Mass Culture is a recent addition to the Canadian arts & culture sector, connecting research, practice and policy by weaving together a network of collaborators. In 2018-2019, my work was focused on developing tools and principles for the Gatherings, a series of creative conversations about arts research designed to inform Mass Culture’s community-led priorities. The next stage was, naturally, a festival: Mass One, Festival of Arts Research.
Amidst the maelstrom of changes, the brutal breaking down of familiar patterns and the fast widening of inequalities we’re experiencing right now, I am reminded of a commitment the Mass One team made early on: to share the development process, and to think and learn in public. We’re now resuming our active planning, so it’s time to look under the hood and launch this Producer’s Process series of articles.
Mass One came out of a desire to disrupt the usual modes of knowledge production and dissemination. We asked ourselves what a hybrid between an academic conference and an arts festival would look like, especially if we paid special attention to the participants’ experience.
When I started producing Mass One, I was interested in exploring the notions of choice and participation. For this first edition, we planned to gather 100 people over 1 night and 1 day in a format designed for exchange, connection and knowledge co-production – a “choose-your-own-adventure” festival of ideas where participants design their own learning journey and co-create a rich conversation on research, policy and practice in the arts.
That was then; now we’re pivoting, in sync with so many other events and programmes around the world.
Because we can’t meet in person, the spatial dimension of the event is radically altered. All those online meetings, disembodied and back-to-back, can drain our energy really fast, even though we’re actually processing far less information at once than “in real life”. But online space is what we’ve got to work with; it’s our design constraint.
Some online events will be intensive working sessions limited in capacity. Others will be shaped by our work with co-curators and may take time to emerge in their most effective form. And because we now have time for the in-between, we’ll explore different ways of opening up opportunities for dialogue beyond these salient moments in the process.
So I’d love to know:
What do you think is the difference between a festival and a season? (I’m asking this as a festivals & public programmes producer – I’ve never managed a season before).
What other principles drawn from artistic practice can we bring to our knowledge & cultural production activities? (I often refer back to my experience working with improvising musicians – “freedom within structure, structure within freedom” – but there’s got to be more to life than jazz).
And the question that keeps me going: how do we design frameworks where we can practise participation and apply this competence to other aspects of our life?
A few years ago, I came across a professional development opportunity called Atelier for Young Festival Managers, a 7-day intensive gathering of peers and mentors, always embedded within a different festival. Back then, as an independent producer living in the UK, there was just no way I could hope to take part – partly for the cost, which, at this point in my career, would not have been covered by an employer or grant, and partly because I didn’t believe enough in myself to take the plunge and invest in my own professional development.
Fast-forward a few years and I now have my very own Atelier experience just behind me, thanks to funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. I came to present Art of Festivals, my platform for thinking, doing and creating with festivals and their ecology: what better opportunity than a gathering of 40+ international peers and mentors to gain contacts and knowledge, test my concept and positioning, survey emergent needs and co-create innovative solutions?
In my work as a Creative Producer, a key element for quality is to get inside: inside a festival and its context, inside a process, a community, a relation. This is how I grew my career, starting with the Manchester Jazz Festival, then branching out in concentric circles to other Northern arts institutions, contemporary jazz initiatives and projects with improvising artists. When I moved to Canada, starting out with Jane’s Walk, a festival of citizens, enabled me to expand my work to questions of public space, participation, ethics.
At the Atelier, I met organisers working with a wide range of disciplines and concepts (from a multidisciplinary celebration of Little Mermaid’s author H. C. Andersen to chef-choreographer collaborations, a gathering of “young visionaries” devising their own festival programme, a video / dance / heritage immersive experience…) and in contexts new to me (Lebanon, Australia, Egypt, Brazil, rural Austria…). We didn’t just present the marketing fluff at each other; we got deep into our issues, successes, motivation, moments of doubt. As well as expanding my factual knowledge and gaining key contacts, I got to practise building trust and intimacy, in a fast and intense way, a precious skill to be able to reach this “insider” position that is so important to my work ethos. Of course, sharing experiences – eating, drinking, walking, watching performances, singing and dancing – is how we bonded, and how we were able to negotiate differences of position and opinion. This is what us festival people do, this is why we do what we do, and we know there is no shortcut to building community – this is our work.
However gruelling the pre-festival planning period may be, however painful festival production can get (and don’t we love to swap those horror stories…), the joy, for me, is always in the people we meet and bond with, an extra-ordinary bond forged in a suspended time. A festival runs on trust – within the team, and with and amongst the artists, volunteers, audiences, suppliers, funders and everyone that makes it happen. Festival Atelier NEXT turned out to be an exercise in bridging cultures, generations, hierarchical positions, guests and hosts, managers and artists. We flexed our participation muscles; critically considered our position, power and privilege; acknowledged that learning and growing require as much giving as taking – and we had tons of fun. I am deeply grateful to the Festival Academy team for their thoughtful and dedicated work in creating a framework where relationships can root and bloom, where festival managers can breathe and grow, where the world can meet and celebrate. I’m now ready to work better, deeper, and for longer.
