Survival Tactics : How to Find a Mentor and/or Start Mentoring?

If you want to create better work, attract more studio visits, exhibitions, build your network, produce a more compelling website, make more income, or get that new job, you cannot simply do it alone. I, Huma Kabakci, delves into the advantages and challenges of mentorship whether you are a mentor or a mentee.
Cover Image: Photo by Neil Thomas, Unsplash

Whether you are starting off in your career, or have an established career but need a different perspective, mentoring can be incredibly beneficial. There are mutually inclusive advantages to mentorship, for both the mentee and mentor such as skill and network building, personal and professional development and more, which I will explain further in this article. There are many different mentorship programmes for corporate organisations and networking groups available; however, for those who are starting off in the creative industry, it might be a bit more tricky.

You don’t necessarily need to join a paid networking membership to become a mentee, but I’ll also give some examples of these mentorship platforms that you can join online or in person. I am covering the benefits of both being a mentee and a mentor, whilst giving some tips on finding a mentor or even jumpstarting into mentoring.

With the pandemic, in most industries, important initiatives such as workforce development, creating an inclusive work environment, and attracting a more diverse talent base have become more important than ever. We have faced more professional and personal pressures working from our confined homes, not knowing how to deal with modes of production and creativity. Emerging professionals have been thrown into a workforce in flux, where the only constant is that no one has all the answers. It is never easy to handle these pressures and start something exciting, creative, and brainstorm on your own. That’s where a mentor or someone you look up to can be convenient, especially in the context of gender, race, and social class, where there is inequality.

The challenge: Finding the right person for you.

The Advantage: It can take some time to find the right mentor depending on your needs. Professional mentorship programmes for little money can help you find the perfect contact. I personally reached out to my mentor through the previous organisation I was working for. He was on the advisory board and from his experience and knowledge in both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors, he seemed like the perfect fit.

The challenge: Find a mentor that is willing to volunteer to do the mentoring.

The advantage: Even though mentorship seems like a monetary exchange, I find that it best works when there are no commercial expectations. It is important to find someone who is willing to mentor in their goodwill, as a mentee you can always offer to take them out for lunch or coffee as a symbol to say thank you after. The mentor-mentee relationship should not be based on just expectations.

How to start mentoring? 
If you want to start mentoring, this doesn’t have to be formal. The mentoring process can grow organically. The most important thing in mentoring is to know that you’ll be committed with your time and knowledge sharing. The more you build on your problem-solving and communication skills, potential mentees will get in touch with you organically. Word of mouth also helps.

The challenge: Start mentoring without any prior experience.
The Advantage: It can be daunting to jumpstart into mentoring right away, especially if you are doing it for the first time. It is vital to remember that this is not a teaching experience but more of a mutual exchange and sharing platform. Being generous with your knowledge sharing and time is the first step to mentorship, you don’t need to add more pressure or stress to it by feeling like you need to deliver in a certain way or see immediate progress from the mentee.

Tips on finding a mentor
Whilst there are many useful platforms, networks, and memberships that you can join to find the most suitable mentor for you, you can always reach out to someone more informally as well. Sometimes universities or schools also provide mentorship programmes connecting alumni students together. I would not be shy to approach someone you look up to on LinkedIn or even Instagram to start an initial conversation. Even though mentorship can be flexible, it works best when it is done over a period of time and when it is consistent. From my very little experience, what I have seen is that what works best is to meet up once a month over a period of 6 months to get the most out of the mentorship. For those in the .Art community who might be interested in joining a mentorship programme, here is a list of places to start your search.

Mentoring Platforms in the Creative Industry
Arts Emergency
A-n – The Artist Information Company
Association Women In The Arts (AWITA) 
I Like Networking 
Open Space – you can always get in touch with me directly for a mentoring session or initial conversation go on www.openspacecontemporary.art  and email me
Visual Art Passage 

Benefits for the Mentees

  • New development opportunities: Finding a channel to improve your skills and outlook
    Having that safe space and session with a mentor means you can really focus on improving your skills or adding a new, fresh outlook. Mentors are there to support mentees to achieve their chosen career goals, They are also there to point out what added skills mentees can benefit from.
  • Increased confidence: We all need someone who can encourage us to do that thing we might otherwise not
    Fear gets in the way of our dreams or aspirations. It is always nice to have someone as a supporting, encouraging body for affirmation. If it wasn’t for my mentor I reached out a year ago, I know I would definitely have much more rigid ideas around what I can do, and what is available for me professionally.
  • Building a network and expanding your connections
    Don’t forget that mentors are trusted, confidants. A mentorship programme or reaching a mentor can definitely expand your networking and how you communicate. It can be difficult to build a safe, trusted space especially when there are many societal issues around gender, pay gap, and racism. It is important to find that person you can be yourself with.  Mentoring in the end is being generous with your contacts and knowledge, which can be very useful for the mentee.
  • Accountability: Have a ‘goal’ that you never really pursue
    Having a mentor there to ask how that goal is progressing makes all the difference to your motivation (or fear). It is always good to have goals or an Agenda to go over before a mentorship session, so there is something to work towards. When I say goals, I don’t mean big dreams but manageable, realistic goals that you can present to your mentor.

