Breaking Bread

Spotlight

A little while ago, I started compiling a list of Toronto-based food-related projects and people for a friend going to North America on a professional research visit. Some of them are based, like me at the time, at the Centre for Social Innovation – such as Aruna Handa’s Alimentary Initiatives, who mixes art, food and social interaction in her Future Food Salons to “examine and taste what we may be eating in the future”; others are well-known and liked institutions, at the forefront of education, social justice and community engagement, like 30-year-old foodbank The Stop; others still had just sprung up during my time living in the city: surplus urban fruit harvesters Not Far From the Tree (presented in the video below by founder Laura Reinsborough) or ethical catering company (and B CorporationPaintbox Bistro, which employs and trains residents from Regent’s Park, one of Toronto’ so-called “priority neighbourhoods”.

I recently came across a few new food-sharing initiatives in France and the UK that make a great start for a closer-to-home list – so here they are.

 

Alimentary Upcycling: The Real Junk Food Project

The Real Junk Food Project is a “global, organic network of pay as you feel cafés (that) divert food destined for waste and use it to create delicious and healthy meals”. The first one opened in Leeds in December 2013 – and there are now about 50 affiliated community-led outlets in the UK, Europe and as far as Australia.

As founder Adam Smith (delivering his TEDx Talk above) puts it, “it’s wasted food, not waste food”.

Here’s a look inside the latest Real Junk Food Café in Manchester, entirely furnished and equipped with donated gods:

 

 

Digitally-enabled Local Sharing: OLIO

Like FreeCycle for food! “OLIO is a free app which connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses to exchange their edible surplus food. Think food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare vegetables from the allotment, cupcakes from an amateur baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away.”

First launched in London’s Crouch End neighbourhood in July 2015, OLIO has already expanded to 6 boroughs in London and is planning to expand its offer to Bristol and other UK cities.

App users can upload items they want to donate or sell (at no more than 50% of the original retail price).

OLIO screen grab

Other users can then contact them to arrange a pick up – either at their home, or at a registered Drop Box location.

The app developers have made sure to include a few guidelines to ensure that all exchanges are respectful and responsible – starting by “Only add items that you would be willing to eat yourself”.

 

Targeted Fundraising: Ernest

It’s not just happening in the UK – in France too, food-related charities – foodbanks, social groceries… – have seen the demand for help increase and public funds decrease in recent years.

Ernest was set up in 2015 to run fundraising campaigns with partner restaurants that contribute to specific needs of identified local charities. For each meal consumed in a partner restaurant during the campaign, a few centimes are added to the bill and redistributed to a selected local charity, generally towards a capacity-building project (the current campaign in Toulouse is raising funds towards buying fridges or renovating the kitchen for three foodbanks).

They aim to create “local solidarity networks” by linking restaurants, their customers, charities and their clients around the notion of sharing.

This week: start of the ERNEST campaign +0.20 € added to your bill on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

This week: start of the ERNEST campaign +0.20 € added to your bill on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
Image © Lucky Miam (www.luckymiam.com/ernest/)

 

 

5 Questions to… Eleanor & Rosie, The Brick Box Ladies

5 questions to...

I recently had the great personal and professional pleasure to work with The Brick Box, a Community Interest Company currently working across London and in Bradford but constantly expanding their reach thanks to their determination to spread “art, love and magic” all over the world.

Ruling the roost, the Brick Box Ladies – a.k.a. co-directors Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman – preside over a small army of artists of all denominations and project managers – like myself – who work collaboratively to infuse under-used public spaces with a new lease of life. Their latest projects include the A13 Green in Canning Town (a village green complete with fairy-lit bandstand under a concrete flyover), the Light Fantastic in Thamesmead and the Electric Fireside in Little Germany, Bradford – and most recently the event I contributed to, the Big Draw by the River in Nine Elms. There are tons of photos and videos on their website (they’ve got their marketing priorities nailed down and always employ top-notch photographers and videographers) so I’ve pinched a few to include in between each question and show off their fantastic work.

 

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

1. Your next event is Light Night Canning Town on 29 November 2014. What’s a typical day right now?

Busy! We’re ramping up marketing and press, trying to get the word out far and wide. We’ve got such a fantastic programme we want to make sure lots of people come and enjoy it. We’re also making daily prayers for good weather!

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

2. You’ve been organising events for several years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

It’s been 4 and a half years as The Brick Box, far longer in different incarnations. It’s easier to work out budgets, have an idea of what an event might be like, and pack gaffer tape! What doesn’t get easier? Worrying that no one will come!

Half Moon Theatre's Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

Half Moon Theatre’s Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

3. Before, during or after an event – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

Definitely during an event – it’s great to see people enjoying themselves and taking part in the things we hoped they would.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

4. What other event(s) would you love to attend as audience member?

Eleanor: Shambala Festival
Rosie: another Bruce Springsteen gig!