What is public space? Why do artists choose to work in unconventional places? How do they use these spaces around the world? What kinds of legislation and technical characteristics do professionals have to take into account?
A consortium of European arts organisations and learning institutions specialised in art in the public space are launching a free 4-week online course, starting Sep 9. Every Monday, 1 hour of short videos will be released, featuring 100s of artists and projects, on 4 different themes: Week 1 – Introduction to aesthetics, history and institutions Week 2 – Specific dramaturgical issues Week 3 – Site-visit and in situ writing methodology Week 4 – Understanding issues related to the relationship with the audience
Art of Festivals – a ‘think-and-do’ consultancy for festivals and their ecology – is hosting a free weekly meet-upevery Thursday between Sep 12 and Oct 3 (5-7pm) to come together, discuss the course content, hear perspectives and insights from leading local practitioners and, together, dream up the next wave of art in the public space in Toronto.
You don’t have to do the full course to participate, you don’t have to be there at 5pm sharp and you don’t have to come every week – this study group is an opportunity to form a community of practice, especially where performing arts, the built environment and participatory practices meet, so there are no rules, no fees, no barriers. Come if you can, when you can, bring a friend, and stay a bit longer for drinks after the session!
All sessions will be co-hosted by Fanny Martin and Bridget MacIntosh, with additional facilitators, and we welcome all citizens, artists, activists, technologists, technicians, academics, city planners, educators, producers… curious about art and public spaces.
This is just the start! Together we can build an extraordinary community of practice to transform Toronto’s public spaces. Hop on board!
featured image: LA SPIRE @ Jean-Louis Fernandez / Metropolis 2019
I’ve been interested in the question of the commissioning process since my early-career days at the Manchester Jazz Festival, where I developed, with my good friend Steve Mead, a framework for selection and production, mjf originals, which is still going strong and has produced outstanding works. They’ve now gone one step further by creating a new artistic development scheme, hothouse, “that gets rid of the traditional written application forms and long-winded grant funding processes that artists frequently endure”. Artists are selected on the basis of a short video and get mentoring, guidance, paid rehearsal time and a paid work-in-progress showcase. I’m looking forward to discover the exciting new music that will come out of this, and in the meantime, I’ve rounded up a few other commissioning / development schemes that I like the sound of, beyond music (admittedly with a view to borrow and steal ideas for future projects).
Les Nouveaux commanditaires (The New Patrons) is a public art “protocol” developed in 1991 by visual artist François Hers, with the support of the Fondation de France, in response to what he perceived as the disconnection of art and life: the culmination of a triple logic of the artist as genius, the art object as a market commodity and the public as passive and unconcerned.
This Protocol is about injecting and redefining value at all levels of the creation and reception / interaction process. Crucially, it’s the public – playing their full role as citizens – who take responsibility to commission an artwork from an artist.
As Patron (commissioner), they therefore have to understand and express the reasons why an artwork should exist and be invested in.
The artist’s role is to invent new forms that respond (or reflect, subvert, question…) to the evolving needs and realities of contemporary society. Within the Protocol, the responsibility for artistic creation is a shared, collective one, not just a private initiative.
The third key piece of this creative equation is the mediator, an experienced arts professional, part facilitator, part producer, part fundraiser, selected by peers to act as an go-between, stewarding the process, navigating all interests and accompanying the commissioning individual or group until and beyond the realisation of the work.
Philanthropists, political representatives and academics are also actors in the Protocol, each bringing their influence, expertise and self-interest to the process, making the resulting work more grounded in society, but also more tricky to produce – hence the importance of the sustained, long-term mediator’s work, “organising the cooperation” of all parties.
Extract from the Protocol (in the current English translation provided on the New Patrons website – it needs a rework!):
In committing to an equal sharing of responsibilities, all players agree to manage through negotiation the tensions and conflicts inherent in public life within a democracy.
The work of art, having become an actor of public life, thus ceases to be merely the emblematic expression of someone’s individuality to become the expression of autonomous persons who have decided to form a community in order to invent new ways of relating to the world and to give a shared meaning to contemporary creative activity.
Financed by private and public subventions, the artwork becomes the property of a collectivity and its value is no longer a market value, but the value of the usage this collectivity makes of it and the symbolic importance conferred upon it.
