Networked out? Autism and ‘real time’ in professional practice.

Socorro LorcaIt’s time to talk networking and how it can work against autistic art professionals in particular. I won’t talk beyond my own experience but I hope what I say can apply more widely. 

SO networking.

From the outside I appear relatively networked in. I have public funding, and I’m a member of an artists’ studios – I have in the past participated in group shows and events from time to time. I also have incredible collaborators and artists working with me on a group project. As I grow into my autistic self and gather congruence in my life I’m making professional relationships which feel safe and sustaining.

But in a wider sense I struggle with networking in ‘real time’.

Professionally speaking, I fall into the category of ’emerging artist’. I’m not really sure what comes next – possibly being an ‘established’ artist. These are subtlties that barely register with me as an autistic person.

But I do know that generally speaking networking is a significant factor in gaining visibility and access to opportunity and the elusive commodity of gallery space to show work in. I’m less bothered about status but more about finding square footage and audiences.

The practice of a certain kind of networking demands being out in neurotypical spaces – often way out of comfort zone. The majority of professional networking spaces can feel out of reach for many autistic artists, though we’re a varied bunch and some us will be more extrovert and confident in public spaces. Nonetheless we are a group for whom accommodations for networking could open up a whole new world. For now it’s a case of suck it up buttercup.

I’ve been inspired in some of my more recent thinking about this by excellent guidance issued by Shape Arts, for Global Access Awareness Day, 2017.

Access becomes an issue the more we must inhabit neurotypical spaces for professional development and visibility. The more one must perform neurotypicality the more disadvantaged, and ultimately networked out we can become. Physical environments can also be too hostile to our sensory integrity, and we lose out doubly.

For the autistic artist whose social vocabulary includes camouflaging neurology there exists a painful dilemma; to get out there and mingle, with all the attendant drain on functional capacity, or defend against it and experience the consequences of remaining networked out in a real and important ways.

Networking is a sometimes I can but more often I just can’t thing. There can be such lovely and genuine people out there, but what I experience is a bewilderingly fast paced array of possible introductions in a vertiginous sea of knowing faces. And they all seem to know something I don’t.

Art circles can be intensely cliquey and competitive too. I can sense this faster than the average person takes to breathe in and out again. I have to be here and play power games? Ugh no.

I recently turned down a very high level networking opportunity indeed, for self-protection. Alienation is bad enough – who wants it with knobs on?!

I do know some autistic artists who would make the opposite call and suffer, and I know ones who wouldn’t make it inside the building.  Either way – they’re all heroic to me. I know what guts it takes to handle this kind of stress.

Each of us has to make that call, and I usually bail, preferring instead to focus on what I can do, and what works for me. I guess this is the point I’m trying to make. Exploring helpful means of being there so that opportunity is not lost, and/or initiating and inhabiting new kinds of networks of opportunity. Working the systems to autistic advantage to locate alternative sites of influence.

I’ve recently tried asking for help with access in an informal yet significant space – my own studios – where networking involves pub meetings. But what would such accommodations look like?

An online forum I suggest, wondering how many other artists with access needs who miss out on these meetings would potentially benefit from such a thing? Associate artists who live out of the city, artists with small children, artists who also have a disability (invisible or not)…anyone who can’t make it to the pub that night…

We do have a space online but it’s pretty dead. So if that’s the space – how to animate it and is that down to me? Should it be? Or should the people who inhabit ‘real time’ feedback online?

I found it both hurtful and significant that of the 40 or so people in the email chain I made my request to, only one eventually responded.

No-one opens those emails a separate friend told me – and immediately I understood that outing myself to a group comprising of plenty of unknowns had been a non-risk. Hah! Talk about an anti-climax!

But these are serious questions – which I think all art organisations should be asking themselves in 2017. What are you doing to be inclusive (especially those with public funding and/or charity status’ to protect) – how are you excluding disabled people through basic assumption? Autistic professionals may be one of the last frontiers for such awareness – but accommodate us and you accommodate many others with access needs, I would argue.

When met with a request for help with access it will be because the person who needs it has been brave and taken a risk – because in this socially risk averse society it takes guts to do this. But unless we say so the playing field is not going to level on it’s own.


Published by soniaboue

I am an artist.

6 thoughts on “Networked out? Autism and ‘real time’ in professional practice.

  1. That was a really interesting piece, thank you. I quit my last job in part because of the amount of networking required, I found it both baffling and exhausting. I am lucky now that I have comfortably found a niche where I can work in a role that doesn’t require that sort of thing. If I wanted to be self employed, however, I would have to ‘get out there’ as there would be no other way of generating business. So for the moment, I am in a place where I can’t really access that self employed freedom because I can’t face the networking input. I’m sorry I can’t offer any helpful insights, but you’ve given me a lot of food for thought. I had previously simply thought ‘that way is closed’, but there certainly is potential in thinking of ways round the brash pub/dinner meeting as a method of moving forward in business or vocation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes – I think there are ways forward but it is hard to enable new thinking in those who take social fluency for granted at work. Very worth pushing tho!


  2. Fantastic post! We gave up on regular channels
    years ago. We would enter proposals time & time
    again, yet would be turned down. But a few months
    later we would see our detailed Ideas materializing
    as these open calls had already “pre-selected” the
    artist du jour with the cache & the open call was a
    thinly veiled poaching operation for ideas. It was
    very disheartening to see blatant intellectual theft
    from these art institutions, but it really made us a
    lot more resilient. We would always help other
    artists with ideas, concepts, & curation, only to be
    left behind as they gained more & more exposure.

    We were always taught to bring up those around
    you, and never leave anyone behind, so it was
    very painful to see our hard work & efforts not
    reciprocated or appreciated, but hey you live & learn.

    We have found the creatives on wordpress to be
    extremely kind, generous, diverse, & a real community!
    It has become a safe space for us to interact, learn,
    grow & experiment, without the anxieties & unnecessary
    stresses (& nepotism) of the art community at large.

    Thank you for sharing your insights, we look forward
    to many more! All the best from Sunny Miami. 🌞🌈⛱️

    Liked by 1 person

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