Lucy Jamieson, Head of Programme at the AMA explains how pooling resources, creativity and ideas rather than working in silos can bring about effective change.
Last month I saw Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein in conversation with Jude Kelly at the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre in London. The blurb said Klein would be ‘taking a close look at the political and media landscape at this critical time for women, human rights, economic justice and climate change’. As soon as she began speaking, I found myself sitting up straight. What she was saying resonated so strongly with me, not just with how I feel politically at the moment, but with what I’m experiencing in my work too.
Klein began by talking about the power of connection, of the possibilities that can become realities when we come together to pool our resources, creativity, ideas and passion. And she talked about how silos serve to keep us separate and less strong.
So what are the parallels that might be drawn between the huge, often overwhelming societal issues, and our work in the arts and culture sector? Well, our sector could certainly gain from drawing on the power of the collective, even of activism. This is something that’s riding high at the moment with more and more people discovering the power they have when they join forces and challenge the status quo. If it can be an antidote (or at least a challenge) to the cultural fragmentation we’re seeing around issues like Brexit and climate change, then surely it can help us function better and achieve more as arts organisations and as a sector.
In bringing together vital current thinking on topics like cultural democracy, co-creation, partnerships, wellness and inclusion, we can focus on creating social value. We can find our role as individuals, and as a sector bridge gaps and bring people together. Find guides, case studies and articles on inclusion.
Rewiring our thinking
At this year’s AMA conference in July at SageGateshead we’re talking about rewiring our thinking around how we approach what we do. Rewiring in this context means changing whatever needs to change and creating an openness of thinking, looking at all the things we do as individuals and how they connect. It encourages a wider view of the work of different teams and organisations, and how they all fit together. It means addressing the silos that exist within our organisations and bringing together audience-focused teams (marketing, development, box office, front of house, programming and leadership) so that we can build the relationships with our audiences that we, and they, really want to have.
From talk to action
We talk a lot at the moment about resilience, about being agile and adaptable, about scalability. It makes sense that when opinions become more polarised, and more questions than answers hang in the air, we feel the need to be ready for rapid change. Yet sometimes it feels as though the more we say the words (resilience, agile, adaptable), the more we’re convincing ourselves that we’re actually doing and being those things.
Back to the Naomi Klein talk. She spoke at one point about the fairly recent shift from the idea of the individual as part of a collective movement, to the individual as a brand (think social media influencers). I guess this is not dissimilar to Margaret Thatcher saying there’s no such thing as society and it’s the individual that’s all-important and powerful.
The parallel I’m drawing here is that if we really do want to be ready for change, and therefore resilient, we should also be prepared to instigate that change. And we’re far more likely to be able to do that by partnering up with someone else, no matter how small the change may seem.
Agility and resilience in action
One excellent example comes to mind, of the Royal & Derngate in Northampton addressing the issue of arts subjects being ousted from the national curriculum. It tackled this by working with leading arts, education and community organisations across the county and creating a programme to support young people, schools and local groups to unlock access to high-quality cultural opportunities. Find out more about the Northants Cultural Education Partnership and the UNLOCK programme on AMAculturehive.
Then there’s Slung Low theatre company who, under the leadership of Alan Lane, has worked alongside communities in Leeds to keep The Holbeck runnin, a bar and arts space, presenting work on a pay-what-you-decide model. It’s owned by its members (the community) and managed by Slung Low. Alan believes that access to culture is a fundamental part of a happy life and that actions, however small, can have a big impact. He’ll be guiding us through the Slung Low ethos and story at our conference.
Find a pay what you decide template on AMAculturehive.
Another equally great example of doing things differently, which may seem a bit less daunting in the short term, is how Dan Bates at Sheffield Theatres implemented short, all staff, morning meetings each day. Everybody knows what’s going on across the organisation and can work towards a shared vision.
At the end of her talk Klein sent us away with one simple question to ponder. And at our conference this year, we’ll be asking the very same question of ourselves and everyone who takes part: What will you do to make a change?
First published on Arts Professional 23rd April 2019.