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Producer's Process

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. 

To anchor the festival in current research, we picked three ongoing projects – Future of Work, led by Jeanne LeSage; Civic Impact Frameworks, led by Christina Loewen; and Unlocking Data, led by Frédéric Julien. We started our planning process in earnest in December 2019, working with the Research Leads mentioned above, strategic partners – Ryerson University, Ontario Trillium Foundation, City of Toronto – and a roster of topic experts and process facilitators, including Michele Decottignies and Dylan Robinson

We planned to open in style at St Paul’s Bloor Street with a dynamic dialogue on Art & Space, starting on stage with a Long Conversation “un-panel” format that would then propagate through the room. For the full-day festival, we had big plans to make the most of the open layout of the Catalyst at Ryerson Faculty of Communication & Design. A key aspect of our design was to weave values of collaboration, participation and inclusivity throughout the event cycle. 

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. 

To bring to life the core elements of Mass One – inclusive design, co-curated content and participative frameworks – we’re playing with another dimension by deploying them in time. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose: we’re transforming the festival into a season for thinking, sharing and learning

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?

Running on Trust

Spotlight

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.  

Jazz North Originals Survey

Programming

Following a sector consultation with 25 artists and artistic directors, a pilot project with Manchester-based composer and improviser Rodrigo Constanzo and research into promoters’ operational capacity, Art of Festivals is conducting a survey on behalf of Jazz North to understand better how commissioning new music can be better supported.

This next stage of development aims to establish a consolidated approach to commissioning new work that can assist the jazz sector in building relevant partnerships and encouraging new thought processes.

There are 3 different short surveys for artists, promoters and arts managers / creative producers with commissioning experience. For any questions about the project or if you want to discuss your experience in more depth, email me or indicate your interest at the end of the survey.

 

Artists

Have you been commissioned by a festival or venue to create a new piece of music? Please complete the Artist survey.

Promoters & Curators

Do you commission new works or present projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Promoter survey.

Arts Managers & Creative producers

Do you have experience working on commissions or projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Producer survey.

 

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Work in Culture?

Spotlight

I have been invited to talk about what I do for a living at a primary school’s Careers Day by a friend who volunteers there as a reader. He works in catastrophe insurance, so he is planning to bring wooden blocks to demonstrate earthquakes. I am wondering, of course, how I will manage to present what I do to a bunch of 7-year-old kids when I can barely explain it to anyone beyond my immediate circle of colleagues; but also whether there is any point in trying to convince anyone to follow in my footsteps when work in the cultural sector is only getting more precarious and discriminatory by the day.

Should I talk about the cost and length of training? A degree in any discipline is now £9,000 a year, and I’m not sure what you get to do these days without a Masters (I have two and am not especially overwhelmed with job offers). Then there’s the cost of Continuing Professional Development, to finally get to learn what they don’t teach you at school, keep up-to-date with the latest trends and do some crucial networking – all the conferences, courses and seminars that employers don’t necessarily put you forward to attend and are difficult to afford as a freelancer. And then there’s the ever-increasing sector precarity – zero-hour contracts becoming the norms in museums and venues, artist fees not quite a given, short-term and freelance contracts replacing secure jobs in organisations of all sizes. Not to mention the bullying, socio-economic and ethnic discrimination, unpaid internships

Maybe I should just stick to the brief: what I do, how I got there, what I like about it and what kind of skills I need to do my job, a few simple points to be covered in 5-10 minutes.

Maybe I should also remember that it’s not just about convincing kids that my job is the best. There’s a huge opportunity to make them realise that if working in arts & culture is a serious occupation, alongside all the other professions represented that day – people working in health, sport, law, IT and insurance – it’s because it’s important in everyone’s everyday life. Art is for life, not just for school, as this Guardian Teacher Network blogger eloquently puts it: even in the few schools that still offer arts subjects, young people are stigmatised for choosing them, even though the transferable skills and increased self-confidence alone should be reasons enough to encourage them.

