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governance News Uncategorized

Workshop board session: the arts, charity and politics

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We’re looking for people to join our first ever workshop board session, to help us with a vital (and potentially tricky) question:

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.

If you have experiences, opinions or ideas that can help us in this aspect of our mission, we’d love to hear from you.

You might:

  • be an artist or company that has navigated making political work
  • have funded, commissioned or managed an arts project which has challenged policies or involved local or national government
  • have experience or knowledge of charity law

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.


How do I join a workshop session?

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

The workshop in July will take place on Zoom, will be informal discussions and last for approximately an hour. 

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.
  • Find out more about how the Strike A Light board works, meet trustees and demystify the governance process. If you are interested in being a board member for an arts organisation or are just curious about how it all works then let us know if you’d like to stay and observe a board meeting or chat to one of our trustees. 
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News Participation Uncategorized Youth Theatre

Can you solve the Youth Theatre murder mystery?

The Strike A Light Youth Theatre have gotten themselves mixed up in some worrying business:

Camera Cameron has gone missing 😱 – but nobody is willing to say what happened…

Who is hiding the ultimate secret? Is somebody guilty? Which of the six suspects is the true culprit?

Watch what everyone has to say. Put the clues together. And see if you can guess whodunnit.

Win a prize!

First to send the right answer to rhiannon@strikealightfestival.org.uk wins a doorstep show from the Strike A Light Youth Theatre! 🎉


The suspects

So…whodunnit?

Send your guess of the guilty person’s name to rhiannon@strikealightfestival.org.uk – first to get it right wins a doorstep performance from these legends! 🎉

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

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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 opens for applications on 5 July 2021.

Strike A Light and ADF will be running free, open, online information sessions (on 29 June and 1 July) where you can find out more about the scheme before applications open.


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

Strike A Light and ADF will be running free, open, online information sessions where you can find out more about the scheme before applications open.

These will give you an opportunity to meet the team, find out more about the Up Next programme and ask any questions you might have, before applications officially open.

You can book a place on one of these information sessions, sign up for an email reminder about the key dates (including when applications open) or just check back on this site after 5 July to apply.

Information sessions

Tues 29 June, 11am

Thurs 1 July, 6.30pm

The programme opens for applications on 5 July 2021.

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News Uncategorized

Interning with Strike A Light: Aimée Lewis

A photograph of Aimee Lewis
Aimée Lewis

What’s your name and where do you come from? 

I’m Aimée Lewis and I live in Cheltenham but went to university in Gloucester and aim to keep working in the city. I want to be part of the huge cultural changes in the city that aim to make an impact in the surrounding communities.

What were you doing before joining Strike A Light?

I was fresh out of finishing a film degree at University and working in a coffee shop, striving for something more creative.

In March 2019, Gloucester Culture Trust launched the Creative Leadership Trainee Programme. I was accepted on to the programme and began working for Gloucestershire Libraries as a Cultural Leadership Trainee. My role allowed me to experiment and challenge new ideas for arts and culture in libraries, bringing new ways of approaching projects and events for communities. Then I was offered the chance to do part of that role with Strike A Light.

I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have got the experience to work with Strike A Light because I wanted to still stay in Gloucestershire. It was the perfect opportunity to move into for me.

How did you hear about the opportunity and what made you think it sounded interesting?

My mum actually tagged me in a post on Facebook! That’s how I heard about my cultural leadership trainee role. At first I didn’t really understand what it meant because it was a completely new role for myself and the organisations but it was exciting to have a creative job opportunity pop up right on my doorstep at the perfect time for me. 

I had no idea that Strike A Light existed before and wasn’t involved in the creative Gloucester community. All I can say is that I was impressed with what I learned, and honoured to have memories of taking part in events and supporting artists for exciting things happening in Gloucester!

Can you remember what your first day was like?

Yes, mostly because I hadn’t met anyone prior from Strike A Light so I really didn’t know what to expect. I remember Jess opening the door to me and making me feel so welcome. I remember the office vibe being so chill and bright. On my first day, Jess talked me through everything and I felt super comfortable to get on with stuff right away, even if I didn’t know what I was really doing at first.

Any particular highlights or lowlights?

Highs 

So many but I’ll keep them breif! 

  • Front of House 

I really enjoyed being chatty and welcoming to audiences. It really helped with my confidence and also being able to watch every performance was a bonus. The time spent with Jess and others on front of house was so fun and there’s a few memories I’ll cherish forever (like that one time I thought a pigeon needed saving so went to pick it up to move it but it totally mugged me off and moved right back)

  • Producing a show for Jonny Fluffypunk 
Aimee produced ‘The End of the Pier Show’ with Jonny Fluffypunk

Working with Jonny and Christina has been such an experience that was really enjoyable but difficult at times because I was in a new environment. I noticed the support that everyone had for each other straight away and it was something I definitely needed at times. It was magical to see the show come to life and to see first hand how those experiences were really enjoyed by children and their families. Even though lockdown ruined live performances, I still got to see how far the show developed and had fun working on the audience facing interactive parts of the project like the workshops plus we got to create a digital copy of the show.

