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Coming up Events Listening to artists News Past Opportunities

Let Artists Be Artists – experiment sharing session

What is it?

A 1.5 hour online sharing session, reporting back on what we’ve learnt from the first few months of our ‘Let Artists Be Artists’ experiment.

This ‘industry sharing’ event is aimed at anyone interested in the idea of finding new ways to work with and support artists – in particular, organisations or individuals considering trying out a similar approach, testing out a new model for commissioning or reviewing how they work with artists.

The focus will be on sharing what we’ve learned so far, with three main goals in mind:

  1. to continue to be transparent in the whole process
  2. to hopefully make it easy for others to try out something similar for themselves
  3. to stimulate ongoing conversation about how to build a fairer, more adventurous arts industry

We will share:

  • How the project came about
  • The purpose of the experiment, but also the nuts and bolts of how it worked in practice
  • How we involved artists in its development
  • The recruitment process: how it was run, what worked and what didn’t (both from our perspective and that of artists)
  • The 3 appointed LABA artists will share their experiences so far
  • Specific resources and documentation from everything so far – everything from the overall project framework down to the Google Sheets and Apps Script we used to make shortlisting more manageable

Practical details and how to join

The session will take place online, via Zoom (live captioning available)

Places are free, but you do need to book in advance so that we have an idea of numbers! (You’re also welcome to make a donation towards our work if you’d like to!)

We will send out the Zoom link and joining information to all bookers closer to the date of the session (Weds 15 Sep)

Funders and partners

We’re so grateful to all of the organisations who are joining us to make this a reality:

Action Hero | The Arts Development Company | Bristol Ferment | Create Gloucestershire | GL4 | Gloucester Culture Trust | Jerwood Arts | MAYK | Pound Arts | Theatre Bristol | Theatre Orchard | Travelling Light Theatre Company | Trinity Bristol

Categories
governance News

Our first new, workshop-style board meeting

How do we make world-changing art which is relevant to the real world and doesn’t shy away from the issues affecting communities we work with, whilst ensuring that we keep within the legal restrictions relating to charities and political campaigning?

That was the question under discussion in the first board meeting following our new workshop format.

(Backstory: we recently came up with a new plan for our board meetings and governance because boards need to change – and we wanted to be able to include lots of different perspectives in our board meetings.)

How it went

I opened up the Zoom call and started letting people in: a combination of our formal trustees and the guest participants who wanted to join this workshop session.

As the screen began to fill up, I genuinely had tingles of excitement – not something you usually associate with a charity board meeting!

Over the course of the meeting, we heard from artists, lawyers, producers and trustees. This was a room full of fantastic people. People generously shared their own experiences: of the police turning up at their show, of changing legislation through theatre, of being censored by their government, of being asked to tone down their work, being asked to make it ‘less political’.

We talked a lot about the big things – if you aren’t engaging with the real world and people’s experiences then what is the arts even for? – and about the more specific things – how does ‘education’ function as a charitable object in this context, for example?


Below are our notes from the session, which we’re sharing for anyone who might want to use them. We’ll be using this to write up our staff and board procedures for how we create and manage work which could be considered political. 

A massive thank you to everyone who joined us in this new venture and who so openly shared their experiences – we really value it.

We’ll be hosting workshops in future on different topics. If you’d like to be kept up to date, let us know.

Notes and actions

Framing question

We believe that failing to engage with the challenges of today’s society isn’t apolitical. Saying nothing is not a ‘neutral’ position. It’s an active choice to maintain the status quo and the privileged which that status quo serves.

It’s true that charities have legal obligations about avoiding party politics – but this is something else. This is the word ‘politics’ being weaponised to attack charities that are engaging with the real world.

Over the next year, Strike A Light will be supporting artists and communities making work about food banks, the climate emergency and Black history.

Is it possible to do this without being ‘political’? Or should we just stage plays about the upper middle classes, written by dead white men? Is that less ‘political’?

Participant comments

  • Art is about sharing stories and sharing experiences, and it responds to the world around us. Therefore it will always include current events, people’s opinions, reflect society and to brand this as political in its own right is inaccurate. 
  • Charities are not able to undertake political campaigning unless it supports their charitable purposes – and such campaigning cannot be the continuing and sole activity of the charity (official guidance here). For many arts charities their purposes are related to promoting the arts and/or education, rather than specific social or political causes.
  • It’s important to separate ‘political’ themes and actual political campaigning – the latter is only allowed for charities in some specific instances. The former often gets branded as campaigning but it isn’t. Engaging with social justice or social change could be branded as political activity or it could be about an organisation’s responsibility to the communities it serves, about equality, human rights or simply relevance in their work.
  • Partnering with a campaigning body or organisation that does have a remit or purposes related to the cause can be a way of enabling the campaigning work without it being led by the arts charity. Academics or organisations with a policy remit will have expertise and knowledge that can drive this process, with conversation and public engagement facilitated by the arts activity. 
  • Co-creating with the communities that the topic directly affects, using verbatim theatre or asking the audience for their suggestions/ perceptions, means that as the arts charity you are providing the creative facilitation for the conversation but it’s not the views of the charity that are being presented. The charity themselves are not actively campaigning so this can be a way of managing risk as well as ensuring the work is authentic.
  • Nervousness and risk-averse messages often come from venues and funders and very often from within the arts e.g. not external censorship of an artistic product but a risk-averse culture which stifles it. For example, venues won’t programme something out of fear of local authority funding being pulled or unspecific fears that it might ‘cause trouble’. For example, conferences asking for less ‘political’ work because they are concerned about a Charity Commission investigation etc. 
  • Do your research and explore what the real risk is – for example, what really counts as defamation of character. Just expressing a negative opinion about an individual’s conduct isn’t defamation. There may be occasions where it is appropriate to speak unwelcome truths to achieve change. Conversations with funders and venues in advance help determine the actual risk of funding being withdrawn. If funding was withdrawn what are the alternatives, is your reputation strong enough to withstand it etc. Is it actual risk or perceived risk?
  • We talked a lot about balancing risk and ‘walking the tightrope’.
  • Funding that is tied to central government funding is more at risk of being allocated or withdrawn in response to government policy
  • Some organisations who want to explicitly campaign on government policy will choose a legal structure which allows for this or establish a separate campaigning organisation linked to the charity. 
  • You can create processes around a show to allow a space to air things that you might not be able to say publicly, so that you’re not closing down that dialogue for participants. Or you could signpost to action people can take outside the show – again the arts organisation is a creative facilitator not the campaign vehicle. Think about the provocation to the audience and plan this into the project.
  • Be clever and well-researched if you’re engaging with individual politicians and policies: know the action you’re trying to achieve and why. If you’re trying to affect change, what is the best way of doing that? That’s not necessarily by making political statements in the script of a show. 
  • Index on Censorship have some great resources for arts organisation and give clear guidance on topics where there is an existing legal framework, for example Obscene Publications, Counter Terrorism or Public Order.
  • Have open discussions from the outset, look after the people involved in your project and your staff, prepare for the emotional toll and put in support mechanisms.
  • The way you run your organisation and how you use your resources could in themselves be ways of affecting social change. It doesn’t always have to be about an artwork provoking change. The arts are robust when they have a civic role and they matter to people. That can be about who’s at the table, who gets a platform, challenging barriers to access, providing opportunities for creativity etc.
Categories
governance News Past Opportunities Uncategorized

Workshop board session: the arts, charity and politics

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How do we make world-changing art which is relevant to the real world and doesn’t shy away from the issues affecting communities we work with – whilst at the same time ensuring that we work within the legal restrictions relating to charities and political campaigning?


Charities and arts organisations are coming under fire for being “too political”. But we believe that failing to engage with the challenges of today’s society isn’t apolitical. Saying nothing is not a ‘neutral’ position. It’s an active choice to maintain the status quo and the privileged which that status quo serves.


Why workshop sessions?

Earlier this year, we outlined our new approach to our governance: how decisions are made about how Strike A Light is run, and how we could make sure that more voices were heard in this

Like a lot of arts organisations, Strike A Light is a charity and so our board of trustees meet regularly throughout the year to oversee, advise and support the running of the organisation. We want to open up this process and have written a couple of blogs about why we think change is vital for us and across the sector. 

In short, we will move the primary focus of our governance activity to workshops rather than board meetings – where artists, communities and industry work alongside board members to directly influence and support Strike A Light’s approach. 

We’re making this happen and our first workshop will be taking place on Tuesday 20 July at 1pm – focusing on arts, charities and politics. 

Rather than a single, static board who feel they have to drive the strategy and make decisions on every topic, this arrangement provides dynamic support and skills for the governance of Strike A Light.


We’ll be doing a workshop on a different topic every three months and each different workshop will involve quite different groups of people. 

There will be a combination of trustees, freelancers, arts professionals, professionals from other industries, community members and artists.
The size, make-up and dynamics of each group will change to best reflect the workshop topic. 

  • Workshop attendees can be paid for their time. We know there’s an issue with asking freelancers, artists etc to put in unpaid time. After the workshop you can invoice us for £75 towards your time. Alternatively you can choose to donate your time as a trustee would. You don’t need to tell us which you’re opting for – just send us an invoice afterwards, or don’t. 
  • There’s flexibility to the time commitment. You might attend future workshops too if you feel you can contribute to several topics, but equally you might just attend the one workshop that’s your bag. 
  • Workshop formats can vary to suit attendees and topic e.g. we can do one small group discussion or a structured activity with breakout sessions etc. 
  • Options for digital or hybrid meetings give much greater opportunities to work with people from across the country or even internationally. We’re planning this first workshop on zoom. If you’re local to Gloucester and would prefer to meet in person for a chat on the topic or would prefer a one to one phone call we can do that too.

We hope theses sessions will also give people an opportunity to find out more about how the Strike A Light board works, meet trustees and demystify the governance process.

Categories
governance News

Changing charity leadership #2: who can lead?

This is the second in a short series of rants and resolutions about why charity boards/governance structures are often a pale imitation of what they should be, and what we intend to do to change that.

‘Decisions are made by those who [are able to] show up’

This time, we’ll look at how the practicalities of board membership and logistics can stop them from functioning well.


Common problems of building a board

Collect the whole set

We’ve all seen it happen: what starts out as the crucial responsibility of assembling a diverse, relevant board ends up being reduced to a game of Pokemon (‘gotta catch em all!’)…

‘We need to get a finance person, a marketing person, an artist, a disabled person, a beneficiary, a person of colour, a young person – oh and better make sure there’s some women and someone with friends in high places in there, too…’

How, in a setup like that, are people supposed to feel any more than tokenistic?

Big responsibility, little support

Moreover, typical charity governance structures ask a huge amount from trustees, which impacts on who sits on boards and how they function.

Being a trustee generally requires you to:

  • have lots of free time
  • be able to take on unpaid work
  • be comfortable with legal responsibility, corporate and charity speak
  • provide specialist skills

You’re trying to find people willing to give up their time for free – people who are confident in a board room setting, reading and commenting on business plans and cash flows, and happy to take on ultimate financial and legal responsibility for a complex organisation.

Giving up time for free becomes particularly problematic if you’re asking freelance artists, or asking beneficiaries when you have a focus on people living in areas of socio-economic deprivation.

It’s also not OK asking people who have experienced racism to join your board just to help improve diversity in your organisation. Free labour to improve a systematically racist industry, sitting within a systematically racist governance structure? No thank you.

Local vs national

For Strike A Light, one other consideration is that we are very much a Gloucester-based organisation: we need to ensure we are listening to and answerable to local residents, beneficiaries, audiences and artists. 

At the same time, we have developed rapidly as an organisation and we need support from industry professionals in fundraising, finance and advocacy at a national level. 


Bringing it all together

Trying to include all of these people and then expect them to all be at the same meetings, covering an agenda that is required to be primarily about oversight and due diligence, does not make the most of people’s time and skills.

Recruiting new trustees is a challenge; bring together a diverse, representative group of people who can be/do all of these things, understand Strike A Light, have a commitment to the work we do, are interested in Gloucester… 

Cold calling and open calls haven’t worked for us – there needs to be a relationship and a way of making sure it’s the right fit on both sides.

All of which is why we’ve come up with a shiny new governance plan

Categories
governance News

Changing charity leadership #1: activism, the arts and politics

This is the first of a short series of rants and resolutions about why charity boards/governance structures are often a pale imitation of what they should be, and what we intend to do to change that.


Why it matters

Boards should be a big deal. In theory, they’re about the leadership of an entire organisation:

  • they set the tone for a charity’s direction and running
  • they continually push the operation, challenging it to do everything it can to fulfil its stated purpose
  • they represent the communities the charity is working with, and make sure its work is actually serving the intended beneficiaries

In theory. But, too often, boards don’t live up to this billing – instead becoming just a managerial tickbox exercise, to make sure the quota of meetings is met and the accounts get filed on time.

We want to do better.

We’re lucky to have a supportive board who are working with us to do this. They’re not the typical “male, pale and stale” board – but they want to do more, and so do we. Because it’s in everyone’s interest for charities to have strong boards and governance.


‘We don’t do politics’

Let’s start by looking at the problem of quiet, passive, non-disruptive, don’t-rock-the-boat governance – and why that’s about to become an even bigger issue in the UK.

The Ministry of Silence

‘If you want to improve lives through charity, leave political fights out of it, writes Charity Commission chair BARONESS STOWELL’

The Daily Mail, 28 November 2020

There is currently a big push to ‘manage’ what charities say and/or emphasise in their work.

In the past couple of days, this agenda has been spelled out painfully, shamefully openly by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden:

Now, it’s true that charities have legal obligations about avoiding party politics – but this is something else. This is the word ‘politics’ being weaponised to attack charities that are engaging with the real world, accusing them of “starting culture wars about ‘wokedom’”.


Keep calm and stroke my ego

There’s a call for the bygone era of Victorian style charitable giving, where donating to the poor and needy gave a warm glow to those upper class philanthropists. Like Ebenezer Scrooge giving a turkey to the Cratchit family, immediately making up for all those years of forced evictions and extortionate rents for slums. 

The message is basically “don’t question anything the government does, don’t look at the root causes of why your charity has to exist, and whatever you do, don’t mention Britain’s colonial past”.

The fallacy of ‘neutrality’

But here’s the thing: not engaging with the challenges of today’s society isn’t apolitical. It’s not a ‘neutral’ position. It’s an active choice to maintain the status quo and the privileged which it serves.


Telling inconvenient truths

The arts are about telling stories, engaging with people, and exploring and reflecting the human experience. The stories which get heard, who tells them and what they say, will be political – not like ‘vote for Lord Buckethead!’ party political, but political because they will unavoidably touch on questions of how we live and act as a society.

Over the next year, Strike A Light will be supporting artists and communities making work about food banks, the climate emergency and Black history.

Is it possible to do this without being ‘political’? Or should we just stage plays about the upper middle classes, written by dead white men? Is that less ‘political’?

It doesn’t even matter how much substance you cut out from your content, how many ‘touchy issues’ you avoid or how vacuous you make your material: the very act of choosing which stories to tell is itself political. You will always be centring, normalising or privileging one experience over another.

Find us a story that isn’t political. We promise you, it doesn’t exist.


Contradictory demands

AND ANOTHER THING! As if this effort to favourably ‘control the narrative’ weren’t bad enough already, it’s also directly contradictory to other demands also being made of arts charities.

In the 2020 New Year’s Eve fireworks display, the UK watched a sea turtle made of drones swimming through the sky – even as we failed to meet any of our 2020 carbon emission targets.

We paid lip service to Black Lives Matter in the same year that DCMS told cultural organisations that if they want to be funded they should steer clear of talking about “contested heritage”

The Charity Commission can’t say to charities in their annual public meeting that they want to involve people from more diverse backgrounds and then a month later publish an article where they ask charities to pretend racism doesn’t exist.

Except that’s exactly what the Commission did.

This means there’s a fundamental disconnect between public messaging and the structures and funding that accompany them. How can you as an organisation genuinely commit to addressing climate change or lack of diversity – things we are repeatedly asked to do by government funders – without addressing the structures which create those problems and which perpetuate them? Complicit silence is not apolitical.

These are the most significant, pressing issues of our time. Life is political and if charities are to exist in and be relevant to society and fulfil their charitable aims for the public benefit then they must engage with the public and with society and therefore with politics. 

A plan to change the system of industry leadership

We believe if you want things to change, the system has to change – and the leadership in the industry has to change. 

So we’re going to try something different with our governance.

We’re cooking up a new plan. One where you can get involved with Strike A Light governance without a long term commitment, share your skills and ideas, find out more about how the board works and get paid for your time in a workshop format.

We’re focusing on different topics each time and the first we want to tackle is arts charities and politics. 

How do we support artists and communities to make work which is about the world around us, which isn’t afraid to question and challenge, whilst working within the legal requirements of the charity structure regarding politics? 

Over the year we’ll also be looking at finance and fundraising, and what a cultural programme driven by artists and communities could and should look like. 

Get involved

We’ve drafted and shared a plan for how we’re going to change our governance structures.

If you’re interested in being part of this exploration and sharing your ideas and experience to support Strike A Light to achieve its charitable aims, we’d love to hear from you.

Categories
Arts manifesto News

Let Artists Be Artists

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UPDATE

It’s actually happening!

We now have 13 partners on board and have raised enough funds to employ 2 artists for the year. We’re having a planning meeting with all the partner organisations this month. Each organisation will be inviting an artist to consult with us to shape the project and advise on the recruitment process.

More details coming soon…

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. 

Categories
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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Arts manifesto Listening to artists News

Artists on lockdown: Conrad Murray

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 Conrad Murray – an actor, writer, director, rapper, beatboxer, singer and theatre-maker, who has led the BAC Beatbox Academy since 2008 and made a host of five-star shows, including Frankenstein – had to say.

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

It’s hard, honestly. All the projects I’ve been working on – all those deadlines have gone, overnight. And being an artist but with no projects and in a national emergency – it makes me feel like ‘what do you even do now?’ Like, what is my purpose?

I’ve been trying to create for its own sake, just trying to find stuff to do that is meaningful. And that’s why it’s nice to get invited to take part in some new, online events – it gives you something to work towards. But it’s also tough, because there’s all these things you’ve been working on for a long time, and you get deep into a certain practice with those, and then that’s suddenly all taken away.

It’s quite depressing, y’know? Like, “What am I doing? FUUUUCK!”

A couple of venues have checked in, just asked how I’m doing – that’s been good. And I’ve had some students – some of them from years back – just call out of the blue, tell me what’s happening for them or asking for advice. And I love that! It’s nice to feel needed…

That’s why one thing I think is really important is for artists to get money to do things. Obviously, people really need monetary support at the moment, and that is massive. But purpose is important, too – like, I wanna be getting paid, to make artistic work. I’ve worked so hard, for years and years – I’m always working – and now that I don’t have an immediate thing to work on, you can get into this kind of crisis of “Who am I?”

Is that part of why you’ve been looking at ways to do things online? How has that felt, is it different?

Yeah, really different. Not so much cos it’s online, but just because you’re having to start something totally new. In some ways, it gives you ‘total freedom’ – but actually that’s weird. Normally, you have all these different ways to get input – but now there’s no interaction with other people, or the inspiration that can come from that.

And theatre is very ‘of the time’, but at the moment everyone’s in the same ‘time’: how much ‘corona content’ can there be?!

Ha, yeah – what do you think about that general ‘lockdown rush’ to take work online?

Like I say, it’s good to see people doing things like scratch nights and stuff; it’s nice to try and have things to work towards. But overall, I think it’s really hard for artists. Like, who’s your competition now? Suddenly, I’m supposed to compete with Elton John and Andrew Lloyd Webber!

So actually, even though anyone can put something out there, it’s worse for most artists, because everyone is in the same space. How can you get an audience when you’re up against these global superstars who are starting out with 10 million followers?

Plus, the fees being offered for digital work and shows online are, like, 25% of normal, if that. It’s hard to take that on. And it can all feel like you’re just devaluing yourself.

Yep, that’s really not great. And actually that’s something we want to do with this time: to see if we can use the disruption to bring some bigger, lasting improvements in the arts industry – to things like artist pay. So, on that: what would be high up your list of changes you’d like to see?

Pay is definitely a big one. There’s gotta be a better way to pay artists. Less short-term, less unstable. More like a salary, I guess. I don’t know exactly how it should work but there needs to be more security for artists, so that you can build the thing you’re working on.

Just overall, there’s this fixation on novelty – a flash-in-the-pan mindset, producers obsessed with crowbarring in the latest gimmick, even if it doesn’t make any sense in the work… That’s not how you build things, not how you invest in them.

Theatres have become like a factory for neoliberal capitalism. Crank out the next thing, make the money off it, chuck it away… When you make a show, you give over the entire IP to the venue! And then, when the run’s ended, that’s it – the whole thing’s gone, like it never existed.

These places all say they want ‘more diverse voices and audiences’ – but it takes time to put down roots in communities. You’ve gotta build those connections. And you can’t do that if it’s always just ‘make a one-off show to get a one-off grant’.

I know of artists – really talented, amazing artists – who have gone from ‘upcoming star’ to Job Seeker’s Allowance. Literally, to JSA. That’s messed up.

You’re right – and, sadly, it’s the sort of thing we hear a lot. On that, just quickly, lastly, is there anything else you’d want to say to organisations like us? I mean, we’re only small, but we can still make choices about how we commissioned, book and pay artists…

Just, ‘help me to be great at what I do’. Like, I know I don’t know how to do the admin, the funding, the logistics, whatever – so I want help from people who are experts at that stuff. But I am expert at what I do – so leave me to do my thing; allow me to use that expertise! I wouldn’t tell the admin person how to do admin – in fact, I want them to show me how it’s done! So give us the same courtesy: let artists be artists, and support us to build work.

Massive thanks to Conrad for his time, and his 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 (soon, real soon!) about the little revolution we’re trying to get started.