As early as primary school, dance, art and drama were offered in clubs because they aren’t the “real subjects” that we need for “big school”… There’s this stigma with the arts that only “unintelligent” students take those subjects. I still struggle to be taken seriously for taking arts subjects… But more than a year later, I’m reminded daily that taking GCSE dance was the best decision I ever made. While everyone complains about the subjects their parents forced them into, I am in the dance studio every lunchtime. Dance gets me into school. Dance gives me something to pour my head and heart into. It gives me a feeling of belonging, creativity, security and freedom… The skills that I get from the arts also help me hugely with work across the curriculum, from improving my analytical skills to making me more self-confident.

 

So, to answer the questions:

What does a Festival & Arts Coordinator do?

I organise festivals with music, art, theatre, food… and also smaller events, like writing workshops, one-off concerts and guided walks across the city.

I work with artists, venues and schools to create these events, then with designers and journalists to make sure that the event looks good and that people know about it.

Some festivals last 10 days and can take 1 or 2 years and a huge team to prepare. On the day of the event, I make sure that everything goes according to plan – there’s always something that goes wrong, from the weather to the main artist being stuck in a traffic jam, but it’s part of the job to fix all these problems, and usually no one even knows about what happens backstage!

How do you become a Festival & Arts Coordinator?

There are many ways – but you really need to love art and music, enjoy working with lots of people, be very organised and also happy to do things that are quite unusual or unexpected – it’s never the same every day!

I studied Humanities – English, French, German, Philosophy, History, Art… and Business Management, then I started working on a tourism conference. My first festival job was with the Manchester Jazz Festival, which was perfect for me because I love music – I played the piano, violin and guitar when I was younger, now I’m learning the cello.

There are a lot of different festivals – it could be about sport, food, theatre, film – it can also be a bit of everything at once. The best way to get experience and see if you like it is to volunteer for a festival: it’s fun, you’ll meet lots of people and you’ll get to see how it works from the inside.

What are the best things about being a Festival & Arts Coordinator?

  • It’s fun – I meet lots of people, I listen to a lot of live music, sometimes I also get travel to other festivals.
  • It’s very varied – one day I could be choosing the image for the brochure cover, another day visiting a venue with an artist to check that their band will fit on the stage, or training a team of volunteers.
  • It makes people happy – that’s really the best part of the job and it’s worth all the hard work.

What did you like at primary school that led to you becoming a Festival & Arts Coordinator?

Every year my primary school would put on a School Fair, a whole day of games, food, music to celebrate the end of the year. The children worked all year on a performance for the Fair – it could be theatre, dance or singing… I really loved the whole day – all the parents and children would be there, and older children who used to be at my school would come back just for that day because it was so much fun. I loved that we prepared for it all year – the children doing a show, the parents preparing food to sell at the stalls or making up games, like sack race, egg in spoon race, coconut shy … and then on the day everything and everyone would come together.

 

(image: Josef Franz, from an exhibition I saw recently at MAK Vienna)

Take the Money and Run?

The Long Read

I discovered Platform’s work a few months ago at an early morning What Next? meeting, where Jane Trowell came to talk about the ethical fundraising policies they develop with arts organisations. So when I found out about the day-long event they were organising with Artsadmin – in partnership with Live Arts Development Agency and Home Live Arts, as part of a joint Catalyst project (Arts Council England’s programme for increasing fundraising capacity) I signed up straight away.

The room was packed with artists, arts professionals and activists eager to find answers to pressing questions: if we take ‘dirty’ money, stained with environmental or human rights abuse, are we complicit? Can you – should you – bite the hand that feeds you? Do you best change a system you disagree with from within, or by refusing to participate and using boycott tactics? What can be done, collectively, to secure the future of the arts?

By a nice stroke of calendar luck, the event was taking place only a few days after the long-awaited announcement of BP’s actual amount of cash sponsorship to the Tate – somewhere between £150,000 and £330,000 a year, which represents 0.5 to 1% of the gallery group’s total operating budget, and makes the heavy-handed use of BP’s logo and naming rights (“BP Walk Through British Art”…) seem grossly disproportionate. The revelation is timely, as BP’s current multi-year commitment to four large institutions (Tate, National Gallery, Royal Opera House and British Museum) is coming to an end in 2016, when it will be reconsidered. Without the facts, these institutions’ stakeholders – audience members, artists, staff, suppliers… – can’t weigh in to influence the negotiations. With these figures in hand, it becomes possible to have a debate about notions of public good, artistic integrity and corporate image.

