to think that Art Licks has been running much longer than it has, and therefore, that I’ve been working on it longer than I have. I launched the Art Licks’ website in January 2010 with the weekly listing, then started the tours and in September 2010 launched the printed magazine as well. It’s been a lot of work! But it’s involved so many different people who have all contributed to making it what it is, so it sometimes feels like it’s been running longer than it really has.

What is the hardest thing about your role?

There are lots of things that are hard when you set up an initiative on your own. It’s a lot of hours, there aren’t really any chances for holidays, there are moments when things may not go as expected and it’s tough to accept and get over that on your own steam. But the excitement you get from it all, the sense of achievement and the people you get to meet through it make it so worthwhile that I would encourage anyone to do it if they have the real drive and passion to get something going.

When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?

After graduating, I’d been working in a commercial art gallery in London and through this, was getting to visit exhibitions in similar commercial galleries. It was a great experience but it started to dawn on me I wasn’t visiting any of the non-commercial galleries; the artist-led, young and emerging project spaces. I couldn’t find out about this side of the art scene – I hadn’t studied fine art in London, so I didn’t have a network of peers or artist friends I could rely on to know what was happening. I also recognised that such galleries don’t have a budget for promoting their work, and so they rely on word-of-mouth and social media.

Out of my own frustration and after some research and planning, I set up Art Licks the website as a weekly listing, focusing on these spaces by listing their exhibitions and projects open to the public. Art Licks was set up for two reasons: to keep the wider public informed and updated on exhibitions, and help these galleries to promote what they are doing.

Issue One of the printed magazine was launched at Sassoon Gallery in Peckham. The magazine is quarterly and, like the website, is about looking beyond the obvious, behind the commercial and the mainstream at what artists, curators and gallerists are doing and thinking. Rather than writing about the new artists and art initiatives taking place, this magazine is written by the actual people behind these happenings; providing a personal perspective on the work, a platform for discussion and giving the reader an insight into the emerging arts scene.

The Art Licks tours started up around the same time. So far these cover Hackney, Hackney Wick, Peckham and Clapton. The tours are every other Saturday, on which we will take a group of up to 20 people round a mix of galleries, project spaces, not-for-profits and studios for two hours.

What can you do to get a head start?

Do it yourself and take some risks. There is no way I would have done half the things I have if I hadn’t taken the risk and launched Art Licks. So I would say that doing something yourself will give you great confidence and enthusiasm to do much more than you would have thought you could if you were working for someone else.

Could you describe the creative element to your job?

There are several creative elements to the running of Art Licks, but I think the magazine is the most exciting of them for me. For the first two issues I did the design to keep the costs down – but not being trained in this, it was a big long job, so when we had a larger budget by issue three, I started working with the designer Ken Kirton. Usually, I invite around nine artists to work with us on the magazine, and also a mix of curators, gallerists and experimental art writers. I discuss their ideas and we work out how best this can be represented in the magazine. Once they have sent their contributions in I start checking, editing and proofing. Working with Ken and the artists that contribute to the magazine is a creative process that takes many weeks and lots of hard work. But it’s also great fun. 

What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?

I wish I had understood that you can’t always say “yes” to everything, that you can’t do everything. I’m still learning to recognise this, but I’m really trying to realise when I can, and when I can’t do something. There are huge benefits to working on new projects, starting new things, going forward with new ideas; but finding the right moment and making sure you have the time to do it, is just as important as the enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s good to decline, and focus on what you’ve got to work on already.

Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?

Art Licks – to see what’s happening with the galleries!

I found the British Library’s Business & IP Centre really, really helpful. I’m surprised that people often don’t know of it when I mention it. It’s fantastic! If you are thinking of starting up any kind of business, organisation, charity – anything! – then make sure you visit the centre and sign up to some of the one-to-one advisory sessions and their seminars.

I also think, just being brave and going out and talking to people – ask them what they think of your idea – these sorts of conversations are very valuable.


Visit the Art Licks website.

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