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News Participation Youth Theatre

Gloucester teenagers put on their own original show…on a moving train!

18 members of Gloucester’s Strike A Light Youth Theatre worked together to create and stage a brand new performance, taking place on board a train from Gloucester to Lydney.

Over the course of 2 hours, audience members – who had booked tickets specially – were treated to a journey of the imagination: starting on the platform at Gloucester train station, throughout the duration of the Gloucester-Lydney journey, and finally along the walk from Lydney station to the scenic harbourside.

11-18 yr olds from the youth theatre groups in Matson and CityWorks had worked on devising and rehearsing the production – called ‘Us’ – for 4 months. The finished show combined comedy, physical theatre and magic and delighted the audience who had come along to watch.

‘Us’ was commissioned by Gloucestershire Community Rail Partnership (GCRP) and CrossCountry as a way to connect Gloucester’s urban youth rural places through sustainable travel. The project was designed to show young people that they can use public transport as a vehicle to gain independence and confidence, also improving their health and wellbeing.

A spokesperson for GCRP said “we put people and communities at the forefront of all our thinking; our projects are designed to put Gloucestershire and the sustainable transport agenda on the map through a participative, community-led approach. By allowing young people to explore their feelings on rail travel, we can bridge the gap between communities and transport providers.”

Charlene Olaleye, Participation Producer for Strike A Light, said “it was just a fantastic day for everyone involved. The young people got to showcase their imagination and their skills in front of a real live audience. And the audience had a brilliant time, too!”

There are lots of opportunities for anyone interested in the project to get involved in similar activities in future:

  • if you like the sound of the train journey, the service from Gloucester to Lydney runs at regular intervals every day
  • if you’re interested in seeing exciting performances in unexpected places, keep an eye on Strike A Light’s upcoming events – the next planned activity is a mini-festival for young activists in Gloucester on 30 July.
  • if you know a young person who wants to join the youth theatre, places are open now to sign up for the new term, starting in September. Free places are available to those who need them. For more information, see strikealight.org.uk/take-part-youth-theatre-and-dance-in-gloucester/

Categories
News

Enjoyed the Kings Square reopening? There’s more where that came from!

We had a totally brilliant day for the reopening of Kings Square yesterday – thanks so much to everyone who came along & was part of a fantastic audience! 🎉🔥

If you enjoyed it, there’s plenty more where that came from…

Youth Theatre & Dance

We’ve got loads of opportunities for young people: Youth Theatre & Youth Dance groups for ages 7-18+, with free places available for anyone who needs them. Sign ups are open now – so if you want to be in the next flashmob, you know where to go! https://strikealight.org.uk/take-part-youth-theatre-and-dance-in-gloucester/


Upcoming events

On 31 May, our incredible Youth Theatre will be performing an original show that they’ve made themselves…on a moving train! 🚂

(Tickets for this one have already sold out…)
https://strikealight.org.uk/2022/05/01/us-youth-theatre-show-on-a-moving-train/


On 15 May, there’s the Gloucester heat of the Roundhouse poetry slam at the Guildhall
https://gloucesterguildhall.co.uk/live-events/2022/5/15/roundhouse-poetry-slam-gloucester-heat – hear some incredible local performances 🔥


Right through the summer, we’re running a Creative Community Takeover for Westgate St. If you live or work in Westgate, hit us up with your ideas for what you’d love to see happen in the area! https://strikealight.org.uk/2022/02/02/westgate-street-creative-community-takeover/


& later in the summer, we’ve got even more amazing events & experiences coming to Gloucester – we’ll let you know more details as soon as we’re able to… 👀🤫


If you want to be the first to know about stuff like this when it’s coming up in future, give us a follow on your socials of choice, or get yourself on our mailing list 📨
http://eepurl.com/gnMSzj

See you for more awesome events in Gloucester real soon! 🔥

Categories
Arts manifesto News ways-of-working

How to change the way we work with artists: lessons from ‘Let Artists Be Artists’

The backstory

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 the industry is not truly open to everyone. We want to change that.

So we launched a year-long experiment: what would happen if we paid artists to just…be artists?