Tate-BP-sponsorship-comparison

BP’s sponsorship in comparison to Tate’s other sources of revenue (source: Platform)

Platform and other activist groups such as “creative disobedience network” Liberate Tate have been campaigning for the past 3 years for this disclosure: a protracted process of filing Freedom of Information requests and battling on legal ground.

As a result, the Tate was forced to un-redact the minutes of its Ethic Committee that they had up to then chosen to black out. These show that the Committee expressed doubt regarding the balance between the money received and the potential damage to the Tate’s image, as well as its social and environmental responsibility as a public institution – and even if their final ‘executive’ decision was that this reputational risk was not yet outweighing the economic benefit, the doubt is still there.

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Extract from minutes of Tate’s Ethics Committee which scrutinised BP’s sponsorship in 2010 (source: Platform)

It’s thus with a positive spirit of achievement through collective action that the conference opened. Hosted in Toynbee Studios’ Art Deco theatre, it was a long but well structured series of short presentations by artists, producers, activists and academics, followed by panel discussions that cleverly included the audience as valued commenters themselves instead of requiring them to ask questions to the ‘experts’ on stage. The event was filmed, so I won’t attempt to give a linear narrative of the proceedings, but rather share a few of the great resources and ideas that I gained from that day.

Take the Money and Run: the Study Guide

As mentioned in a previous postTake the Money and Run? is a study guide based on 9 key texts that aims at providing readers with a set of critical tools, case studies and references to help arts organisations and artists take an informed position on their financial model. Texts include (hyperlinks are to publisher’s website or to PDF/online version whenever available):

1. Art for All: Their Policies and Our Culture (eds Mary Warnock and Marck Wallinger, 2000)
2. The Arm’s Length Principle and the Arts: An International Perspective – Past, Present and Future (Harry Hillman-Chartrand and Claire McCaughey, 1989) (online)
3. Using Art to Render Authenticity in Business (an Arts & Business publication, 2009) (pdf)
4. Free Exchange (Hans Haacke and Pierre Bourdieu, 1995) (pdf)
5. Privatisating Culture: Corporate Art Intervention since the 1990s (Chin-Tao Wu, 2003)
6. Changing the Performance: A Companion Guide to Arts, Business and Civic Engagement (Julia Rowntree, 2006)
7. Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil (Platform, Liberate Tate and Art Not Oil, 2011) (online / pdf)
8. When Attitudes Become Form, Philipp Morris Becomes Sponsor: Arts Sponsorship in Europe against the background of development in America (Hubertus Butin, 2000) (online article)
9. Culture Incorporated: Museums, Artists and Corporate Sponsorships (Mark Rectanus, 2002)

 

Further Reading

Here are a few links to some of the books, reports and articles that got mentioned throughout the day to dig deeper into the thorny issue of art & money.

 

Picture This – A Portrait of 25 years of BP sponsorship (Platform, June 2014)

A report by Platform outlining 25 of BP’s “major environmental catastrophes, human rights violations, and backroom deals” – one for every year of the BP-National Portrait Gallery sponsorship deal – and featuring “an analysis on the role of art in society in relation to ethics and sponsorship.”

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Who funds the arts and why we should care (Rachel Spence, September 2014)

Rachel Spence – the Financial Times’ art critic – argued in a recent article that the lack of transparency in funding sources for large museums and biennials compromises the curatorial integrity and the credibility of public institutions. This article inspired an upcoming debate (closed to the public) organised by the Biennial Foundation – the worldwide network of art biennials – exploring “what effects financial resources have on supposedly independent curatorial and artistic narratives of major cultural events”.