  • Filming with Barney/Fluxx Films

The time I spent directing some videos for Strike A Light with Barney was awesome. I got to interview audience members and really understand their experiences with the events that we put on. It was great to be a part of putting it together into a video to shout about what Strike A Light do best. 

Lows 

  • Lockdown

What a downer!! Working from my bedroom all day wasn’t great. I quickly noticed that not being in the office with people being easily able to turn around and ask for help was hard. I got a little bit more of responsibility with producing Jon’s show in lockdown so the pressure of being stuck inside along with it wasn’t the best. However, I’m proud of myself that I stuck it through and it was really useful to have those 1:1 conversations with the team about it all in the end. 

Was the year how you expected it to be?

I didn’t know what to expect at first because when I applied for my trainee position it was focussed around libraries and Strike A Light was a sort of extension. Therefore, I had no clue how the two organisations were going to click together but in some cases they did. I look forward to keep crossing the Gloucestershire Libraries & Strike A Light bridge. 

When I started, I had no idea that I’d be working on a new children’s theatre show and later on producing a digital version in lockdown. I didn’t think I’d have as much control and freedom in the role which has been nice but also terrifying at the same time. 

I didn’t expect everyone to be so welcoming and friendly or to be sometimes watching the team take part in 30 second planking competitions! I also didn’t imagine myself enjoying front of house at events so much but it’s really helped with my confidence over the year. I loved talking to communities about the exciting stuff we were doing! 

Favourite and least favourite things about the work?

My favourite has to be meeting all of the team and working with them to put on awesome and exciting events in Gloucester! The least is working from home during lockdown and leaving without a proper goodbye however, I know the journey hasn’t properly ended yet and I look forward to working closely with them again in the future. 

What are you going on to now?

I’m going to continue my journey at Gloucestershire Libraries as part of the development team and keeping supporting and perhaps push for more exciting events and activities to happen inside our libraries. I also hope to keep in touch with exciting projects happening in Gloucester and get involved as an individual for self growth and making new connections. 

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News Uncategorized

‘Let Artists Be Artists’ – 3 artists appointed

Here we go – it’s actually happening! What started as a wishful idea back in summer 2020 is now a reality.

Together with a group of fantastic partner organisations, we’ve been able to appoint 3 artists – 1 full-time and 2 part-time – to ‘just be artists’ for one year.

It’s an experiment in a new way of working and it starts now. From nearly 400(!) applications, we are DELIGHTED to announce that the three artists will be:

Visual Portfolio, Posts & Image Gallery for WordPress

Tom Marshman

Tom has been making theatre for 21 years, actively encouraging dialogue with participants through socially-engaged processes such as ‘Tea Parties’ – telling engaging, poetic & unpretentious stories. An overarching theme of that work is that of the outsider & their story, particularly regarding the LGBTQ+ experience: stories that have been omitted through archival silence. (Photo by Andre Pattenden)

Florence Espeut-Nickless

Florence is a working class artist from Chippenham in Wiltshire, a town with no theatre and limited access to it. She’s a writer, performer, facilitator and theatre-maker. She makes work for both stage and screen about / with working class communities in the Southwest, in the hope to make the arts more accessible to everyone, regardless of background and geographical location. (Photo by Ned Espeut-Nickless)

John Pfumojena

John Pfumojena is a Zimbabwean actor, musician and composer with practice focused on Mbira and Marimba music cultures. He has won several awards, including a Zimbabwe Young Achievers’ Awards UK in 2019 for contribution to Theatre and Music. John is interested in the globalisation of the Mbira instrument of Zimbabwe and cross-cultural collaboration. (Photo by Byung Gun Jung)

“I have been working as an artist for over 20 years but I felt like this was the kind of opportunity that should be more widely available for artists so they can have the time to experiment, and be their true selves.

I want to be the guinea pig for a new way that we think about how we pay artists and I am absolutely f****** delighted to be that guinea pig!”
Tom

“AHHHH! It’s huge! It’s hard for me to put into words how much this means to me as an artist but also as a person. IT’S MEGA. MASSIVE. SICK. I’m actually still in disbelief really.