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

5. Who would be your dream artist(s) to collaborate with?

Eleanor – Grayson Perry and Mae West
Rosie – William Blake and my friend Lisa!

And finally, hot off the editing bench, here’s a little film of the Big Draw day by Tomo Brody.

Open Space Principles

Tools of the Trade

Why is funding for the art better for everyone? That’s the latest issue that Devoted & Disgruntled – a collective of arts activists using Open Space Technology to breathe fresh thinking into old debates – settled to tackle earlier this week at the Battersea Arts Centre.

I sadly had to miss out, but I got to hear more about D&D at the Owning the Arts conference directly from its founder, Phelim McDermott (also Artistic Director of Improbable).

For nearly 10 years, D&D have been offering free, drop-in events to the theatre community – and increasingly the wider arts sector – using Open Space Technology to “connect communities, inspire practitioners and open the door for change”. It’s a conference without an agenda, without keynote speeches, without even an organiser. People gather, decide which topics they will work, divide into sessions, and are free to move from one group to another, at any time. Each D&D event produces a bunch of reports (currently over 1,000 available for download), which can constitute a starting point for further research and debate, policy-making, manifesto-writing, collaboration and probably many other things.

While I knew a little about Open Space Technology through its variants – such as UnConvention, the grassroot music industry unconference which inaugural event I attended in Salford in 2008 and has now reached over 60 editions all over the world, and various specialised Camps such as BarCamp – it was great to hear about it directly from Phelim, who is not just using it for D&D events but has also completely embedded its principles into the creative process of his theatre company.

Open Space Technology was devised by Harrison Owen in the 1980s. It relied on 5 guiding principles and 1 law, brought to life by Phelim in his lively presentation. They don’t just apply to running a debate about arts funding or collaborating towards technological or social innovation: they can be adopted and adapted to shape organisational structures and community relations.

THE LAW OF TWO FEET

If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.

5 GUIDING PRINCIPLES

1. Whoever comes is the right people

It’s all about the invitation: people who care will come, and it’s their contribution matters.

2. Whenever it starts is the right time

Creativity doesn’t happen by the clock. The right moment – kairos – is what counts.

3. Wherever it happens is the right place

This is another way to say that it can happen anywhere, and that even a conventional meeting – or organisational structure, or communication system – can be transformed in Open Space.

4. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have

It’s not about “ifs” and “whens”: action must be grounded in reality.

5. When it’s over, it’s over

Or “do the work, not the time”. Knowing when to call it a day is a valuable skill.

– – –

Open Space is also a way to think differently about collaboration, by accepting that dissenting voices are a fully integral part of a discussion, and that a strong, resilient community is able to hold within itself what is actually against it.

It also comes with a word of warning about the danger of setting outcomes. As stated on the Wikipedia entry, Open Space is a purpose-led method, and while the invitation to the meeting will articulate this purpose, it will not set goals or outcomes for the day. Being too intent on a outcome can be counter-productive and stifle the creative and discursive process.

Here is a video made by The Art of Hosting that explains all of this pretty well:

– – –

And a few participant quotes from D&D’s website:

“D&D is genuine horizontal engagement! (No – not that kind… unless I’ve been going to the wrong sessions). I genuinely thought I wouldn’t like D&D. It sounds too good to be true. I won’t start wheeling out the clichés but D&D is the biggest circle of people I have ever sat in. And that’s worth something.”
– Rachel Briscoe

“Don’t waste time resisting, like I did. Resistance is futile; presence is fertile. You should come.”
– Chris Goode

“ … everyone is there on equal terms, whether you’re the artistic director of a major regional theatre or a first-year student just beginning to make work. In a theatre world that is often competitive and jealously guards knowledge like a miser, this is a place where expertise and experience are shared with real generosity and no strings attached. Devoted & Disgruntled is not just a talking shop – it actually spurs action and initiatives such as mentoring schemes, the sharing of skills and spaces, and people coming together creatively and making work.”
– Lyn Gardner

– – –

For more on Open Space Technology, Open Space World is an enthusiastic online volunteer community sharing resources in several languages – such as case studies, good practice examples and a facilitator directory.

High Street Art

Programming

I’ve managed to clock two conferences in two days, both about the future of the arts (and arts funding), but otherwise different in every possible way.

On Thursday 5 June, Owning the Arts: Making Things Happen, organised by Rowan Arts as part of the Holloway Road Festival, aimed at “artists, arts managers, producers, educators and community activists”, was all about creative and collective problem-solving. The following day, Arts Development UK’s national seminar on The Value of Public Commissioning gathered arts and cultural organisations engaged in community building, well-being and regeneration together with public service commissioners for a day of keynote speeches and case studies presentations to discuss evidence, outcomes and evaluation.

