Pitching a professional development proposal

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Deborah Stone

After tertiary study, a fellowship offers a valuable opportunity to move up the career ladder but you need to show you have what it takes.
Pitching a professional development proposal

Zoe Woods, University of South Australia graduate, photo by Olivia Power 

 Professional development is a very personal thing. Ambitious artists often know what they need and dream of studying with a particular teacher or interning with a particular organisation.

An individualised opportunity, such as a Helpmann Fellowship enables artists to design their own learning experiences, acknowledging that the individual knows best what will develop their practice.


Professional development can include residencies, specialist training, workshops or courses, internships with arts organisations or one-on-one master classes.  In the case of the Helpmann Fellowships, emerging artists from visual art, music, film, theatre and dance have the opportunity to create a professional development proposal to compete for one of four $20,000 fellowships offered over the next two years.

But how do show that your application constitutes a well-designed professional development opportunity that will really advance your career?

CEO of the Helpmann Academy, Jane MacFarlane, advises applicants to begin with extensive research. ‘They need to be able to show why this is right for that artist,’ she said.

Focus on outcomes

In designing your pitch, think about what you want to achieve and how you will be different at the end of the experience.

‘We are very outcome driven, but what that outcome is will be different for each artist. Artists should demonstrate why their project is unique and innovative, showcasing the impact the program will have on their career. It is important for artists to research projects that will help them succeed.

For example, in 2016 we’ve supported a jazz guitarist to undertake a mentorship with a master in their field in NYC; we supported two contemporary dancers to undertake a professional residency with ilDance in Sweden; and a photographer to participate in a scientist led expeditionary residency aboard a specially outfitted sailing vessel in the Arctic Circle. It’s about what will help them get their career off the ground,’ said MacFarlane.

She said these new fellowships encourage early career artists to dream big. ‘An opportunity like this will allow the space for a creative practice to really grow and develop, and for ideas to reach their full potential.’

Curate your portfolio

Select work that shows how your practice matches the opportunity you are seeking. If you are a visual artist whose work ranges across media but you are applying for our SA Power Networks Commission for instance, your selection of paintings may be unhelpful, even if they are good. This may be the only opportunity a panel has to see your work so make it count.

Jesse Moore, dance student from Adelaide College of the Arts, photo by Sofia Calado​

Impress your referees

References can be remarkably revealing, said MacFarlane.  Because Helpmann Academy programs are offered to final year students and graduates up to five years out, applicants often use their lecturers as referees. Academics make good referees because they have the opportunity to see many emerging artists and develop a good eye for who is likely to succeed.

‘They get a strong feeling as to who is really going to get out there and work hard. They know who is going to be the pick of the crop. ’ I recommend you speak to potential referees early and excite them about your project.

Learn to sell yourself

Develop the business and career skills to present and promote what you do.

“Artists need to sell themselves in their proposals and excite the readers about the value of who they are as an artist and the importance of their project.”

‘These days you can’t just be good at your craft you have to have a whole range of skill sets to be able to make it as an artist. The broader skill set an artist has, the easier it is for them to get ahead,’ said MacFarlane.

Showcase your networking skills

Professional development isn’t all about you. Fellowship winners are encouraged to bring their knowledge and contacts back, to share with other artists and help transform the cultural landscape.

A strong social media following, developed professional network or experience presenting in public forums are advantageous.

 ‘We are interested in how a particular artist may be able to share their knowledge back with other emerging artists,’ said MacFarlane. ‘When an artist makes connections with people overseas, for example, they bring that back and often, we have found, they help to make connections for the next lot of artists going overseas, so it has a flow-on effect.’

Lastly, come and talk to us and get feedback. We love talking to artists about what they are doing and always recommend artists discuss their applications with us, come armed with questions and think about their project idea or draft application in preparation for the discussion.

Apply for a Helpmann Fellowship

The Helpmann Fellowships are made possible through a grant from The James and Diana Ramsay Foundation.

General Manager of the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation, Kerry de Lorme said that the Foundation was thrilled to be supporting the new fellowships.

‘These opportunities will have a significant and long lasting impact on the careers of the recipients. We want these fellowships to provide emerging artists with the confidence, networks and tools required to create a sustainable career for themselves and for them to contribute to the arts sector in their chosen field,’ she said.

Applications for the 2017 Helpmann Fellowship are now open. Applicants have until February 24, 2017, to apply.

The Helpmann Academy is the only organisation of its kind in Australia. They empower South Australia’s best emerging artists to realise their visions and build sustainable practices. They provide professional development opportunities including grants and awards, mentorships, masterclasses, advisory services and international artist residencies, all tailored specifically for South Australia’s higher education students, graduates and emerging artists.

The Helpmann Academy is a unique collaborative partnership, unifying the skills and resources of the state’s universities and TAFE SA. The Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition, a landmark exhibition for visual arts graduates from South Australia’s Universities and TAFE opens on 16 February 2017.


About the author

Deborah Stone is Editor of ArtsHub.