There are few things as satisfying as writing the first blog post on a fresh, new website. And whom better to ask to lay the foundations of the YPIA blog than the founders of YPIA themselves, Nicki Wenham and Andreas Flohr. They have been at the helm of YPIA since 2008, but with their busy artist management jobs and regular trips abroad decided to step back as Directors last year, and move on to our Advisory Board. They look back on their six successful years:
Why did you decide to start YPIA?
Nicki: “After a couple of years working in administration in the classical music industry, I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities for people working at a junior level to network and get out of the office to meet fellow colleagues face-to-face. It’s always the senior management that go to events and conferences, I guess because they need junior staff to be in the office and cover the phones. I wanted to change this, so I booked a space in a bar in central London, and sent an invite around to fellow friends and colleagues in the industry at junior positions to get together, meet, talk and network. I thought maybe 20-30 people might come but 120 ended up turning up. I couldn’t believe it. I knew from that moment something needed to be done about this, so I set up a committee with a couple of friends in the industry and started organising monthly events and opportunities for professional development.”
Andreas: “Nicki first approached me during an IAMA conference about setting up a single networking event. Having worked at IAMA for a while, I knew about the benefits of getting like-minded people together, and Nicki's initiative seemed like a wonderful idea. Little did we know that so many people felt the same and encouraged us to regularly set up events like the one in May 2008. Together with two other founding members, we formed an organisational committee, and the rest is history.”
What is your most memorable YPIA moment?
Nicki: “Gosh, that’s a hard one - there are so many. I think our season launch in September 2009 where we organised a showcase for young singers was a real highlight. The wonderful Sir Vernon Ellis, who has been a real support to us, hosted this in his beautiful house. About 100 people were there and we had a fantastic drinks-and-canapé reception afterwards. It really highlighted how quickly the organisation had grown.”
Andreas: “I loved the fact that we had such a positive response from all around the industry, particularly from organisations in London, but also further afield in Scotland and even internationally in Germany and the US. The industry we are working in is a people’s business, and the response from our events clearly indicates that there is a great need for everyone to continually share ideas and thoughts in order to push forward whichever art form it is they are working with. And people did develop – there are a number of colleagues that we know about who found their next jobs through YPIA, and many organisations regularly advertise their jobs through YPIA. This really is a wonderful reference to just how important this organisation has become for the industry.”
What has been your favourite event and why?
Andreas: “I wouldn’t want to single out any one event from the 70+ that we’ve organised over the years, although I particularly liked our collaborative events that gave participants the opportunity to get an insight in other organisations’ work. The late-night Wigmore series, the lecture series in collaboration with the Southbank Centre or our early collaborations with the OAE Night Shift immediately spring to mind, as well as performance highlights at Limelight’s events. Our season launch events were of course always special, and I will never forget the 2011/12 season launch which featured a traditional ceilidh, where we had a senior colleague from the industry turn up in his personal kilt.”
Nicki: “There really have been too many to pick a favourite… I think collaborating with venues such as the Southbank Centre and the Hospital Club, a fabulous private members' club for those working in the creative industries and located in the heart of Covent Garden, really helped to draw in a wider membership, and events there had a real buzz.”
How has YPIA helped you progress professionally?
Nicki: “I never set the organisation up to help me progress my career but it certainly has done so. My current boss heard about YPIA, met me at an industry event and asked if I’d work for him. I think he was looking for someone ambitious and who was going to get out there and make things happen.”
Andreas: “Had it not been for YPIA I don’t think I would have ever managed to gain such a great insight into the arts from all possible angles. Coming originally from Germany, I’ve noticed early on that the arts in the UK and London in particular are run in a very entrepreneurial way. There’s a constant feel of having to reinvent the art form to ensure its existence in the future. I love exploring art in this context, and I believe that YPIA has a big role to play in ensuring that new ideas keep coming and most importantly that they are being shared with people who may have an interest in pursuing them for their own career paths in the future. YPIA and the great network that it has become lets you tap into new areas that you may not know about, and it helps you meet the people that specialise in it.”
Nicki: “And YPIA turned into something much bigger than we had imagined. Andreas and I registered it as a limited company, set up a paid membership scheme, commissioned a couple of websites, oversaw a changing committee of volunteers, sought sponsorship and funding, created and managed several budgets and planned and organised over seventy events during our time running the organisation, all voluntarily and all on top of our full time jobs, which were becoming more and more time consuming and which are certainly not nine-to-five. Still to this day I don’t know how many hours I must have put into it, but it was out of a passion and understanding that this needed to happen. We made many mistakes along the way (I had no idea how to set up a company or do some of the things we had to do) but the best way to learn is to just do it. I also got such a buzz at our events, seeing how many people would come and what everyone was getting out of them. Seeing the same faces come back and the relationships and friendships that were being formed was a real highlight.”
Andreas: “On a more practical level I don’t think I would have gained experience in web development, finance and tax as well as company management structures had it not been for YPIA and the numerous hours we put in to be able to run the organisation.”
Nicki: “I have also made so many contacts. As soon as one or two of our key speakers we invited were on board, it was amazing how much easier it was to get support from other individuals and organisations. In the first six years, I don’t think we paid for a single venue for our events either. It’s all about negotiation, building contacts and working collaboratively. My little black book of contacts is now not so little, and as well as making some useful professional contacts that I hope will develop over my career, I’ve also made some friends for life!”
If you had one piece of advice for a young person in the arts, what would it be?
Andreas: “YPIA was originally about a bunch of curious junior staff members that wanted to find out about how things in our industry (and beyond) worked, what the future of the arts might hold and what other like-minded people are out there to share your ideas with. I would argue that the curiosity that lies behind all this hasn’t changed and never will. I don’t think the arts are the place to be if your priorities lie elsewhere.”
Nicki: “Working in the arts and creative industries is tough. It seems so glamorous from the outside, but it’s not really, and if you want to get anywhere you have to put yourself out there. Go to as many events as possible and across the arts too, read reviews and papers and find out what is going on. I agree with Andreas: I don’t think you can really work in this business unless you have a passion for it.”
The photo above was taken in 2008, at one of YPIA's first events. From left to right it shows Andreas Flohr, Lis Lomas, Nicki Wenham and Pippa Patterson. Pippa and Lis were committee members during YPIA's first season.