Some SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) can help you use a specific set of criteria to ensure that objectives are clearly defined and attainable within a certain timeframe. An example of a SMART- goal statement might look like this: The exhibition titled ______ aims to [objectives and references] by [timeframe or deadline]. [The artist(s) or curator] will accomplish this goal by examining [what steps you’ll take to achieve the goal]. Accomplishing this goal will [result or benefit]. Implementing these SMART goals can help you work towards what needs to be done leading up to your creative project, eg: an exhibition coming up in four months’ time. Whilst working on an exhibition, these goals can help you work on tasks such as; production, work description, scheduling, planning transportation and insurance and writing the exhibition text. What would not be realistic is waiting for an immediate outcome right after one mentorship session, it is always nice to have time to brainstorm and exchange ideas.

  • Real life advice
    One of the greatest benefits of mentors is that they can give real-life advice. It is so important to reach out to someone that you value and have respect for their professional work ethic. For me at least, when my mentor gave examples from his own experience, I really enjoyed his approach or experience towards certain issues in the art world.
  • Human Connection
    In the last two years, due to the pandemic, we have lost real human connection. That’s where a mentorship programme or a more informal mentor-mentee meeting becomes meaningful. Despite having had Zoom mentor sessions, I really enjoyed meeting up with my mentor face to face. Whilst a one-on-one session on Zoom can be efficient and helpful, it always makes a difference to try to meet up in person when there is time, even for a quick coffee.
  • Improve management skills: Learn how to manage professional relationships
    As a mentee, when you build a professional relationship with your mentor over time, you also learn to manage your time management skills and how to navigate more efficiently. Whether you want to organise an exhibition, publish a small zine, or write for a publication, managing your professional relationships and social skills are pertinent.

Photo by Sydney Rae, Unsplash

Benefits of Mentoring 

  • Give back or pay it forward: People enjoy giving back and having an impact on other people’s lives
    When I started mentoring artist Yoojin Lee, it was such a rewarding experience. I didn’t only learn more about her artistic practice and work but also improved my problem-solving skills. The feeling of being useful or having someone value your opinion is hugely rewarding.
  • Reverse Mentoring: Mentors can learn as much as mentees
    In my case, I realised as a mentor I learned so much more than I thought I would, as I felt like I needed to do the relevant research or brainstorm before a mentoring session to have a productive session for my mentee. For example, during my mentoring sessions with artist Yoojin Lee, I learned more about what other artists in the similar field were doing or researched more on institutions that might be interested in her practice or support her.
  • Being equal in mentor-mentee relationships
    A lot of mentoring programmes can focus on emerging talent with an age range, but I believe talent has no age limits. I tend not to focus so much on the age or years of experience when choosing my mentee. I just ask myself whether I can be beneficial or relate to my mentee and how I can help them.
  • Enjoying the experience: It is not just networking but an enjoyable experience and exchange
    It is important to approach the experience as an enjoyable one, at the end, it is a mutual exchange and brainstorming session. Mentoring can seem like a chore, but once you dedicate that once a month or week session and build on that relationship with your mentee, it is actually a really fun experience filled with interesting conversations.
  • Access to a talent pipeline: you can discover the next rising star
    You never know how your mentee will progress over time or what it might lead you, the mentorship can also be a discovery of new, hidden talent.
  • Increases knowledge share: The more value we share, the more value we create
    Knowledge sharing is neverending, and it is so valuable to both sides. The more we are open to sharing, the more we can create, collaborate and grow together. I personally find it incredibly satisfying.
  • Improve interpersonal skills: Learn to be a better listener. Learn how to give great advice
    From a young age, I must admit my listening skills were never great. Mentoring allows one to really listen, evaluate, brainstorm, and think before giving advice. Listening rather than just talking is a hugely rewarding skill to adapt moving forward.
Huma Kabakcı
Huma Kabakcı
Huma Kabakcı is a second-generation collector, independent curator, and founding director of Open Space. Kabakcı has worked with many internationally acclaimed institutions as a development manager, curator and advisor. She completed a postgraduate degree in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, London. Kabakcı’s curatorial interest and experience lies in creating immersive experiences and a wider dialogue in collaboration with multidisciplinary practitioners. Art curious, a flexitarian yogi, and foodie you can connect with her on LinkedIn.