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The Strike A Light Recipe for Great Cultural Events

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’.


7 ingredients

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.

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Arts manifesto News

Let Artists Be Artists

In a nutshell

This summer, we’re contracting 3 artists to work with no ‘targets’, no pre-defined outcome and no pressure for 4 months with 3 different communities in Gloucester. Their brief is simply to work with the community to make people’s lives better through the arts.

We want to rapidly extend this idea of longer-term, deeper-rooted employment for artists to work in and with local communities. So we are reallocating some of our programming budget for 2021. We want to employ artists, full-time, for a year and need other organisations to collaborate with us to make this happen.

We want to run this as a national experiment, to see what difference it would make if more arts organisations were to adopt this artist-and-community-centric model – for it to be part of their ‘new normal’.

How can we restructure our work and re-allocate budgets, to offer artists full-time employment, for 1 year, to simply ‘be’ artists in communities?

To fund these posts, we’ll need others to come on board and are having conversations with organisations around the country to see what happens if they join this experiment.

Over the course of the year, we will share updates and insights on the process with everyone who contributes towards those artists’ salaries. It’s a low-risk way for lots of organisations to test out and see for themselves what this new normal could look like in practice.

What happens when you invest in artists and communities in this way? What was the art that got made? Who participated? What was the impact on the communities involved? Did it reach new audiences? Is it viable? Could it become a regular part of your organisation’s way of working? Would it shake up the current status quo for the better?


Why are we doing this?

We think this moment, where there is no business-as-usual, can be an opportunity to build a new normal for the arts industry. A new normal that gets us closer to the world we want to see – where everyone can access amazing cultural events. Where the systems are:
💥 fair
💥 adventurous and
💥 open to everyone.

It’s also shaped by what we’ve been hearing from artists themselves – both directly in conversation with us, and through things like Louise Blackwell’s fantastic research into independent workers in the creative industries during lockdown.

The new normal: cultural events with artists and communities at their heart

We believe in cultural events that place artists and communities right at their heart. (We’ve got a whole model for this – check out The Strike A Light Recipe for Great Cultural Events).

A growing, proven movement

And we’re not the only ones – there are some fantastic arts organisations who are already working to similar models: the amazing Co-Creating Change Network, that we’re chuffed to be part of; the incredible Slung Low, the excellent Commonwealth, to name just a few.

We’re big believers in this approach to cultural events: putting in the time and care to bring artists and communities together, investing in them, working collaboratively, putting down roots, producing arts events that are made with the people they’re for. (It’s way better -– for artists and communities – than the the one-and-done touring treadmill, for instance.)

But it’s not ‘the norm’ yet

But, even though some people have been working in this way for a long time – even though there are numerous calls for this kind of approach – it is still far from ‘the norm’. We want to change that.


The plan and the proposal

Our plan

We need to value artists in the way we do administrators, producers and general managers. Why not employ them?

That’s why, this summer, we’re contracting 3 artists to work with no ‘targets’, no pre-defined outcome and no pressure for 4 months with 3 different communities in Gloucester. Their brief is simply to work with the community to make people’s lives better through the arts.

The experiment

We want to rapidly extend this idea of longer-term, deeper-rooted employment for artists to work in and with local communities. So we are reallocating some of our programming budget for 2021. We want to employ artists, full-time, for a year and need other organisations to collaborate with us to make this happen.

We want to run this as a national experiment, to see what difference it would make if more arts organisations were to adopt this model – for it to be part of their ‘new normal’.

Your part

To make this experiment happen, we’re inviting arts organisations to work with us. We’re having conversations about how we can do this so it’s meaningful for everyone taking part and we can pool resources. We’re exploring regional and national collaborations. Together, we can make it happen.

We know from initial conversations with organisations that the research and case for funding that comes out of this will be important, as will sharing the learning around co-creating with communities in this way.

An animated GIF. A group of people dance in a community centre while the lights fade through different colours.
People up on their feet dancing at the end of one of our past community-artist collaborative events

1 experiment, 2 ways to get involved

For organisations

Join our pooled experiment. Work with us to develop a model, join the conversation and share resources towards the full-time salary of artists working in and with a community. 

