Meetings: Joanna Payne, Marguerite
Trying to get ahead in any industry can be a daunting task. It helps to have a supportive network of like-minded people around you who are happy to look out for each other, share opportunities, advice and a bottle of wine. However, these people aren’t always that easy to come across and in a male dominated sector likes the arts, where across the board top positions are still held by men, it’s even more important to find people you can connect with and who can support each other. That’s where Marguerite comes in.
Founded by Joanna Payne and named after the iconic patron of the arts, Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim, Marguerite is a network of savvy and influential women working in the arts all brought together through a series of utterly brilliant events, workshops and the occasional party. Joanna and her team bring women together to be inspired through talks, meet each other, share knowledge and have the best time doing it. Joanna spoke to us about why she wanted to launch Marguerite and how she started her business whilst still working her full-time hustle.
You used to work at Frieze, what was your role there?
That’s right! I worked in the VIP Relations department across Frieze London, Frieze Masters and Frieze New York. Our job was to look after the amazing artists, collectors, curators and museum directors who visited the fairs.
As part of this, we laid on programmes of events across London and New York which would take the form of private views and special activations in the city’s museums, galleries and public spaces. We also offered very special, more intimate experiences in artists’ studios and collectors’ homes, which went some way in inspiring the format of Marguerite’s events.
Marguerite is a member club for female visual arts professionals, what was your experience in the arts world that made you want to start Marguerite?
I personally had an incredible experience in my role at Frieze but found that some of the women I knew who were working elsewhere in the industry found it more difficult to realise their potential than some of the men I knew.
We’re all well aware that the pay gap in the UK is currently 18.4% - and there are many reasons for that - but a huge one of them is women’s confidence in comparison to men’s. The change in pay of course needs to come from the top – but women also need to have the confidence to ask for what they want: whether that be a pay rise, promotion, title change or more flexible working hours.
Marguerite aims to provide women working in the arts (meaning art, fashion, design, architecture and photography) with a ready-made support network and environments in which they can feel empowered – which I hope goes on to give them the confidence to get what they want out of their careers and their lives. On a very practical level, our events also provide our members with a place where they can hear about new job opportunities and join forces on new projects!
Do you think things are changing? What else would you like to see happen?
Things are absolutely changing. There has been a real transformation in how women are prepared to speak up about injustices in the past few years. The #MeToo campaign, #NotSurprised hashtag and everything that’s been coming up in the news over the past 18 months have undoubtedly encouraged a new culture of calling out inequality.
What I’d like to see more of however is more women going for what they want and not feeling held back by ‘being a woman’. I thought one of our speakers, the Director of Frieze Fairs, Victoria Siddall put it very well: if you’re bothered by the number of men working in the secondary art market, get a job in the secondary art market and change that! We can’t sit back and our laurels and complain without doing anything to change things ourselves.
Even though there are some moves towards making the arts more gender equal, the arts world is still very elitist in terms of racial and class biases. What do you think can happen to address this is realistic, practical terms?
Absolutely. I think the change needs to be made right from the get-go. Unpaid internships were very much the norm in the arts back when I started out and I was appalled recently to learn that some reputable organisations are still leading them (I thought they had been made illegal?!). Unless you’re minted or are lucky enough to have a family home in a city with a strong cultural focus, unpaid or low-paid opportunities make the art world completely unobtainable for a lot of people.
My friend Hannah Barry launched the Art Trainee Programme at Bold Tendencies back in 2014 which promotes opportunities without high barriers to entry for careers in culture and the creative industries. 44 mentors and 35 institutions took part in their parallel learning and visits programme last year which is great - but we need way more people to be getting behind this sort of initiative to make a real difference!
What were the early days like starting Marguerite? Did you have savings or financial backing or did you just go for it?
Haha, I wish! I set the company up whilst I was still in full time employment and at that point, the events were free and people just brought a bottle. By the time we launched ‘officially’ back in November 2016, we were charging for membership but it still wasn’t exactly raking in the big bucks.. Shortly afterwards, Tate Modern commissioned us to host a huge event as part of their Uniqlo Tate Lates on Women in Art. It was obviously the most amazing opportunity that we would never have turned down - but with a very small budget to work with, what should have been my salary that month suddenly ended up being spent on speaker fees and branding! It was of course more than worth it in the end in terms of the incredible exposure, press and kudos it gave us - but it was very tough financially at the time.
I think it’s important to talk about the fact that it’s really tough when you start out – the reason something like 80% of start ups fail is due to poor cash flow management! It really is a juggling act and the knack of being doggedly persistent, resilient and prepared to do whatever it takes (within reason...!) to make it work.
Do you have a business plan or annual strategy that you stick to now or can you still be quite reactive and agile?
We announce our events programme six months at a time to give our members a chance to pick and choose the events they would most like to go to. Aside from that, we can be very reactive and feed things in as and when which keeps us current.
