Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan is an Arts Manager and Fundraiser living and working in Dublin. She is a multidisciplinary problem-solver with 10 years of experience working in various arts sectors, with one foot in the Irish drinks industry and a deep passion for all things STEAM.
I started working at Christie’s Auction House three weeks after an internship at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. From studying art history and looking at art from an aesthetic, analytical and historical point of view, I suddenly saw myself standing facing artworks from my textbooks and a hefty catalogue in hand full of very, very large numbers. Each of these works were likely to cycle through the art world machine over and over again, from collection to museum to auction house to collection, a thousand white-gloves shifting painted canvas from one owner to another. One single painting, viewed through countless sets of eyes, held value in so many different ways, and it fascinated me.
During my years in London I learned so much about the art world, about living a professional life, and about the various careers paths you can follow with an Art History degree. Those were all important things to learn, but six years later I really began to understand my main takeaway from the experience, and that was the value of something, and how to sell that value to someone else. It was never just about the price tag. But it was also never just about the history, or the artist, or emotions evoked either. It was all of these things wrapped up in one exquisite work of art. And I suddenly realised, that work of art was…me.
I started to realise, just like a work of art on the wall in an auction house, my professional self too can be valued in a number of ways: For my work experience; for my attitude; for the projects I’ve created and seen through; for my cultural background; and finally, for the quantitative results and money that I have generated.
I found it equally important to be aware of all these different values, but my own value in terms of statistics and monetary value was something that I had not tapped into yet. As a fundraiser, I started tallying up the amount I had fundraised, and found that I had a fairly hefty impressive I could attribute to my work. That figure now lives on my CV and every cover letter I write. But more importantly, it lives in my own confidence: I know a little but more about what I am worth to a company. And here were the numbers to show for it.
At my next job as Arts and Culture Manager at The Liquor Rooms, there was no system in place to tally that value. I had to find my own way around it, going to bar managers to see how much had been made at the bar by the events I had brought in. Although an approximation, after collecting this data for almost a year I found that I was actually generating about four times my wage in revenue. In addition to that, I realised that an event I had created had generated a fair amount of press: this had PR value, which was also calculable. I took these numbers to my bosses to ask for a raise several times, and even though I was disappointed when it didn’t work, what mattered was that I knew my value and it strengthened me on the inside. Those numbers actually helped me to be more confident in shouting louder about my quantitive achievements, and more diligent about adding them to my LinkedIn or talking about them with potential collaborators.
These experiences finally turned into a talk that I now give to creative professionals. Some attendees already understood how to collect data and statistics about the impact of their work, but few people thought about following the journeys of their projects after they had submitted their invoice, to see the return on investment from the point of view of whoever hired them. For example, I asked a graphic designer if she followed the journey of the images she created for companies: If they end up in a newspaper or magazine, then they helped generate PR value; If they were up on billboards and screens, then those companies have stats for how many people on average see them, and that becomes a number too.
At the end of the day though, people wanted to know how this was useful to them in their work. And for me it boils down to being able to communicate your achievements to others and what they have been worth to others in the past, whether they are your clients, your colleagues, or your bosses. When you ask for a raise, you can readily list off your achievements and the stats of what you have generated. When you set a price for a client, you can back it up with what your projects have done for other clients in terms of revenue or marketing. But most importantly, when you feel like you aren’t valuable in the workplace, you will have data that may remind you that yes, you are valuable, and in so many ways.