For artists, practitioners etc

Help us spread the word and build momentum for this idea. Work with us to develop the model and tell the organisations, venues and commissioners you know to get on board!

Want to be part of it?

Artists, practitioners

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FAQs

How can my organisation take part and support?

  1. Email christina@strikealightfestival.org.uk to find out more, or to sign up to participate.
  2. Spread the word! Share this page via your organisation’s social media, talk to colleagues about it, invite us to networking events – it all helps make this happen!

Who will the artists be? How will it work? How will you decide how much they will be paid?
We are intentionally keeping this really simple- what happens if you employ an artist for a year? How does that affect their work, their engagement with communities, their relationships with organisations? The detail of who, what, how, how much etc will be worked out in consultation with artists and the organisations involved and will address all the immediate questions around diversity, accessibility, quality, autonomy etc.

Why this approach?
We have had hundreds of conversations with artists, organisations and communities about the arts – and the same things come up again and again. We all know them:

  • Not enough time
  • a project treadmill
  • things taking place in silos
  • inequality between artists and organisations
  • struggling to reach new audiences
  • who art is made by and who it’s for.

There have been endless zoom meetings and webinars about the new normal and we believe that if we’re all trying to do something different, we can’t do that using the same structures we’ve always used.

So this a deliberately open question. Let’s turn some of those structures on their head and see what happens.

What will Strike A Light’s role be?
We will share the progress and learning throughout the year both online and through events where government guidelines allow, with additional opportunities for the organisations who have supported the project to discuss and benefit from the evaluation. We will be a support for the artists- how this works and what they might need will be worked out in consultation with artists- and this support role could be shared with other organisations. We will undertake the HR administration and on-costs of employing the artists. 

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Coming up Events Lockdown

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News

Freelance task force: an open letter to theatre and performance makers

We’re joining more than 100 other arts organisations across the UK to help establish a ‘freelance task force’ – one way of supporting freelancers working in the arts while in-person events can’t happen.


The open letter that we’ve signed, and the support we’re giving

Audio version of the Open Letter to Theatre and Performance Makers – read by Sarah Niles

This is a letter to self-employed and freelance theatre and performance makers in the UK. To the actors, playwrights, directors, choreographers, stage managers, designers, stage crews and set-builders to name just a few.

We really miss being with you during this period of lockdown. Making theatre and performance is a collaborative endeavour, so we are particularly affected by having to be apart from one another right now. We’re not able to come together, in the same space, to share the experience of a live performance. We’re not able to practise and enjoy our artform in its most basic form.

It’s now looking increasingly likely that won’t be possible for months to come, and we recognise that many freelancers face real uncertainty about if and how they will be able to continue to work in theatre. 70% of people who work in theatre and performance in the UK are freelance or self-employed, and it’s for this workforce, in all its diversity and complexity, that the impact of the current situation is most acute. 

During these past weeks we have had conversations with many of you to understand your needs and the ways you have been affected. We are writing to express our support for you, and to lay out some practical steps we are taking to improve the situation based on these conversations.

As well as exploring ways of producing work with freelancers during lockdown, and using this time to develop new projects with freelancers for the future, we are also are working together to coordinate our response to the government, to articulate clearly what we can offer and what we need.

Most urgently, we are calling for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to be extended in line with furloughing, for all self-employed workers, and in the specific case of theatre and performance workers, until theatres are able to safely reopen. We also want to see criteria removed from the scheme which are stopping legitimate and much-needed claims.

Some of you are already involved in these conversations. We welcome your voices and need to hear from more of you in the conversations to come. Your unique networks, skillsets, perspectives, and ideas are vital to the entire sector, and we need to work with you in our response to this crisis.

Each of the organisations who’ve signed this letter are committed to reaching out to their family of self-employed and freelance theatre makers; listening to how this is affecting your work and lives, and to your needs and ideas for the future.

More than that, we want to facilitate the establishment of a national task force of self-employed theatre and performance makers. The purpose of the task force is to strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community. It would create ongoing points of connection between freelancers and organisations, and amplify the voice of the self-employed in the conversations to come. To help establish the task force, each of the organisations signing this letter will support a freelancer to join the group, ensuring they are paid for their time.

