The Times’ Arts Commissioning Editor, Nancy Durrant, is one of the judges for the Sky Arts Ignition: Futures Fund. Here she tells IdeasMag about breaking into journalism, immersing herself in contemporary art and why the digital world is changing everything….
As a Sky Arts judge, what are you looking for in a winning project?
It’s almost impossible to be original these days. You just want something that you feel you haven’t seen before. It doesn’t have to be that different, it just has to grab you and feel fresh.
Also, it has to be something that the person is making because they feel they have to, not because they want to think of themselves as “an artist.”
How did you get into journalism?
I sort of got in through the back door. I used to work in advertising, many years ago. I was an account manager, so nothing even related to words. I absolutely hated it and eventually left. I talked to a few people about what I might do and got chatting to a girl who worked in design; she then set me up with an internship at the architecture and design magazine Icon. I learned a lot through doing that.
The one thing I will say that is transferable is that I drank a lot of coffee with a lot of people. I never said to anyone, “Will you give me a job?” I said, “Will you give me some advice on how you did what you did, and who else I could talk to?”
Somebody would give me a number, someone else would give me advice and eventually someone asked if I wanted to be an assistant on the Times. That was about eight or nine years ago.
Were you always interested in art?
I became very involved in the art world through an artist I was going out with and just sort of stayed there. I lived in a house of artists and got immersed in contemporary art. Art still baffles me in many ways – but I think it baffles a lot of people in the art world. They just won’t admit it.
Do you have any advice on making a successful pitch?
You need to think it through. It sounds ridiculously obvious, but it isn’t. You might have a really dynamic, fun-sounding idea but no idea how you’re going to pull it off. You should have some idea of what’s going to be required and the only way to do that is to talk to people. Get their advice; offer to buy them a cup of coffee and listen to what they say.
What do you see as the next big thing in the British arts?
The digital world is changing everything. It’s changing my industry, it’s changing television, visual art, performance art, – everything. Suddenly, if you haven’t got 3D responsive visuals in your contemporary dance show, it’s considered low-fi.
If you were starting out again now, would you still try to get into journalism?
If I was 18 I wouldn’t think, “I’m going to go and do a course in journalism”. I would never do that. Maybe do it as an MA, but for God’s sake don’t do it at university, because you’ll be completely unqualified for anything else. If you’ve got languages, History, Maths, anything, you can show an employer that you can think. If you go to a potential employer with a journalism degree they’ll say “Why are you here? We’re not a newspaper.”
Of course, journalism is great fun. I can’t say I don’t have one of the best jobs in the world, but it’s not going to be easy to get into, in the next 10 or 20 years.
To apply for the second round of the Sky Arts Ignition: Futures Fund and possibly win £30,000 funding over an entire year, visit the brief.