It makes me feel valued. Like what I have to say is of value. That the stories I wanna tell and the communities I wanna work with are valued within the arts and wider society.”
Florence

“This is an exciting opportunity for me to share the ancient culture of Zimbabwean Mbira in a contemporary and modern context, as well as explore new contacts, connections and collaborations with artists and communities in Bristol and Gloucester.”
John

We’re so thrilled to be working with, supporting and learning from such exceptional people. It was incredibly difficult to narrow the selection down to just three, and we’re sad not to be able to work with all the brilliant artists who applied – but we’re so excited to see what comes from this year.

What will the artists be doing?

That’s up to them! From the start, we’ve been clear that a crucial part of this experiment is giving artists the freedom to work with no ‘targets’, no pre-defined outcome and no pressure.

We set out the types of artists we thought this would be well-suited to, and the principles that we use in our work, in our initial recruitment call-out.

As part of the experiment development process, we also held a planning day with partner organisations and artists which expanded on that thinking in greater detail.
» Read the notes from the planning day

How were the artists appointed?

We ran a three-stage application process, beginning with a simple expression of interest and concluding with flexible, in-depth interviews. The whole thing was run and developed in collaboration with the partner organisations and artists who helped us shape the process, and the interviewees were paid for their time.
» Review the full recruitment process

Why this experiment?

For too long, there have been massive inequalities in terms of who benefits from ‘The Arts’ – both as audiences and professionals. Artists go underpaid, under-heard and under-supported. And it’s not truly open to everyone. We want to change that.

We felt that this moment, where there is no business-as-usual, could 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.

You can read the full background on our thinking in the original Let Artists Be Artists proposal.

What happens next?

The artists are starting work now! We’ll be sharing updates on this whole process over the course of the year, through a series of reports and events.

If you’re interested in receiving these updates or attending any of the events/workshops, please sign up to our Let Artists Be Artists mailing list:

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Future opportunities for artists
If you’re an artist and interested in finding out about jobs, training, support and other similar opportunities in future, you can also sign up to our dedicated Artist Support mailing list – a monthly email newsletter.

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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News

Shenice Ellis and Halima Malek: Gloucester women join arts industry leadership scheme

There need to be more women in leadership positions in the arts

There is a gender imbalance in favour of men throughout the arts industry – especially when it comes to leadership roles.

Source: The Guardian, ‘UK report reveals ‘disgraceful’ gender inequality in the arts’


Gloucester is full of brilliant people with huge creative potential

We love seeing more and more of Gloucester’s residents realising what they can do, what they can bring about in the city, through the arts.

So we’re delighted to welcome two women from Gloucester – Shenice Ellis and Halima Malek – as our new Associates as part of the Women Leaders South West (WLSW) leadership development scheme.

WLSW is a training and career development programme that aims to do something about the gender imbalance in arts leadership, by supporting women in the South West to explore it as a viable career option.

Future women leaders, made in Gloucester

Under the scheme, Shenice and Halima will:

  • work on their own creative projects
  • shadow the Strike A Light leadership team
  • see the inner workings of an arts organisation
  • join a residential of intensive learning in April 2021
  • and develop their own skills as future arts leaders

all whilst receiving support through mentoring, the wider network of WLSW Associates – and, of course, being paid for their time.

The hope is this will, over the next 18 months, help them progress their own careers and further their potential as leaders. And, ultimately, that WLSW can be another step towards a world where there is sufficient support for women in leadership that the arts becomes a more equal, diverse and representative industry.

Part of a bigger picture, too

The WLSW scheme is happening with eight fantastic arts organisations in South West England – each supporting two new Associates of their own. So there are 16 women in total, from Dorset to Hampshire, participating in the programme.

Read the full announcement, including all 16 associates across the South West.


Our new Associates

Shenice is a dance teacher from Gloucester who has run Ambitions Dance & Drama group based in Gloucester and Stroud for the past 14 years. She loves to travel and is always up for new adventures. This has led her to give opportunities to the young people she works with, including touring trips to France, Hungary and America, as well as teaching in an American summer camp.

Halima Malek is a Gloucester-based artist and makeup artist whose parents originated from India. Her work has been showcased by the Wilson Gallery and she was one of several women invited to read for International Women’s Day at St Mary de Crypt. She works closely with different communities in Gloucester, including the Indian and Muslim communities, to bring positive change to people’s lives.

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News Uncategorized

An open call to the ‘woke minority’

Oliver Dowden (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) has invited 25 of the country’s leading heritage bodies and charities to a meeting on 23 February to tell them “to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down”.

We’re issuing an invitation to arts organisations and allies to meet on 23 February at 5pm to discuss the “heritage summit” called by Oliver Dowden, our potential collective response as arts organisations and to offer support if appropriate to the heritage sector.

Why are we worried?

