Joanna Payne: 'Women are too good at talking themselves out of bold ideas'

Next up in our Women Who Win series is Joanna Payne, founder of Marguerite, a network for women who work in art, design, fashion and photography with a desire to lift one another up

Next up in our Women Who Win series is Joanna Payne, founder of Marguerite, a network for women who work in art, design, fashion and photography with a desire to lift one another up

Heard of Marguerite?

Named after one of the most influential (and brilliantly eccentric) art patrons of the 20th century, Marguerite ‘Peggy’ Guggenheim, Marguerite is a club for women who work in the visual arts.

After seven years working in the art world, founder Joanna Payne felt something needed to be done about the fact that women often find it trickier to realise their potential than men – a problem she found was much more closely related to differing confidence levels than women being any less skilled.

Thus, Marguerite came to be. Created in Joanna’s living room in 2015 with the aim of advancing women in the industry by providing a ready-made professional network in which members can hear from the most influential people working in the creative industries today, the organisation has expanded to a 300-strong membership – hosting events with the likes of Maria Balshaw, Director of the Tate, artist Idris Khan and fashion designer Alice Temperley.

'Peggy Guggenheim was a brilliant patron of the arts. Throughout the war she vowed to save a painting a day which would otherwise have been destroyed, so seminal works by artists like [Wassily] Kandinsky and [Pablo] Picasso just wouldn't have existed today if it wasn't for her', says Joanna.

'She had no formal art history training and instead, used her amazing network of artists and thinkers to learn about the art world. That's what Marguerite is all about. You don't have to have done History of Art at uni and landed a job at Christie’s to join Marguerite and grow your network. That's why she inspires our name.’

We sat down with Joanna to discuss Marguerite’s inception, why lifting other women up is the key to innovation and how Marguerite is operating a la pandemic…

A photo posted by on

Talk us through your journey

Before setting up Marguerite in 2015, I worked in the art world for seven years. I started off at the Whitechapel Gallery, before working in the VIP team at Frieze for five and a half years. I then headed up the VIP department at Photo London, which meant hosting events and looking after all the big art collectors and artists when they came into town for the fair. I soon realised, however, that what I really loved doing was working with my peers and the people that I’d met in all the museums and galleries.

I was very well treated when working at Frieze, but I did notice that women in the wider industry repeatedly struggled with doing things like asking for pay rises and flexible working, whereas a lot of the men I knew were almost too good at it and were therefore often much more successful in getting what they wanted out of their careers. Initially I was annoyed to see it happen, but after asking some of the men ‘how they’d done it’, realised they’d most often just asked for a pay rise and got it (whereas many of the women hadn’t made that sort of ask.)

Working at Frieze gave me the chance to build great connections across the art world, which I felt that had really developed my personal confidence – I thought I could do that for other women by creating Marguerite.

When it first launched it was just a very casual thing in my living room. I invited friends in the industry over for drinks and asked them to invite their friends, too. Five years and a half years on, and we have a 300-strong membership base of women aged 20 – 68, who work across art, design, fashion and photography and range from junior to director level and Founder positions. These women come together to join a network and most importantly to form genuine, meaningful friendships.’

What sort of events do you host for members?

‘Our events take a range of formats but in the most part, we invite museum directors, artists, curators and fashion designers and art collectors to speak for us about how they got to where they are now.

With everything that’s happened in 2020, a lot of people have lost work or might just be considering their next career move. For this reason, we decided to launch the Marguerite School for Start Ups – which is a whole week of online events that will take place from 19-23rd October – that will act as a tool kit for any women or non-binary person who wants to set up their own project and wants a helping hand from our line up of experts.

We’re covering the basic things like accountancy and business law, as well as things like how to use Tik Tok as a marketing tool - because I know a lot of people my age are feeling like total grannies at the moment as they have no idea how it all works (laughs) - so lots of different topics which will help if you are starting your own thing.’

A photo posted by on

What does a typical working day entail?

‘Prior to the pandemic, it would involve working from our office in Hackney. I’d often spend my afternoons in central London at meetings with artists or museum directors to discuss upcoming events, and of course hosting the events themselves in the evenings. Now the pace is a lot slower - I work from home, doing lots of zoom meetings and prepare for our online talks.’

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done?

‘Probably quitting my well-paid, secure role at Photo London and focussing on Marguerite full time! It was a big jump that affected me a lot personally as well as professionally, but it was the best thing that I’ve ever done.’

What has been your proudest moment?

‘I feel so happy when I hear about members who have met at our events and then gone on to work together on exhibitions or become the best of friends – just seeing Marguerite working is what makes me the most proud.’

Do you have a mantra?

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Get.’ Marguerite very much operates on asking people to lend their time or energy to our members. A few years ago, the Director of the Tate, Maria Balshaw, spoke at one of our events. I literally just guessed her email address, emailed and asked her to do it and she said yes. People often ask, ‘how do you get these people?!’ and are surprised to hear that we just ask…!

What is one thing you’d change for women, if you could?

‘Their confidence. Women are so good at talking themselves out of things before they even happen, or blaming themselves for things and saying sorry too much - whereas men, generally speaking of course, can often be so much bolder.’

How do you celebrate success?

‘I must admit, when I ever get some form of success I’m always looking forward to the next thing. So that’s something I need to improve on – being able to step back and acknowledge, ‘Hey, I’ve done quite well there.’

*The Marguerite School for Start Ups will be running from Monday 19th - Friday 23rd October for a week of live events. Tickets start at £7.

Niamh McCollum

Niamh McCollum is Features Assistant at Marie Claire UK, and specialises in entertainment, female empowerment, mental health, social development and careers. Tackling both news and features, she's covered everything from the rise of feminist audio porn platforms to the latest campaigns protecting human rights.

Niamh has also contributed to our Women Who Win series by interviewing ridiculously inspiring females, including forensic scientist Ruth Morgan, Labour MP Stella Creasy and ITV’s former Home Affairs Editor Jennifer Nadel.

Niamh studied Law in Trinity College Dublin. It was after enrolling in a Law & Literature class on her year abroad in Toronto that her love of writing was reignited. In no particular order, her big likes are Caleb Followill, hoops, red wine, sea swimming, shakshuka and long train journeys.