I’m probably going to blog for quite a while about all the people I met, projects I’ve discovered,  and things I’ve agreed and disagreed with, just in the space of these two days, but to start with I wanted to highlight two great projects taking art to the high street – by taking over retail spaces and codes – that were presented at each conference. I’m also throwing in a personal favourite for good measure, to follow my preferred tripartite format. As I haven’t – yet – fully experienced these projects myself, I’ll let them speak for themselves in their own words, photos and videos.

1. Fully dysfunctioning: Hunt & Darton Café

A nice treat at Owning the Arts: participants didn’t just get to hear about the concept of live art duo Jennifer Hunt and Holly Darton’s project. We first got into teams to compete in the Not Great British Bake-Off, a sugar sandwich competition, to get a taste of the Hunt and Darton Café’s live experience, before getting into details of the project background and history.

Here’s what they say themselves about it:

Hunt & Darton Cafe is the product of Hunt & Darton, artist led producers creating theatrical experiences in unconventional spaces. Audience experience is our priority.

A fully functioning Café that blends art with the everyday, Hunt & Darton Cafe is a social and artistic hub where spontaneity and performance meet great food and drink.

Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton expose the inner workings of their business by presenting everything as art-from public display of their bank balance to the lovingly handpicked charity shop crockery.

Hunt & Darton Cafe encourages playful participation and meaningful social encounters. It can operate as an offsite micro-venue or temporarily transform and existing space in a gallery, theatre, public building or outdoors under canvas. Whether seeking surprising art or a relaxing place to spend the afternoon, customers can expect a welcoming atmosphere and food served with a twist. This is an exciting, innovative and entrepreneurial project unveiling and celebrating the ‘Cafe’ as an iconic and socially important hub for creative productivity and conversation.

The Cafe takes over empty shops, often working with council initiatives and art centres to benefit and increase artistic activity within the area. The alternative service from Hunt & Darton themselves (often wearing their iconic pineapple outfits and hats) comprises deadpan style and theme days such as ‘you-do-it-day’ where customers are encouraged to serve each other. Hunt & Darton also commission local artists to wait on the tables and create unique performances as they serve. (…)

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

Hunt and Darton Café, Hackney, 2013

The café started in Cambridge in April 2012, travelled to Hackney, Edinburgh and Brighton, and is about to embark on a 5-city tour over the next 18 months. Here’s where and when to catch it:

Colchester – Oct 2014
Folkestone  – Feb 2015
Manchester – March 2015
Harlow – June 2015
Peterborough – Oct 2015

 

2. Social & Emotional Transactions: Encounters Shop

Ruth Ben-Tovim presented her work with Encounters Arts in a Cultural Commissioning session on place-based outcomes. It’s an art based on co-production, dialogue and long-term relationships – and for Ruth, the essential part of her work is to craft the invitation.

From the website

Since 2003 Encounters have been taking up residence in disused Shops across the UK, working with thousands of people to create evolving, co-authored artworks about the joys and challenges of everyday life.

Shops have taken place in Sheffield, Winchester, Liverpool, Dewsbury, Totnes and London. We also deliver Mobile Shop projects that tour and connect different locations within a neighbourhood.

Encounters Shops become meeting places in which local communities can collect and exchange experiences, memories, objects, journeys and thoughts about their lives, where they live and the wider world.

We use photography, visual art and text to collect personal material from visitors reflecting this back through the creation of interactive, evolving displays and verbatim performance events and publications. Talks, workshops, community visioning, feasts, inter-generational exchanges and cross-cultural dialogue processes can also take place in the Shops.

As well as using a selection of these favourites in each new Shop we set up, we tailor-make Invitations to Join In that respond to the place, context or commissioners focus.

Over the years, Encounters have developed a tried and tested series of participatory Invitations to Join In that you are likely to find in any of our shops including; Blackboard Questions, Memory and Story Maps, Recipe Cards, Stepping Stones, Lake of Tears, Tell Me a Story About, Seeds of Change, Family Portraits, Journeys, Collage Blocks, Anyone Who’s, and Lost and Found.

Where’s the heart of Andover? Inside the Encounters Shop.

Inside the Encounters Shop – photo (c) Paul Bevan Photography

The 10th Encounters Shop is currently in Andover, Hampshire, until 15th June.

 

3. Heart-felt nostalgia: The Cornershop

Felt artist Lucy Sparrow crowdsourced over £10,000 – from an initial £2,000 bid – for her Cornershop project, and she is now creating enormous amounts of felt-replicas of everyday objects that will go on the shelves of her pop-up Cornershop.