Now, we’re sharing the lessons from the process as we go – partly in case you want to try and run a similar scheme in your own organisation. But, most importantly, because the artists who helped us shape this project said transparency and ongoing open communication was key.

So that’s what we’re doing: towards the end of last year, we ran a sharing session, updating anyone with an interest in the scheme about some of our lessons learned along the way.

You can also watch a stream of the whole session if you want, or read on for our summary of 3 headline points


Stage 1: applications and recruitment

3 headline takeaways

Here are 3 of the key things we’ve learned, that we would say to anyone looking to emulate this scheme:

1. Listening to artists is central to everything. Do not run a scheme like this without listening to artists!

This idea was borne out of conversations with artists. So many artists are exhausted and restricted by the project treadmill. People talked about “fighting for scraps”, putting their own work on hold all the time and feeling “broken” by the process. Artists and their work, with all its brilliance, don’t seem to feature much in the structures of the arts industry. We wanted to do something.

Conrad Murray said it better than we could

“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.”

Artists were also involved in every stage of developing this experiment and made it infinitely better. This included paying artists for their time to work with us to:

2. Don’t be scared! The setup’s really not complicated, even if it feels it

When we first started this, we had no idea how it was going to work. Everyone, including us, had so many questions and it felt like it might be overwhelmingly difficult to actually make something happen.

Then we held a planning day with artists and partners to work it all out. It turns out that some aspects of it really just are as simple as they sound: give an artist a year long contract, pay them, and trust them to do their work. And it works.

3. Sit down and take time to DESIGN your application process. It makes a HUGE difference.

We really tried to make sure our recruitment process focused on the experience from an artist point of view. This included: 

  • Centering the artist and their work in the application questions, (rather than making it all about how to fulfil our or anyone else’s brief)
  • Giving options to ask questions and get support over email or online workshops
  • Paying artists for their time at interview
  • Artists leading part of their interview to highlight their work and make the power balance more equal
  • Pairs of artists and staff from partner organisations shortlisting applications

Qualitative feedback

It felt like these things had a real impact: we’ve never worked on a process like this where we’ve had so many ‘thank you’ emails from people who applied.

(In some ways, that was slightly heartbreaking and showed something of the state of the industry, when artists are surprised and hugely grateful even just to get an acknowledgement email confirming we’d received their application.)

People also told us they appreciated the transparency of process (“it didn’t feel like a trick or a guessing game”). Human interaction made a big difference to many artists involved.

It’s not often that people refer to an application process as “a joy from start to finish”, “characterised by compassion and real understanding” or making them feel “happy and grateful”. Of course, we didn’t get it right for everyone, but it felt like lots of these pretty small, simple steps made a big difference to a lot of people.

Quantitative feedback/the stats

When we looked at the monitoring data, there was real diversity across the 392 applications: a huge range of artforms, levels of experience, age, ethnicity and sexuality were represented.

Fig 1: self-selected identity in ‘Let Artists Be Artists’ applications

Chart by Visualizer

Sources: LABA monitoring data; Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case (ACE); ONS.

We had worked hard, with the advising artists, to reach people who were not ‘the usual suspects’ – but we were still pleasantly surprised by the response data.

Protected characteristics which are underrepresented in the industry when compared to national population averages were strongly represented in applicant data, well above national averages.

We also wanted to understand what had made people feel confident to apply – what made them think “yes, this is for artists like me”. The responses gave us a toolkit for things to include in future recruitment processes and we hope that other organisations can lift ideas from this too. 

Some aspects, such as feedback and the opportunity to ask questions on email, are easy to offer – and nearly a quarter of applicants said they needed this to feel confident to apply. Yes, it takes some staff resource, but if you were running an application process and 80 people are thinking about applying, you could lose 20 of those applicants without it.

Equally, nearly ⅓ of applicants needed the option to apply via video or audio to feel confident to apply and nearly half felt confident because there was a quick EOI stage first. These are easy to implement and bring you a wider pool of potentially brilliant artists. 

Fig 2. What factors were very important to you when deciding to apply?
Chart by Visualizer
Fig 3. What things did you need to make you feel confident to apply?
Chart by Visualizer

Lastly, the opportunity for artists to lead their own creative work came through loud and clear as a reason why Let Artists Be Artists stood apart from other opportunities.