We want to offer a message of hope and solidarity. Our well-practised ability to work together, to form connections, and build relationships will help us through this. One day, hopefully soon, we will all be able to meet together, as people have done for centuries, in a shared space, for a shared experience. In the meantime, we remain committed to working for you and with you towards a sustainable future for theatre and performance.

Signed,

Access All Areas
Action For Children’s Arts
Activate Performing Arts
Actors Touring Company
Akademi
ArtsAdmin
Barbican Theatre Plymouth
Battersea Arts Centre
Belarus Free Theatre
Belgrade Theatre
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Boundless Theatre
Brighton Festival
Bristol Old Vic
Brixton House
Candoco
Cast
Chichester Festival Theatre
China Plate
Chinese Arts Now
Citz Glasgow
Clean Break
Company of Others
Complicite
Contact
Curatin Call Online
Curious Directive
Dance Base
Dance Umbrella
Derby Theatre
Diverse City
Doncopolitan
Donmar Warehouse
Eden Court Highlands
English Touring Theatre
Farnham Maltings
Fio
Frozen Light Theatre
Fuel
Gate Theatre
Graeae
Hall For Cornwall
Headlong
Hijinx
HOME
Improbable
In Good Company
Jermyn Street Theatre
Jerwood Arts
Kiln Theatre
Knee High
Leeds Playhouse
Leicester Curve
Little Angel Theatre
Mercury Theatre
Mimbre
Miracle Theatre
National Dance Company Wales
National Theatre of Scotland
National Theatre Wales
National Youth Theatre of Great Britain
Northern Stage
Nottingham Playhouse
Octagon, Bolton
One Dance UK
Oxford Playhouse
Sophie Motley
Paines Plough
Pleasance Theatre
Polka Theatre
Ramps on the Moon
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Rose Theatre Kingston
Royal & Derngate
Rubicon Dance
Sadler’s Wells
Separate Doors
Shakespeare’s Globe
Sheffield Theatres
Smart Entertainment
Soho Theatre
Spare Tyre
Spin Arts
Stellar Quines
Stephen Joseph Theatre
Strike A Light
Studio Wayne McGregor
Taking Flight Theatre
Talawa Theatre Company
Tangled Feet
Tara Arts
The Almeida Theatre
The Bush Theatre
The Cockpit
The National Theatre
The New Wolsey Theatre
The Royal Court Theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Company
The Yard
Theatre Bristol + Kiota
Theatre Centre
Theatre Peckham
Theatre Rites
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Tiata Fahodzi
Turtle Key
Unfolding Theatre
Unicorn theatre
Unlimited
Wales Millennium Centre
Wassail Theatre
Wise Children
Yellow Earth
1927


How we are selecting a freelancer to support

As other people have already pointed out, there is no perfect way of recruiting to this kind of scheme. There are thousands of incredible freelancers working in the arts, any of whom would add valuable voices to this discussion.

In this instance, we have decided not to make this an open call-out. Mostly for very practical reasons: because the task force is launching imminently, so this needs to happen quickly – and also because lockdown and furlough has significantly reduced our own capacity at the moment (so we would struggle to do justice to a high volume of applications).

So we have approached four freelance artists with whom we have a longstanding working relationship, each of whom can represent underrepresented voices, to see if any of them would be interested in participating in this initiative. We hope to be able to support one of them to join the task force in the next few days.

To make our decision there are four points we are taking in to consideration:

  • Financial need
  • Relationship with Gloucestershire
  • Ensuring under represented voices are heard
  • National gaps in the taskforce

They will be paid a fee of £150 p/d, one day a week for 13 weeks (June – August).


There are 10 other South West organisations supporting the project:

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Arts manifesto Listening to artists News

Artists on lockdown: Viv Gordon

Lockdown obviously has huge consequences for live events and performance. We’re having to drastically change the way we’re doing things – and we really want to listen to artists in that process. We want to make sure that the changes we bring in are guided by what will help artists to keep creating great work.

We had conversations with a couple of theatre-makers (and paid for their time), to get their input. Here’s what Viv Gordon – theatre-maker, survivor activist and arts and mental health campaigner – had to say:


What was your gut reaction when you first heard about lockdown? 