The “mediator” role is of course what makes me really tick in this process, as I’ve been exploring how to be a better Creative Producer for a while. In his 2016 short book Letter to a Friend about the New Patrons, François Hers expands on his motivations and journey to create the Protocol, and reflects on the rise of this go between figure, which has since flourished in all sectors and situations, especially under the title of facilitator.
Two mediators discuss here how the phrase (and concept) Les Nouveaux commanditaires has been translated outside France
There were 334 works listed on the website as of December 2017, which is a lot of citizen-led public art, so I could only pick a tiny sample below to illustrate the wide range of impulses and intentions behind these works:
A New Product: A consulting firm specialised in office organisation commissioned an artist to accompany and make sense of their own relocation process.
Qu’est ce qui nous rassemble ? (What Brings us Together?): An ad-hoc group of citizens (ccc) in the South West of France interested in the history and identity of their city engaged an artist to find the most relevant way to represent, in the public space, a contemporary vision of their city.
The Ever Blossoming Garden: Parents and friends of a young woman murdered in 2007, after 5 years of organising silent marches in her memory, worked with an artist to create a peace sanctuary where violence could also be questioned.
Et pluie le soleil: the staff of a children’s home wanted to bring beauty, colour and harmony inside the institution, but also change its perception and reputation in the village. The artist worked with the children in care to transform their place of residence and created a children’s book in place of a catalogue.
Sharawaggi:A group of students commissioned a set of new bell sounds for their school.
I came across Tridanse when researching examples of art and mental health institutions, which led me straight to the extraordinary 3bisf, a contemporary art centre located within the 19th century wing of a psychiatric hospital in Aix-en-Provence. Until 1982, it was a closed environment, a “pavillon de force” for women only. Since 1983, it’s a centre that both presents performances and exhibitions and hosts visual and performing arts residencies. Artists can develop not only new works but also new processes to involve and meet audiences.
Tridanse is a networked residency created in 2005 specifically for dance artists, who get access to 4 different arts centres in the course of their selection timeframe as well as a €18,000 fee. As the name suggests, the programme started with 3 venues, all dotted around the South East of France, and a 4th one was added on the way:
Le 3bisf, contemporary arts centre, Aix-en-Provence
Le Vélo Théâtre, “Maison d’artistes pour le théâtre d’objet, le compagnonnage et le croisement des arts” (I love this description, which I’d very roughly translate by “Artists’ Home for Object Theatre, Companionship (traditional network of knowledge transmission) and Hybridization of Arts), Apt
Le Citron Jaune, National Centre for Public Space Arts, Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône (also home to the fantastic water-based arts company Ilotopie), Port-Saint-Louis du Rhône (in the beautiful Camargue)
To support the emergence of new forms of choreographic creation that weave danse into other artistic practices: visual arts, circus, theatre, philosophy, architecture, cinema, landscape…
To enable reflection, action and experimentation on new relationships between artists, audiences and venue staff
To outline new modes of supporting artistic projects
The process is also firmly based on sharing the different steps of the creative process with the team, audiences and other people involved in each venue (for example, the patients and hospital staff at the 3 bis f).
In 2018, the selected artist was Marta Izquierdo Muñoz, a choreographer from Catalonia based in Perpignan, who explored the figure of the majorette in her new piece Imago-Go during 4 residencies taking place between March and September, each lasting about a week and comprising a public showcase and/or workshop.
In 2017, Gaëtan Bulourde explored the notion of landscape through a performative installation bringing together video, movement and sound, also offering workshops and participatory events at each stage of the creative process.
In 2016, le collectif Etat d’urgence created Dites à ma mère que je suis là, now touring, based on ethnographic research in Calais and exploring the notions of borders, exclusion and policy.
Battersea Arts Centre is an arts centre housed in an old town hall in South West London. It’s a well-loved, well-used community resource, producing, presenting and touring innovative theatre as well as providing a welcoming environment for local residents of all ages for a variety of programmes and workshops.
In 2015, a fire destroyed the Great Hall, BAC’s main performing space, and the immediate and incredibly positive community response is a testament to how valued they are, both by theatre-goers and locals.
Since 2000, BAC’s philosophy has been based on Scratch, a creative principle that puts forward sharing, continuous learning and giving and receiving feedback.
Scratch is about sharing an idea with the public at an early stage of its development. When you Scratch an idea, you can ask people questions and consider their feedback. This helps you work out how to take your idea on to the next stage. It’s an iterative process that can be used again and again. Over time, ideas become stronger because they are informed by a wide-range of responses.
The feedback is an important part of the process but Scratch is not about doing everything that people’s feedback suggests; it is about using the responses to help you understand how people currently receive it and to help you shape your idea. The feedback doesn’t have to be a Q&A, you can simply share your idea ‘live’ and, by doing this, you can often tell what works and what doesn’t. Scratch recognizes that when an idea does not fully succeed, or even when it crashes and burns, that there is great learning to be gathered.