This ethos is something we’re trying to build in more strongly across all our work, and hopefully becomes increasingly the standard across the industry.

Categories
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
Categories
Arts manifesto governance News 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
News

I Stand For What I Stand On 2021

In October 2020, Gloucester Youth Community Action performed a ‘work in progress’ of I Stand For What I Stand On at Gloucester Cathedral under Luke Jerram’s Gaia. The show was also live streamed so it could be watched all over the world.

Trailer for I Stand For What I Stand On

“Getting a glimpse into the lives of these Gloucester activists is so inspiring, whilst also highlighting the absurdity of the situation: that children enamoured with pop heartthrobs and preoccupied with studying for their GCSEs are simultaneously having to worry about a global crisis that international governments are simply brushing aside.” – Claudia (Producer)

Cheltenham Science Festival

The group continued meeting over the start of 2021 (on Zoom). In the school holidays they managed to spend some time together and further developed the show. In June 2021 they shared the show so far at Cheltenham Science Festival. They also did a talk with other activists including Gina Martin, Tolmeia Gregory and Aja Barber.

Gloucester Rooftop Festival

They then performed the work in progress sharing at Rooftop Festival in Gloucester in July 2021.

“Performing at the Rooftop Festival was really cool and it was inspirational to see other people performing and linking their art to issues in the world. It was a friendly atmosphere and despite the heat, it was great to take our performance to people who weren’t familiar with us. Our previous performances had been in front of people who mostly knew us already, so it was a crowd of new faces.”

📸 Fluxx films

R&D at University of Gloucestershire

In the summer holidays the team worked together at the University of Gloucestershire to further develop the show. They were joined by Movement Director Rosie and Lighting Designer Will (and Strike A Light office dog Winnie and one of her gorgeous puppies). They also spent the summer reaching out to other young climate activists both nationally and internationally for them to tell their story as part of the show.

“It has been amazing to be able to have in person rehearsals again at the beginning of the summer to develop the show.  Working with a wider creative team has been so much fun and we have all really enjoyed learning about and coming up with ideas for set design and video. As well as adding more movement into the show – although we were definitely exhausted at the end of the 4 days!!”

“Over the past few weeks and months we have been reaching out online to global climate activists to recruit them to become part of our show. We’ve made connections with around thirty young activists from across the world – some of which we already knew, alongside others who we have been getting to know through making parts of the show together! It’s been amazing to hear from activists from so many different backgrounds and listen to their stories, thoughts and beliefs. I’m very excited to feature content from these incredible people in ‘I Stand For What I Stand On’, as it means we are able to give a more balanced and in depth view of the experiences and meaning of youth climate activism for people across the movement.”

National Theatre Workshop

At the end of their R&D week the team were very excited to be invited to lead a workshop for the National Theatre as part of their programme for young people ‘Shaping the Future: Theatre-Making and the Climate’.

“We ran a workshop for the National Theatre which was great fun although we were a bit nervous beforehand. It was great to get a chance to talk to other young people who care about the environment especially as we have lost so many opportunities to do this during the pandemic.”

Next steps…

We’re incredibly excited the show is almost complete and they will be going on tour this October/November. Catch them at Tobacco Factory Theatres in Bristol, Gloucester Guildhall, Warwick Arts Centre and COP26!!

“We are all really looking forward to performing ‘I Stand For What I Stand On’ on tour and hopefully getting to meet more young activists as this has been a huge highlight both at cheltenham science festival and with our global digital cast.”

We’re beyond proud to be working with these awesome young people and creative team on this kickass show and know this is only the beginning.

“Being a young activist at the moment is very scary to say the least. Everywhere you look there are natural disasters and humanitarian crises, many of which have been caused or worsened by climate change. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and feel totally hopeless but working on this project has given me the opportunity to understand, express and manage those emotions. I’ve realised that despite this, there is still so much we can save if everyone works together, and that is one of the main messages I’d love to give to anyone who watches our show.”