Panic and grief. I was triggered straight away into lots of old feelings around feeling trapped in a house unable to leave, that directly relate back to abuse experiences as a child.

Like many in the arts sector, all of my work was cancelled within a week. The icing on the cake was hearing that Arts Council England (ACE) weren’t going to assess an application we had made for 18 months’ work – my most ambitious to date – that our team had worked really hard to pull together over the previous months and invested financially in.

At this point I found myself screaming in a field. I felt thwarted – and again triggered: as a child, it wasn’t really worth me getting on with anything because I was constantly interrupted by abusers. It wasn’t a pretty time. I was shocked and angry and my well-honed mistrust of authority went into overdrive. 

How has lockdown been for you, and for your work, so far?

After a painful first few weeks, things have come out pretty good for me. I have been lucky my producers – Kate McStraw and Molly Scarborough – as well as you lot at Strike A Light stepped in to offer support, leading to Viv Gordon Company receiving ACE emergency funding. I’ve had other bits of work and the Self-Employed grant so everything is feeling more on track.

My home life is secure and we are all in good health, so I’ve been able to use the time to reflect and incubate new ideas. I’ve enjoyed doing some very silly projects that have made me think about my practice in new ways.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m having ups and downs like we all are, my concentration is quite poor, I’m grieving what could have been and I struggle to think about the future very much. We’re in a global existential crisis so I’m not expecting too much of myself…

If people want to support artists right now, what would be the most appreciated kinds of support?

The bottom line is a lot of artists need money to pay their rent and eat. At the same time, lots of us have new restrictions on our time or challenges directly relating to lockdown – those with caring responsibilities, those who are grieving, those with no financial safety net, mental health needs and other disabilities – meaning we have to review our access needs for a new context.

Anyone commissioning work needs to take that into account, target funds to those most in need, avoid being prescriptive and listen to artists about how they can work best in their current circumstances.

The ACE funding scrum has been pretty divisive and so I think it’s important to recognise a lot of people feel hurt, confused, angry and abandoned right now. Anyone offering support needs to be OK to hear that.

Do you feel any certainty/clarity at all about the future/post-lockdown/’the return to normal’? How is that certainty, or lack of it, affecting your work and decisions now?

I wish! Parts of my work can only happen live: they are about a very specific interaction with an audience that doesn’t translate online. So some things are just parked for now until hopefully we are able to pick them up again – even if we have to rethink how they are presented: maybe to smaller, socially-distanced audiences or outside.

On the other hand, before all of this we had already identified that survivor audiences face barriers attending live work and had decided all our projects would have live and digital strands to enable people to engage from their safe spaces online. Our current projects are focussing on digital, so in some ways we are just doing stuff in a different order.

What’s been your experience of taking work online so far?

I’m 48, my technical skills are basic at best. This is a barrier for me. It all feels quite alien so I’m doing as little as possible, keeping it simple and learning as I go along (as well as paying my 16 year old to help me!)

How do you feel about the general rush to take everything online?

It’s a mixed bag. Most theatre work just doesn’t translate well – digital is a completely different way of working. The best stuff I’ve seen is using the opportunities digital affords creatively and playing with that form.

My analogy for this time is that it’s like when people go vegan: some people are embracing the tofu and the chickpeas (complete change), others are going all meat substitutes, trying to reproduce the “real thing”. Personally, there’s only so much Quorn I can take…

Do you think this situation has affected everyone more or less equally, or are you feeling aware of some who have benefited or suffered disproportionately?

The arts sector is far from equal and neither is the wider culture. A lot of progress has been made to increase diversity – it feels like this came at time when a lot of diverse artists were starting to thrive and take up leadership – but not enough of us are yet organisations or NPOs eligible for the lion’s share of the ACE emergency funds or other big funders who have focussed their support on those they already fund.

I’m fearful that we will see things go backwards. I wrote a poem early on when I was pretty enraged. I’m sharing it on the understanding that it captures a moment in time and isn’t everything I feel. Hey, it’s all valid!


