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7th November 2023

An interview with HappeningInMCR: The Instagram page connecting Manchester’s art scene

The Mancunion talks art, social media, and creative careers with HappeningInMcr, Manchester’s one-stop shop for art events and opportunities.
An interview with HappeningInMCR: The Instagram page connecting Manchester’s art scene
Photo: @HappeningInMCR

HappeningInMCR is a self-proclaimed ‘information hub’ that uses social media to create an entrance into the arts. The account aims to combat the difficulty of finding paid work, by creating a centralised digital platform in which artists can network and connect with each other, gallery owners and an audience.

The three team members have built an engaged following (over 4,000 at the time of writing) advertising job opportunities and promoting open calls and exhibitions in Manchester’s diverse and developing cultural scene. Current projects include: (in collaboration with Tom from West Art Collective ) the opening of a micro-gallery in Afflecks and the development of a ‘top trumps’ series of Manchester’s creative services, all while pursuing their own individual art careers.

I spoke to the account’s busy admins: Jasmine (@sminspiring_art) and Nasha (@nashacashart), about art, the internet, and life as a creative in Manchester.  

First and foremost, introduce yourselves:

Jasmine: “Hey, I’m Jasmine, I am twenty-five, and I studied a BA in Fine Art and Art History at Manchester School of Art and then went straight to an MA By Research degree. Since graduating, I have (just about) managed to balance working four jobs in the arts, keeping up an art practice and co-running HappeningInMCR. My art practice references traditional Chinese aesthetics, art history, and crafts to discuss contemporary sociological issues.” 

Nasha: “Hey, I’m Nasha Cash. I’m twenty-five and studied a BA in Spanish and Japanese at the University of Manchester. I’d always drawn and even though I chose not to take it to university level, in 2020 I realised that art is what truly makes me happy. This was during lockdown, and it felt like there was all the time in the world to just create. So, I started drawing, experimenting and eventually sharing my art online.  

“After a series of well-timed meetings, I ended up in the belly of Manchester’s art scene and was starting to get some real opportunities to work with creatives that I admired and make a bit of money from my work. Now I’m a full-time artist and enjoying every minute of it!

What are your favourite things about Manchester? Do you have a favourite arts venue or thing you have seen?

Jasmine: “I grew up in Colchester, Essex, where the demographic is predominantly white and conservative. So, when considering university, I knew I wanted to be in a place with more to offer to people of the global majority. Though disappointing at times, the art scene in Manchester feels more communal and accepting of the creatives that exist within it. In terms of arts venues, I always go to Saan1 in the Northern Quarter. The owners are nice and always up for a chat about the exhibiting artists and artwork – I find it to be a great space for emerging artists to have a show as it’s affordable and a cool space to play with.”

Nasha: “I moved to Manchester after having what can only be described as a spiritual experience in the Manchester central library. I loved the city from first coming here. The diversity of people, and the vibrancy of the culture; coming from Sheffield, Manchester has always felt like such a happening place. There are some fantastic art venues in Manchester although the Gallery Next Door has a special place in my heart for being one of the first venues to exhibit my work.

How did the account come about?

Nasha: “I was trying to make a living as an artist in Manchester, doing art markets, responding to open calls, and was finding that loads of things were happening in Manchester, but I’d often miss the deadline by a day because I was coming across the opportunities too late or not at all.”

“After one event where the coordinator told me that she didn’t think any artists would be interested in running a stall at her event, I realised there was a huge communication issue. There was no centralised hub of information, where organisers could reach artists and artists could promote their exhibitions and find opportunities. Out of that came HappeningInMCR, a hub of local arts information for working artists, students and fans of the arts. 

“The key to the success of this page has been Jasmine though, after getting involved early on, her organisational skills and contacts have helped us thrive.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing artists today?

Jasmine: “For me, it’s juggling a multitude of jobs to pay the bills, whilst keeping a creative flow in which to develop an art practice. There are very few affordable places to create and exhibit art for younger artists, especially. With this lack of spaces, there are fewer opportunities for artists to meet, exchange ideas and solidify their community. Since running the information hub for over a year now, I have noticed a positive difference in the arts’ sense of community. Something I hope will build and continue to grow.

Nasha: “I think a lot of artists struggle with a lack of opportunities and/or funding to elevate their craft and work on making some of the crazier stuff within their head. Unfortunately, sometimes allocation of funding and public interest neglects local artists in favour of big names.

Do you think the arts are inherently exclusive? Do you see the account as a force for inclusivity; if so, how?

Jasmine: “Definitely, yes. Of course, you want to support the ones you know however it gets to the point where it becomes quite cliquey and exclusive. After pursuing a career in the art world, both within organisational infrastructure and as an artist, I found it unfair and quite inaccessible for someone who initially did not know the right people or the right things to say.  

“I have often crossed paths with tokenism – being hired/exhibited on the basis that I tick the diversity box. This largely informed the direction of my MA By Research degree which, therefore, strongly informed the direction I wanted to take HappeningInMCR in. I want HappeningInMCR to be as inclusive as possible; sharing and promoting art events, open calls, job opportunities, exhibitions etc to not only uplift the organisers and artists but to also allow anyone with any background to have an equal level of exposure to the same opportunities.”

Nasha: Whilst anyone can create, it’s indisputable that there are financial barriers and social barriers to people wanting to be part of the art scene. HappeningInMCR may not be able to help with financial barriers, but our honest and egalitarian approach to sharing our knowledge and resources helps emerging artists get their foot in the door and is a great first port of call for those working and studying in Manchester. 

Do you think social media and technology are a force for good when it comes to art?

Jasmine: “Yes and no… but more yes. The way we use social media has been good for building an inclusive space for creatives and art enthusiasts alike. No, because it is easy to get caught up in the amount of work your fellow artists post and compare the level of engagement they receive. I had this after graduating with my BA; I felt pressure to maintain a consistent art practice whilst simultaneously trying to find a job. It is good to have a break from it – I recommend looking at your activity – I try not to spend more than an hour on Instagram a day.” 

Nasha: “Social media and force for good are two phrases I struggle to reconcile within the same sentence. Social media has given a platform to more artists than any previous generation. The hobbyist, amateur, student and professional all (in theory) have equal access to an audience of millions. This would have been completely unfathomable without social media.  

“That said, Instagram’s infamous algorithm buries the work of many talented artists, and forces artists to churn out content of variable quality and engage with trends using humiliating audio. If you’re too focused on the audience’s response, it can negatively shape your artistic practice. Social media can be a valuable tool to reach new people and promote yourself, but your self-worth and the quality of your art cannot be measured in likes, comments, and followers.”

What is your advice for any creatives trying to make it? Any tips on visibility?

Nasha: “Well, I’d say a good start is checking out the events on our Instagram page @happeninginmcr! There’s almost always something happening, and you can be certain to meet some incredible local artists at any event.

Jasmine: “Networking. Initially, the idea of it seems scary, but after seeing how many arts communities and events there are, you find what appeals to you most and go along. The more arts events and the more people you connect with, you can create a community with like-minded people and make your own rules. The arts have conditioned artists to thinking that a successful career in the arts is a solo venture, but I have found that building a community is just as important.”

Visit @happeninginmcr for the latest exhibitions and events!

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