Categories
News

My Stand For The Earth

“In 2019, I was arrested as part of the October XR rebellion outside Whitehall. It was the day before my birthday. I didn’t particularly want to be arrested and I have mixed feelings about the efficacy of it as a way of protest but I felt out of options.

I’ve stood for the Green Party several times, marched, shouted, signed petitions and done some stuff; probably not enough. I often feel like I am the conscience at work and the voice of doom around climate and our behaviours. To be clear: I do not always practise what I preach, definitely not. But having some awareness of it makes for uncomfortable living.”


Since 2019, I have been lucky enough to be working with a brilliant group of young climate activists from Gloucester. I met this group of striking young climate activists shouting in the streets.

They are a small group of extraordinary young people aged 14-18. Protesting with banners and their voices and shouting for their future with words of wisdom and speeches beautifully crafted that would put many  politicians to shame, they were often met with abuse.

We offered them some office space to hold their meetings in and two years later we have co-created a new live show with them co-written by them and writer/director Anna Himali Howard.

It feels more meaningful to me than being arrested and a better use of my skills. It’s going on tour in October/November this year and we’re all coming up to COP 26 to perform the show and be present for the conference.

I stand for what I stand on is a live show performed by four young climate activists from Gloucester and a global digital cast. The show is performed directly to each audience member through headphones with original sound and digital design. Drawing on autobiographical experiences, a love of Harry Styles and Abba, an extraordinary understanding of the climate crisis and using cardboard protest signs, I stand for what I stand on share’s the young international casts’ thoughts and fears about the impending climate crisis and explores the reality of being a teenager and growing up in the shadow of the climate emergency.

Here’s a link to a trailer from the scratch performance from last year.

I read the final draft on a train journey this week and I laughed out loud and cried. I’m proud of lots of the work that I have been involved in but this is maybe the one I’m most proud of.


Apart from helping make this brilliant show, I’m not sure what else? What else to do and who else to talk to. I know that there is loads of brilliant stuff going on and I don’t want us to reinvent the wheel.

We’d like to connect with other artists/arts organisations/people in Glasgow when we’re up there. People who are thinking about their work, young people, co-creation, the climate emergency and actually what the fuck do we do?

We had three brilliant away days at Strike A Light last week and we started talking about our response to the climate emergency. Frankly it was uncomfortable. Not because we don’t care – we do – but it’s overwhelming and scary and loaded with bombshells.

One of our producers said that “it feels like posh white people talk about it and it annoys me; I know that it shouldn’t but it does”.

I am definitely one of those ‘posh white people’ and I get it. I get it can be annoying and seriously depressing. At the end of the session it was suggested that we did something to cheer us all up. I said that maybe it was ok to sit with discomfort; it’s real.

We also all agreed that we felt passionately about I stand for what I stand on and the support that we want to give to the brave young people who have made this show and literally feel that they are fighting for their future. That did cheer us up.

So in summary; I don’t have any answers. I feel sad and frustrated a lot of the time. I’m bursting with pride that we have genuinely co-created a performance with some amazing young people. We’d love to meet up with you in Glasgow if you’re there. Maybe organise an event, have a conversation, share some ideas, cry together but essentially be together in this, be a community.

I’ve lifted some text from I stand for what I stand on. It says it so much better than I can.

Everyone in their lives inevitably runs into something that they can’t deal with alone, or faces an issue that is affecting many people…We realised that climate change is not an isolated issue, there are so many other factors that contribute to how heavily you are affected by it, like social class, race, gender, age. In order to tackle climate change there are so many other issues that simultaneously need to be addressed. You as individuals may have interests and goals too, issues you care about that you’d love to take action on, but on your own you don’t know where to start. You need to make connections and find people who share the same view, or even convince someone to change theirs.

A community allows you to give and receive care, to look after one another and to have people to rely on. We need these local and global communities to be stronger than ever as we face the impacts of the climate crisis. Living life only doing things for yourself is difficult and needless, and the world would be such a better place if we all communicated more and cared for each other.”

A personal response from Sarah Blowers (Co-Artistic Director)

Categories
Coming up Listening to artists News

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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Workshop board session: the arts, charity and politics

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


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


Why workshop sessions?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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