For the full lowdown, this 2015 story on the Google Arts & Culture platformretraces the 15 years of Scratch (officially launched in 2000). The Scratch legacy is huge: more than a more theatre, BAC now acts as an incubator of people and projects, using the creative principles of Scratch to work with artists, teachers, young entrepreneurs, spaces, museums…
There’s lots going on at Battersea Arts Centre, so I’ll just list here a few initiatives that use the Scratch principles in various contexts:
Create Course, a weekly meet-up, where participants (16+) can explore new ways to be creative in their own life, coming together around good food, guest leaders, a lively discussion and creative tasks. Session guest leaders have included poet Deanna Rodger, garden designer Nina Leatherdale, chef Veronica Lopes da Sliva, producer Roisin Feeny, artist Conrad Murray, broadcaster Byron Vincent and spoken-word artist Polarbear… and BAC provides free creche on request.
Collaborative Touring Network: a collaboration between BAC and 8 other producing partners in the UK formed in 2013 to produce, present and promote diverse events “to feed an appetite for culture in communities across the country” and realise the vision of “a nation where everyone has inspiring art and culture on their doorstep”. To date, the network has presented work in over 170 different spaces including parks, community centres, boxing gyms and nightclubs, imagining “new contexts for performances that inspire audiences and artists alike”.
Agents of Creative Change, a free annual professional development programme for artists, public and third sector professionals who have a challenge to tackle in their professional environment, in their community, or both. The programme pairs practitioners with artists and offers a series of workshops to share practice, ideas and trial solutions to the presented challenges. In between meet-ups, participants realise test projects within the community. Previous participants have included those working in the police, local government, health services, employment and offender management. Artists have come from a wide variety of backgrounds including music & beatbox, design, writing, photography, performance work, digital and community theatre.
Scratch Hub, opening in Autumn 2018, will be a creative co-working space based on the Scratch principles, offering members quite a few perks on top of a deskspace, from a time-banking scheme to exchange expertise and skills to talks and scratch nights “to foster collaborations, co-learning and creative conversations”, “opportunities for member-led programming and event hosting” and discounts on shows and food & drink (in the aptly named lovely Scratch Bar).
I’ve been obsessed with Studs Terkel’s brand of oral history since I came across Working, which made me look at the value of work in a whole different way and inspired lots more research and reflection that might translate in the near-ish future into a live art concept.
Human rights lawyers, labour movement activists, teachers, doctors, recovering addicts, death row survivors, radicals of all ages and stripes talk about what keep them jumping through every hoop in their way to make the world better than how they found it.
In the first few pages, I discovered the wonderful Tom Hayden (1939-2016), who drafted the 1962 Port Huron Statement (a radical political manifesto that called for “participatory democracy” ) in his 20s, and went on to play other major roles in anti-war, animal rights and social justice movements.
He’s 62 at the time of this interview with Studs Terkel, and he shares his wisdom about stages of life, the problem with the sixties and his newly-found role as an elder:
It’s not surprising that the idealists are always young. Young people are like eagles, they can see a long way and they don’t have any hindsight. They’re always discovering something new, and they don’t carry as much of the burden of the old. Then comes the second stage of life. I would call it your entry into a career, where you have to make money, you’ve got to settle down somewhat, and you become more like a coyote, more competitive with other people because this is going to determine where you are in the pecking order. So the idealism of the young is tempered by the competitiveness of the thirty-somethings and the forty-somethings. And then the third stage is you get as far as you’re going to go in your career path, you become president of the United States, or a journalist, or a school-teacher, or you get your seniority. And you realize that competition is not going to get you any farther. So you settle down more, you’re the mayor of a city or the city council person or the editor of the newspaper. Here you try to bring together the best of the idealism you had when you were a kid and what you’ve learned about the world and the rat race. So at worst you’re compromised, but at best, you’re a smart idealist, you’re learned something, you’ve matured. Then you go beyond that, in what in this society is usually called old age, but it’s the only opportunity you’ll have for wisdom. You’re no longer really needed as a mayor, because there’s always some guy knocking at the door who wants to replace you, and the end is coming. So this is the last stage. You know what that is? To be an elder. To problem with the sixties, as I look back, was a problem of the elders. It was always defined as a problem of youth, a crisis of youth. But really, that was how the elders defined it. The real problem was that the elders weren’t there. The elders missed the point entirely. I live now with one goal: to try to learn to be the kind of elder who was missing when I was a kid.
Tom Hayden in Studs Terkel’s Hope Dies Last, p. 70 (The New Press, New York, 2003)