From the Kickstarter campaign:

In 2014 I, Lucy Sparrow, will be restocking an abandoned Cornershop in London with felt products. Each item – from the bean cans, to the cigarette packets, the chewing gum and the porn mags – will be made entirely out of felt: each item meticulously hand sewn, stuffed and priced by yours-truly. During the month-long installation The Cornershop will be visited by both local passers-by and art audiences, once inside the shop they can not only view the products, but can handle, and even buy them. They will also be able to watch live-sewing events, participate in workshops and can even be drawn into improvised performance works that make them reflect on our taken-for granted shopping behaviours. The installation will be accompanied by a series of making workshops. In addition to drop-in workshops for one and all, I will also offer more specialist workshops for the local community and the neurologically diverse communities.

Weetabix

Weetabix -work in progress

Tampax

Over the counter emergencies

Rizla

A cross-section of rolling papers

Cat food

Cat food (supermeat)

Lucy’s ambition is to create in felt every single item usually found in a cornershop, in the right proportions: here’s the full list of everything that needs to be made. The shop’s opening is currently planned for August 2014 in Bethnal Green, and Lucy’s progress can be followed on her blog, website, Instagram and Twitter.

A Problem Shared…

Tools of the Trade

Arts organisations use all sorts of office settings, from small and casual bolt-holes to grand, more formal venues. Physical environment clearly influences productivity and mood of the team, so space and resources need to be adequate.

Unfortunately that’s easier said than done, with rent taking such a big chunk out of a company’s budget. But there’s another way to look at the question of space for arts organisations: rent could be a good investment in a mutually beneficial creative environment, so that a building becomes an active player in a particular city’s cultural ecology.

Co-working, shared workspaces and cultural hubs are on the rise because they solve problems. For example, a hot desk at Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation (known locally as CSI) starts at CAD75 a month – and comes with a business address, mail delivery, 24/7 access and shared services such as free wifi, free coffee, cheap printing and meeting rooms. This can offer a low-cost, temporary solution for an organisation trying to bounce back after reductions in income.

The venue management publishes open source toolkits, incubates projects and operates a crowdfunding platform. They also fix the wifi if it goes wonky and remove those pesky paper jams.

And for added value, members get to be part of a thriving community of freelancers and entrepreneurs, both not-for-profit and for-profit, from a variety of sectors. An internal communications system, networking events of all types and sizes and a big communal kitchen allow members to constantly exchange services, contacts and ideas.

CSI started with 14 founding tenants in 2004 and now has three locations in Toronto and one in New York, so it’s clearly working. It’s a social enterprise that acts as a community enabler, not a commercial landlord draining away resources.

The management team publishes open source toolkits, incubates projects, runs a micro-loan fund and operates a crowdfunding platform. They also fix the wifi if it goes wonky and remove those pesky paper jams.

There are other models out there, other ways to turn office rent into community investment. Also in Toronto, 401 Richmond is a 200,000 sq ft historic warehouse renovated under the principles of eco-restoration and openly inspired by Jane Jacobs (‘Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings; new ideas must use old buildings’).

Current tenants include over 140 cultural producers and micro-enterprises: 12 galleries, artists, designers and architects, a music shop, a bookshop, many arts festivals and environmental and civic agencies.

The management company, Urbanspace, organises tenant-led Nuit Blanche events and open studio days, and services include an arts-based childcare centre, a friendly café and a luxuriant rooftop garden. Here too, the community is based on shared values, and tenants are selected – from a long waiting list – to contribute to the creative mix.

Still in Toronto, Artscape, a registered not-for-profit organisation founded in 1986, manages several buildings that offer affordable live/work studios for artists, offices for arts and civic organisations, and performance and exhibition spaces at a discounted rate for charities.

They have also developed models and tools for creative placemaking. The latest Artscape building, a 75,000 sq ft renovated primary school, hosts a wide range of tenants, including artists and musicians, a large multidisciplinary arts festival, a youth-focused grant-making organisation, a world music promoter and a few more in between. The hallways and stairwells – nearly 10,000 sq ft over three floors – are used as exhibition spaces, and an independent café has set up shop on the ground floor.

Open studios at Artscape Youngplace Opening  Photo- Garrison McArthur Photographers

These three examples in Toronto have strong links: one of the founders of CSI is the president of 401 Richmond, who was in turn inspired by Artscape. All took time to develop and mature, which is why they have deep roots in the local cultural ecology.

Creative placemaking, connected networks and sustainable platforms can enable artists and arts organisations to adapt to a changing environment.

If you’re thinking of pooling resources to save money and find creative synergies, existing models are there to provide ideas and inspiration, and they tend to share openly their history and principles.

They’ve enabled and inspired countless projects on their home ground, and I’m hoping that these insights will be useful to cultural innovators in other cities and countries.

This article was originally published in International Arts Manager.