It Was Harvest Time

It was harvest time
I’d worked hard
Really hard 
And it was starting to flow
Then everything changed overnight from a yes to a no
No – you can’t make your show
No – your application won’t be assessed
No – it doesn’t matter that you’ve clawed your way in from the edges

It was a familiar shock
To be interrupted yet again
To never get to the thriving bit
To always be stuck surviving

I was angry
Angry to have been encouraged as a have not
Only to be dropped when the stakes went high
The failure of those with say so
To put their money where their mouths were
Only weeks before in their shiny new strategy
Diversity Schmiversity
Look – the backslide to a malfunctioning status quo
Look – the shoring-up of privilege in the name of infrastructure
Look – the well-worn schism opens up the same old wound 
We doff our caps
Please, sir – can I have some more?

My practice snatched from my hands
The gate-keeping of resources by ill-informed suits
Nice people
Who don’t know what they don’t know
If survivor-led practice was already part of the bedrock
There would be no need for me to push that particular boulder endlessly uphill

So what do I want now?
What I always wanted:
Trust
Change
Autonomy
The continuation of a long overdue conversation
Access to money on my own terms to make my work 
I do not want to be erased
I want to be asked what matters to me and why
I want to know that when the chips are down I still have allies
I want a future that is different to the past
Where survivors are just as important as ballet dancers
Because our tortured bodies extending along our own unique lines
Are all the more beautiful for the years spent watching from the side.


Massive thanks to Viv for her time, and her insight 🙏

As we’ve mentioned, at Strike A Light we want to use this time of disruption to make some bigger changes to the way the arts industry works. If you’d like to join us in that quest, you can read a whole lot more about the little revolution we’re trying to get started.

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Past Opportunities

Producer vacancies with Gloucester Culture Trust

Our friends at Gloucester Culture Trust are recruiting for two producers to work on a pair of exciting outdoor installations in Gloucester.

One role is for a city-wide Outdoor Autumn Installation, and the other is for the Gloucester Winter Festival of Light.

Check out the full information, including details on how to apply, on the Gloucester Culture Trust website: https://gloucesterculture.org.uk/producer-vacancies-with-gloucester-culture-trust/

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Uncategorized

youth theatre

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CG commissions Uncategorized

Hannah Whyte: art radio

This project is a community art radio show, focusing on the broadcast of local/emerging music, poetry, audio-based artworks, and writing.

Hannah says:

Live radio transcends space and borders, connecting people across towns, regions, and even countries, which is why I think it’s an ideal format for art-sharing during a period of social isolation. Tuning in at a set time each week, with the knowledge that other people are hearing exactly what you are, is ultimately uniting, and could serve to bring people together during this isolated time, as well as providing a platform for little-known local artists.

Tune in at 8pm on Wednesdays by visiting www.tincanradio.co.uk. To get involved, submit your music, poetry and audio-art to tincanradio.glos@gmail.com.

About the artist

Hannah’s work revolves around community and collaboration. She is interested in books, zines, events, experiences, spaces – and their radical potential for bringing people together, forming alternative structures outside of the gallery format.

@han.whyte

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Events

Sean Mahoney, ‘Boxedin’ – live online

Date and time TBC

Sean was supposed to be coming to Gloucester to perform in-person – but obviously lockdown meant that couldn’t happen. So instead, we’re bringing him to you live online! Tune in to watch the full performance.


We love Sean’s voice! What he’s got to say, the way he says it and just the way he sounds. Have a little listen for yourself to see what we mean… 🔊👇


What to expect

Boxedin is a poetry night that Sean – along with Yomi Sode, Amina Jama and film-maker Abu Yillah – has been running since October 2012.

The event, which is the first to feature a minute-and-a-half open mic format, aims at being both forward-thinking and accessible, allowing poets to have a huge, fun night without removing the focus on poetry.

We look forward to hosting this special online edition while lockdown prevents gathering in person.

Sean Mahoney returns to Strike A Light following his previous knock-out show, Until You Hear That Bell.

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Uncategorized

Creative support

We love supporting young people to develop their artistic skills and careers. We can help you put on a show, find training or work opportunities – or we’d happily just have a chat with you!

Drop us a line, any time: strikealight.org.uk/contact-us/