A recipe learned over time
Since 2013, we’ve been working in Gloucester to create great cultural events: experiences that can bring communities together, make life vibrant and exciting – and change things for the better.
In that time, we’ve learned loads about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve learned it from first-hand experience: from trying things and seeing what actually happens. We’ve learned from successes and from failures; from big ideas that flopped spectacularly and from things we tried that instantly took off…
Our thinking has also been inspired and informed by the practice of others working in a ‘co-created’ way (like our fellow members of the Co-Creating Change Network) – and there’s quite a lot of overlap with things like Marcus Faustini’s ‘dangerous notes for co-creation’.
Based on what we’ve learned so far (and are still learning), we tried to identify some key ingredients in a ‘recipe’ for amazing creative experiences that bring artists and communities together.
We’ve seen for ourselves that these ingredients can make for powerful, relevant cultural events. And we believe this way of working will do more to build the fair, adventurous, inclusive world we want to see (rather than perpetuating the current, not-good-enough status quo).
We think that if arts organisations genuinely bake these 7 things into their commissioning and programming processes, it will produce incredible cultural events that are better for artists, better for organisations/venues and better for communities.
We’ll be following this recipe for our autumn 2020 Co-Created Programme and our year-long Let Artists Be Artists experiment. And we’d love to talk to others in the arts industry who are thinking about working in a similar way.
1. Work ‘with’, not ‘to’
Change the dynamic between your organisation and the communities it exists to serve. Become co-collaborators, creating together. Not ‘supplier and consumer’ or ‘provider and recipient’. Real, live human beings interacting with each other and making (shaping, developing) cultural events together, side-by-side. Events should happen with your community, not ‘to’ them.
2. Put in tiiiiiime
Invest in this process of co-creation – make it a long-term thing. It takes time to build relationships, to put down roots, for work and ideas to grow. You can’t shortcut those things. Expect to think in terms of months or even years, not ‘nights’. And remember that this time with communities isn’t just a means to some single ‘payoff’ at the ‘end’ – the time itself is part of what you’re creating together.
3. Invest in artists
Artists are crucial to our recipe: it’s all about bringing artists and communities together. Artists are the experts in creativity – and in opening other people’s creativity. You can’t do this without them. So value them. Back them. Pay them! Give them the stability and the space to express themselves and their expertise.
4. Amplify underrepresented voices
The creative case for diversity is real – culture is just better the more perspectives are in the mix. But it’s also a point of principle: culture is where our collective stories get told. So it needs to tell all our stories. And, currently, it doesn’t do that equally. So, if you have a platform, use it to help redress this imbalance: find stories that are going untold, voices that are going unheard, perspectives that aren’t adequately represented and amplify those. (This goes for staffing and team composition, too: who are your producers, your directors, your executives? Diversify your workforce!)
5. Do it in unexpected places
Geography matters. Place is a part of community. So celebrate those places; reimagine them; bring them alive in ways that get people talking. Most importantly, go to them. Take it to the streets. Dance on a car park roof. Stand on a bridge. Walk through a farmyard. Run around a housing estate. Go to the places where community is already happening – don’t force people to come to you.
6. Be open, responsive and flexible
Go on a journey with people – don’t insist on the destination before you set off. Remain open to possibility and changes of tack along the way. It’s where the unexpected, the exciting, the adventurous, the unimaginable can happen. And it means that you end up in a place where people want and have chosen to be – and you’ve all been on the walk there together.
7. Share power in the process
This is the last one cos it’s the biggie – it underpins everything else. Sharing power is the way of making sure you’re handling all the other ingredients properly and authentically. You have to genuinely give all the participants in the process power to shape that process. Not sure how to tell if you’re doing that or not? You can use The Agency Scale to literally measure it. We know this one can be scary – so many of us have been conditioned to get hold of and exercise as much power as possible. But real change happens when power is shared – for the good of all – not grasped for ourselves.
Want to try it for yourself?
1) If you’re interested in seeing what could come from this way of working without having to change your entire programming budget overnight, you can join our pooled experiment. We’re going to pay artists to work in this way, full-time, for one year and share the learnings with other organisations who participate.
2) If you want to explore implementing this sort of approach in your organisation, get in touch with us. We can provide consultancy and advice based on our experiences working to this recipe.