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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

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Arts manifesto Listening to artists News

Artists on lockdown: Viv Gordon

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It Was Harvest Time

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Categories
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.