Strategy-wise, I just had a strategy meeting with a friend who is about to launch her own business coaching company for women. My personality type sadly isn’t one for planning too far ahead so my time with her has really helped to focus my mind and to look at the bigger picture and how the company can evolve. Watch this space...!
What do you find most challenging about the business?
Cor, there have been so many things I’ve had to learn very quickly! There’s never a day that goes by without something cropping up that I have absolutely no clue how to do. Thank god I have so many talented friends who are generous with their experience and time, that’s all I can say! They’ve helped with everything from building the website, advising on accountancy, helping to strike sponsorship deals, teaching me how to produce risk assessment forms, you name it...!
It can also be tough going from working within a team to being on your own – especially when dealing with setbacks. It takes a very positive and robust frame of mind to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when things don’t go quite to plan! Again, fortunately I have an amazing set of friends and family around me who are constantly on call when the shit hits the fan!
Your events are so brilliant and have such a fun vibe to them even if they’re with very well-respected people who might on paper be intimidating. Is this one of the aims, to break down those barriers and encourage people to connect and spark conversations who could help each other?
Aw, thank you! Absolutely. We’ve all been to dry ‘networking’ events where you arrive at a soulless bar and are handed a glass of plonk and a name badge and expected to ‘network’. These events are intimidating, unsexy and wholly unappealing in my book – and don’t go any way in encouraging you to buck up the courage to speak to someone you’ve never met.
I think it’s important to provide inspiring content (whether that be a talk, workshop, performance or even just an interesting theme!). That way people actually have a talking point when they turn to the stranger next to them. I think people are so much more likely to meet, make friends and build meaningful relationships when they’re having fun.
My favourite events for this are the more ‘hands-on’ ones, for example: the photo shoot we had with British portrait and fashion photographer, Rankin; the studio visit with Bompas & Parr, where Sam Bompas had us making our own ‘Marguerite Margaritas’, personalised jellies and even setting off an apple smoke bomb in the car park outside! There’s no way you could have come away from those events without having made friends with someone new!
In terms of the incredible people who host our events – artists, fashion designers, Museum Directors, art collectors, photographers etc. - I wanted to make these super starry people accessible to the people actually working in the industry (as opposed to the collectors, clients and press who would usually be so lucky).
We’ve been so fortunate in that everyone who has hosted us thus far has been totally behind Marguerite’s ethos - and have therefore been very open, honest and generous with their time. It’s been so amazing for me to hear of relationships between our hosts and members that have formed since our events. For example, my dear friend Sid Motion, who set up her eponymous gallery at the same time as I launched Marguerite has had some great guidance from the superstar that is Sadie Coles, having met her at a Marguerite event Sadie hosted. I love that!!
With so many events under your belt do you have any advice to event planners or producers on how to approach and plan a successful event?
As well as amazing speakers and content, I always like to inject an element of the unexpected – a bit of pizazz that sets the event aside from every other, whether that be: the amazing drag artist, Bourgeoisie performing Mariah Carey at our Christmas party; Abba records playing at the dinner we hosted in Zandra Rhodes’ incredible rainbow penthouse or even the opportunity to have your very own ‘Marguerite’ nails done by Shoreditch Nails! Oh, and always provide food! You don’t want people leaving just because they’re hungry!
How do you approach your programming? Are they events you’d like to attend personally or do you ask your members for input on what they’d like to see?
They’re always events that I would like to go to personally as I would never programme an event that I wasn’t excited about! Saying that, we’re constantly asking our members what they like/don’t like and are always open to feedback (good and bad!). The programme evolves out of a mixture of a growing ‘wish list’ of incredible people I would love to have involved and new and exciting projects that people come to us with.
Where would you like to take Marguerite next?
In the literal sense, Marguerite will host its first event stateside during Frieze New York in May 2018! In a more general sense, I’m keen to grow the community and make Marguerite more accessible by developing more online content for women who can’t make it to our events.
What have you seen, heard or experienced recently that made you really happy?
Recently we hosted our second ‘FEMpowerment’ event with one of my best friends, Lifestyle Editor of HuffPost UK, Brogan Driscoll. I love these events a) because it’s so much fun to work with one of my closest friends on a project that means a lot to us both and b) because we use them as a bi-annual opportunity to encourage our guests to step back and put the focus on themselves. That means talking pointedly about issues such as confidence, self-care and self-LOVE to help us get the most out of our careers and most importantly our lives.
We kicked off with a Beyoncé barre class at the new Frame Fitzrovia followed by a delicious brunch and an afternoon of panel discussions, workshops and a meditation session at Mortimer House. The whole day was so filled with honesty, laughter, openness and love – I came away from it on cloud 9!!! We’ll be hosting FEMpowerment Volume III in the Autumn – I can’t wait!
Marguerite are hosting a very special International Women's Day party on 8th March, get your tickets here for some girl glam and a load of fun.