Our Deputy Director Sarah McAvera has been nominated for this year’s ‘Outstanding Mentor’ at the Women in Business NI Awards next week! Ahead of this, we took the chance to talk to Sarah about how the role of mentoring and partnerships with other organisations has become instrumental in not only her own development but also in the gallery and the sector as a whole.

Sarah has a unique perspective on the arts and business landscape in Northern Ireland. Having worked at the gallery for years, she has seen the evolution of the arts sector and the increasing need for sustainability and professionalism within it. As part of her role, she has been involved in various mentorship programmes, including the Blueprint training programme, created by Arts & Business NI to enhance financial resilience in the arts.

“I think you could describe the programme as being an exemplar of generosity, which you just don’t get in other things. They’re generous with their time, funding, and ideas.”

Sarah recognises the importance of mentorship in her role, noting that providing hundreds of hours of free mentoring and support to artists and arts professionals over the years has been a crucial part of her growth as a professional. But participating in the Blueprint programme allowed her to experience being a mentee, which she found incredibly beneficial.

“I don’t think I realised what a difference it makes having somebody to be a sounding board and somebody who is impartial…I think there’s definitely been a knock-on effect of that as it has made me more confident and given me additional skills as a mentor”

The Blueprint programme, which focuses on resilience, sustainability and professionalism in the arts, has had a significant impact on the work of the Golden Thread Gallery. Sarah notes that the consistency of the programme, as well as the opportunity to meet regularly with a group of peers, has allowed for in-depth conversations and the chance to explore new ideas and models. She says that the programme has enabled the gallery to take risks and try new approaches, something that is often difficult to do in a sector that is increasingly bureaucratic and risk-averse.

Sarah also speaks highly of the relationship between the team at Arts & Business NI and the organisations they support.

“I think that the role of Arts & Business NI and what they have done over the years is to try to make people outside the sector see the skills, the experience and the competence within the sector. For all of the things that we’ve been doing with [them], including work with Translink that they matched from their art fund, they’ve given those opportunities to shine and to show what it is that you do because otherwise businesses maybe wouldn’t see that.”

The recognition and opportunities provided by Arts and Business NI, as well as the nomination for an A&BNI Community Engagement award for the partnership with Translink, have been invaluable in raising the profile of the gallery and its work.

“It’s a really lovely award to be nominated for because it’s one of the bits of my job that does give a feeling of satisfaction. So, you do feel that you make a difference.”

Sarah’s experience with the Golden Thread Gallery and the Blueprint programme highlights the importance of mentorship in the professional development of arts professionals. The consistency and support provided by mentorship programmes can help individuals navigate the challenges of their roles and grow as professionals. Additionally, partnerships between organisations like Arts & Business NI and the Golden Thread Gallery can help raise awareness of the skills and experience within the arts sector and create further opportunities for collaboration and growth. Sarah Jones, who has led the Blueprint programme at Arts & Business NI, strongly agrees.

“We have been delighted to have Golden Thread Gallery as part of the Blueprint Programme, our financial resilience programme which has the ambition to help strengthen the arts sector in Northern Ireland for the future. Through Blueprint, Sarah has been both dedicated to continuing her personal development and supportive of others in the cohort. Mentoring provides a vital role in strengthening and developing the wider arts sector and we are delighted to see Sarah continue to pass on and share her extensive knowledge through mentoring and ongoing support to others.”

Sarah McAvera’s dedication to mentoring, exemplified through her work with Blueprint, underscores the importance of supporting artists and art professionals to foster a thriving and sustainable environment, empowering individuals and organisations to reach their fullest potential in the arts.

Golden Thread Gallery is supported by: