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governance News ways-of-working

Pocket guide: environmental responsibility in arts organisations

“In a climate emergency, what is the role of an arts organisation? How can we create an environmental responsibility policy and action plan which is meaningful?”

Towards the end of 2021, we had a workshop-style board meeting*, looking at environmental responsibility and the climate crisis.

(*We’ve changed how we do board meetings to make it easier to get lots of different perspectives in our organisational leadership.)

We gathered (virtually, on Zoom) a group of artists, event organisers, climate specialists and activists alongside our staff and trustees to get our teeth into the topic.

Lots of people emphasised the importance of transparency in that discussion – so we’re sharing ideas and wisdom that came out of the session so that anyone can use any bits that are helpful.

NOTE: at this stage, these are things that people suggested or mentioned in the workshop. We can’t claim that these are all things that we are doing already, or even that we definitely will do. Like everyone, we’re ‘on a journey’ with these changes. We want to go as fast as we can but we’re also conscious of how far we’ve still got to go. We’ll at least try to be open and honest about our progress along the way!


In a hurry? Hate gifs? Download or share this as a 2-page ‘pocket guide’ (Google Docs)

5 ways arts work can directly help with the climate crisis

  1. We support creative work, stage ‘public spectacle’ events and have the marketing skills to reach audiences. Harness these elements of our work directly to the climate cause.
  2. We know and work with brilliant artists – experts in powerfully engaging people’s attention and emotions. Team these creatives up with scientists.
  3. We regularly put on events with hundreds of people in attendance. Use our skills to launch citizens’ assemblies to debate and pressure.
  4. We have ongoing communications with loyal audiences who love what we do and will listen to what we have to say. Work with our audiences to make our voice louder.
  5. We are part of a ‘place infrastructure’ – people travel to our venues and events and we contribute to the shape of our area. Play an active part in making travel environmentally-sustainable where we are based.

9 things we can start doing right now to bring climate policies to life in our day-to-day operations

  1. Put sustainable activities in our Business Plan. Build climate considerations into business planning and KPIs.
  2. Specifically allocate staff resource and time to environmental responsibility.
  3. Audit suppliers and artists we work with to make sure they share our values and commitment to combating the climate crisis.
  4. Pay people more! (Climate justice and economic justice are inextricably linked).
  5. Climate considerations should cut through everything we do: the way we procure, the way we market, the way we do our cleaning… So make sure climate considerations are on every meeting agenda.
  6. Train up our staff on Carbon Literacy. Create a Carbon Literacy Toolkit for the organisation for training purposes.
  7. Calculate our digital carbon impact as well as our physical one.
  8. Keep talking about climate justice. Be public and transparent about our policies and progress (or lack thereof!). Share what’s working and what’s not with other organisations. Share our climate values in communications other than dry, internal policies.
  9. Increase sustainability in physical spaces we control. Plant some bee-friendly plants! Find ways to harvest rainwater!

3 big picture perspectives to keep in mind across everything

  1. The system’s got to change, not just actions. This needs to go beyond small modifications to ‘business as usual’. We should articulate the view that the relentless drive for economic growth and exploitative, colonialist capitalist ‘norms’ are fundamental drivers of the climate problem, and that clear alternatives must be sought.
  2. Resist ‘growth-at-all-costs’. ‘Green growth’ may be a contradiction in terms. Slow everything; reduce quantity of output to allow more space for thinking about the quality of our sustainability.
  3. Vote with our wallet. Be choosy about who we work with: don’t spend our money with companies that deny the climate crisis, or work against it; do develop creative partnerships with companies striving for positive climate action. Support our staff to take dedicated time for sustainability efforts.

4 examples of handy resources/further reading

  1. Big picture: read Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics
  2. Practical changes: use Julie’s Bicycle‘s carbon footprint spreadsheet.
  3. Practical changes: use online services like Networked Condition that can help analyse websites and the digital impacts we have on the environment
  4. Harnessing our work to the climate cause: check out I Stand For What I Stand On at COP 26 – a co-created show about the climate crisis

Future board workshops

We’re planning to continue with this format of board workshops. If you’re interested in participating in future sessions, follow us on socials so that you know when the next workshop is coming up!

Credit: Ed Rees/Pigfoot Theatre
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Arts manifesto governance News Past Opportunities ways-of-working

Workshop board session: climate crisis and the arts

“In a climate emergency, what is the role of an arts organisation? How can we create an environmental responsibility policy and action plan which is meaningful?”

🗓 Tuesday 2 November, 1pm
💻 Online (via Zoom)


Our board and staff team are working on our environmental responsibility plan and we want it to be more than just a policy about recycling paper in the office. We’d love to chat to other people about how they’re approaching this kind of work and hear about different, bold or experimental approaches from the arts and from other sectors.

If you have experiences, opinions or ideas you could share with us in the workshop we’d love to hear from you. You might:

  • be an artist or company that has navigated making carbon neutral or net zero work
  • have worked on a project which has done things differently when it comes to environmental responsibility
  • have experience or knowledge of leading an organisation through environmental sustainability or climate justice work

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. 

Read more about what happened in our first workshop.

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. 


How does it work?

If you have knowledge, experience or a professional interest in this topic and are interested in being part of the workshop on Tuesday 2 November, then just drop us an email to let us know who you are and why you’re keen and we’ll be in touch with more details about the workshop and so you can ask any questions. 

The workshop in November will take place on Zoom, will be informal discussions and last for 1 hour and 15 mins. 

  • 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 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 these 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
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.
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governance News Past Opportunities Uncategorized

Workshop board session: the arts, charity and politics

Listen to an audio transcription of this page

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
Arts manifesto News Past Opportunities ways-of-working

OPPORTUNITY: 1 year paid arts leadership placement – Executive Directors of the Future

Listen to an audio transcription of this page

We’re delighted to be partnering with Artistic Directors of the Future to host the second instalment of the Up Next arts leadership programme – a scheme designed to hand over power and resources to visionary people of colour within established theatre organisations.

Under the scheme, one successful applicant will get a 1 year, 4 day/week placement with Strike A Light in the role of Executive Director. This will include mentoring, training and support from Strike A Light and the ADF network. 

This is a paid placement, at a rate of £35,000 per year pro rata.

Candidates must:

  • be from a Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, Indigenous, Native American, Hawaiian, Hispanic/Latinx or Mixed-Race background
  • be an ADF member (free to join)
  • be available to work in the Strike A Light office in Gloucester at least 1 day per week
  • be available to work for Strike A Light 4 days per week from October or November 2021 for 12 months

The programme is NOW OPEN FOR APPLICATIONS.

Key dates:
5 July 2021: Applications open
20 Sep 2021, 9am: Applications close
Week commencing 4October 2021: Interviews
Oct/Nov 2021: Up Next Executive Director 12 month p/t contract

How to apply

  1. You must be a member of ADF to apply. It’s completely free to join.

2. Complete the application documents


3. Email your completed documents to admin@adofthefuture.com, for the attention of Sandra Thompson-Quartey


About the scheme

Up Next is designed to hand over power and resources to visionary people of colour within established theatre organisations. The initiative is a catalyst for progressive change within organisations that participate in the programme and supports the diversity of their workforce.

This no hand-holding initiative presents a one of a kind opportunity for ADF members to take the keys, take the budgets, take the space and change the game.

Artistic Directors of the Future (ADF) launched this revolutionary leadership programme in 2017, in partnership with Battersea Arts Centre and Bush Theatre and supported by the Arts Council England Sustained Theatre Fund.

The initiative saw five ADF members from culturally diverse backgrounds take up positions of leadership – bringing change to tomorrow’s arts and cultural landscape.

 “I would never have this job if it wasn’t for ADF. There were times when I really couldn’t continue theatre and it was the great community I had through ADF that made me feel there was still a place for me in this industry. I only got this job, partly through my relationship with BAC, and the Up Next programme.”  – Tarek Iskander, Battersea Arts Centre Artistic Director and Up Next 2017 participant

This year, Up Next will offer a one-off opportunity to a candidate who will bring their perspective and lived experience as a person of colour to Strike A Light and share new ideas and strategies to shape the organisation.

The main goal of the placement is that, by the end of the year, the Up Next candidate will have gained valuable experience that can support them to demonstrate the skills, knowledge and confidence to step into a senior leadership role within the cultural sector.

About the placement

The scheme will offer one person a one-year placement with Strike A Light in Gloucester in the role of Executive Director.

The Executive Director is a key part of the Strike A Light team, working alongside the Co-Artistic Directors to lead the organisation. The role is one that holds, shapes, supports and drives the entire organisation.

Primary purpose: with the Artistic Directors, to drive the strategic and creative direction of the organisation, leading on planning, finance and organisational development of Strike A Light.

For this placement, Strike A Light are looking for someone to join the team who is excited about the organisation’s work, who understands the principles underpinning it and who wants to bring new ideas and ways of working to the organisation.

The placement will be best-suited to someone who enjoys being the go-to person in a team, and who has a broad range of experience in different areas and job roles in the arts. 

About Strike A Light

As a small charity, Strike A Light has been punching above its weight in terms of national profile and innovative thinking which is influencing the industry.

We believe that for the arts industry to change, the leadership needs to change – and that artists and communities need to be at the heart of developing cultural programmes. We use 7 Key principles for creating cultural events and these inform the whole organisation and its decision making.


Next steps

The programme is NOW OPEN FOR APPLICATIONS.

Key dates:
5 July 2021: Applications open
20 Sep 2021, 9am: Applications close
Week commencing 4 October 2021: Interviews
Oct/Nov 2021: Up Next Executive Director 12 month p/t contract

How to apply

  1. You must be a member of ADF to apply. It’s completely free to join.

2. Complete the application documents


3. Email your completed documents to admin@adofthefuture.com, for the attention of Sandra Thompson-Quartey

Deadline for applications extended: Closing Monday 20 September, 9am

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 Uncategorized ways-of-working

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.

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.