This “heritage summit” is the latest in a series of similar actions from DCMS and the Charity Commission (see links below) and we are concerned that:

  1. This is censorship
  2. People’s stories and heritage will not be shared and by proxy will be silenced
  3. Heritage and the arts are intrinsically linked, they both tell stories and often support each other. We want all voices to be heard and all stories to be told
  4. This “silencing” will trickle down and DCMS may start to censor the arts and us as arts organisations

Join us for a quick (we promise) hour Zoom to find out:

  • What we all think about this?
  • What the response already is from our sector (if there is one)?
  • What can we do?
  • Will this affect us as arts organisations?

(There is quite a lot of stuff out in the world already about this but below are some links for more information.)

You can sign up to attend below – we look forward to seeing you on the 23rd February at 5pm.

If you can’t attend but would like to be involved in future conversations, please sign up to our artist mailing list below. We’ll share what comes out of the session on the 23rd and invite ideas for next steps.

Please share this with anyone who may be interested or affected

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“The ‘heritage summit’ will be British culture’s last stand against woke zealotry. Among the 25 heritage bodies whose leaders will meet Oliver Dowden, too many are possessed by a Left-wing spirit that the public reviles… So it is a sign of grace that Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has invited the leaders of 25 of the country’s leading heritage bodies and charities to a meeting on February 23 to tell them “to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down”.

Simon Heffer
The Telegraph

Useful links/background reading

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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.

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News

I Stand For What I Stand On

We’ve been working with the most *amazing* group of Youth Climate Activists over the last year or so. We went along to their Youth Strike 4 Climate and were instantly blown away by their knowledge, conviction, maturity, confidence and energy. In Gloucester they are a small but vocal minority and carry on with their protests in the face of aggression from adults in the street and public criticism on social media. It started us thinking about what support and resources we could offer them as an arts organisation.

Earlier this year we helped support them to produce a Fundraising event for the Australian wildfire relief funds. They brought together awesome live musicians and activists to perform at Gloucester Guildhall. They also performed a very early extract of a performance they had been developing around their climate activism – ‘I Stand For What I Stand On’.

In February we went to a Youth Arts & Activism Symposium at Battersea Arts Centre. We spent two days with other youth activists from around the country undertaking workshops with brilliant activists like Viv Gordon and Richard Dedomenici. We all then watched the incredible ‘When it breaks it burns by ColetivA Ocupação’ which was phenomenally inspiring.

We went with the group to a climate strike in Bristol to see Greta Thunberg and then went to Battersea Arts Centre for a ‘Youth Arts & Activism’ symposium.

This summer they started working with an *incredible* Director Anna Himali Howard to develop their performance of ‘I Stand For What I Stand On’. They met weekly on Zoom for the first couple of months and then finally in September they could meet together in person.

We were also joined by a wonderful creative team, Munotida Chinyanga (Sound Designer), Will Monks (Lighting Designer), Hannah Churchill (Director Assistant) & Ethan Hudson (Production Manager).

“It’s been so great to be able to have something consistent and certain to be working on in such unpredictable times! We’ve been able to so easily adapt through restrictions and it’s so great to see and hear from everyone weekly. I’ve been able to experience an entirely new platform for how I usually go about activism and having such an amazing group of knowledgeable people supporting us has made so much possible that we could have never done alone.”

“It was a challenge to put this show together during a pandemic, but climate change does not stop for a virus and neither do we, so we took on the challenge and after many zoom calls and social distanced meetups we were able to produce the show.”

They were working towards a scratch performance in October where they could show what they had created so far. We were very excited and grateful to be able to offer them the opportunity to perform underneath Luke Jerram’s Gaia at Gloucester Cathedral. Big shout out to Gloucester Culture Trust & Gloucester Cathedral for their support!

“Being under GAIA felt so important for us. We were able to feel as though we were actively protecting our planet as it hangs from a thread above us.”

“To tell our story as climate activists under Gaia felt amazing. The very image of the world we wish to protect was floating above our heads. This has been such a step up from our previous actions as activists and it has opened up the world of performance art to us and the power it holds to influence peoples’ minds.”

The show was live streamed so it could be watched from all around the world. They reached out to climate activists nationally and internationally and introduced them as part of the show.

“Having never done anything like this before, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect, but somehow we put together this show from scratch and people loved it. We surprised ourselves. I have never been great at performing and never thought I would be able to perform the scratch in front of an audience. However we all did it. We had so much fun in the process creating so many memories and running jokes. This show has been an opportunity for all of us to improve our confidence and continue to spread UKSCN Gloucester’s message despite the challenges faced by a global pandemic.”

Plans are in place for ‘I Stand For What I Stand On’ to be further developed and performed in 2021 and we just can’t wait! If you’d like to find out more about the project or are a young climate activist who would like to get involved, get in touch with us