A protest over Sydney Biennale’s sponsorship by Transfield, which runs immigration detention camps - (c) Amy Scaife/Van Thanh Rudd

A protest over Sydney Biennale’s sponsorship by Transfield, which runs immigration detention camps – (c) Amy Scaife/Van Thanh Rudd

Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts (Mel Evans, available April 2015)

Here’s a cheery introduction to Artwash by Mel Evans herself:

And the blurb from the publisher’s website:

As major oil companies face continual public backlash, many have found it helpful to engage in “art washing”—donating large sums to cultural institutions to shore up their good name. But what effect does this influx of oil money have on these institutions? Artwash explores the relationship between funding and the production of the arts, with particular focus on the role of big oil companies such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.

Reflecting on the role and function of art galleries, Artwash considers how the association with oil money might impede these institutions in their cultural endeavors. Outside the gallery space, Mel Evans examines how corporate sponsorship of the arts can obscure the strategies of corporate executives to maintain brand identity and promote their public image through cultural philanthropy. Ultimately, Evans sounds a note of hope, presenting ways artists themselves have challenged the ethics of contemporary art galleries and examining how cultural institutions might change.

artwash big oil

Changing the Performance: A Companion Guide to Arts, Business and Civic Engagement (Julia Rowntree, 2006)

Julia Rowntree, former Development Director at LIFT, retraces20-odd years of action-research into the relationship between art, industry and society based on her fundraising experience at LIFT.

From the introduction:

“… the arts fundraising process is not just about raising money but also plays a vital role in social adaptation and resilience. This is because it can open up channels of communication, human connection, reflection and critique across conventional boundaries of power, expertise, culture and generation… The aim is to deepen self-understanding in the world of the arts as well as in comerce and communities. It seeks a three-way flow of inspiration, learning and public collaboration.”

changing the performance

Fair Play – Art, Performance and Neoliberalism (Jen Harvie, 2013)

A book by Jen Harvie (professor at Queen Mary University of London) exploring the “quality of participation in contemporary art and performance”.

From the publisher’s website:

What is the quality of participation in contemporary art and performance? Is it damaged by cultural policies introduced since the 1997 election of New Labour – and especially since the 2008 recession – which have ‘entrepreneurialized’ artists, cut arts funding and cultivated corporate philanthropy and the ‘creative industries’? Might it contribute to urban gentrification, particularly in London? Has its democratic potential been at all fortified by artists’ innovations in crowdfunding, pop-ups, networking, installation art and immersive theatre; their engagements with ideas of home and folk culture; and their practices of labour and craftsmanship? How can it enhance understanding of relationships between the individual and the group? How can it improve social welfare and nurture social life?

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The First White Paper for Culture (1965)

The very first White Paper for Culture, written by then-Minister of State for the Arts Jennie Lee, was published half a century ago this year. There seems to be no online version of this document, so I’ve copied extracts featured in Art for All? Their Policy and our Culture (a collection of over 60 texts and artworks ranging from political, philosophical and analytical texts, fiction, verse and images, edited by Mark Wallinger & Mary Warnock, featured on the Take the Money and Run? reading list).

Unsurprisingly but rather depressingly, all the issues we discuss today – State censorship, geographical balance of funding, arts education and democratisation of access, artists’ fair remuneration… – were already identified 50 years ago.

  • §1 The relationship between artist and State in a modern democratic community is not easily defined. No-one would wish State patronage to dictate taste or in any way restrict the liberty of even the most unorthodox and experimental of artists.
  • §2 But if a high level of artistic achievement is to be sustained and the best in the arts made more widely available, more generous and discriminating help is urgently needed, locally, regionally and nationally.
  • §10 If a sane balance of population between north and south, east and west, is to be achieved, this kind of development (regional and local facilities) is just as essential as any movement of industry or provision of public utility service. If the eager and gifted, to whom we must look for leadership in every field, are to feel as much at home in the north and west as in and near London, each region will require high points of artistic excellence.
  • §13 The financial difficulties that so many of today’s artists have to contend with must also be realistically examined.
  • §14 In any civilised community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be regarded as something remote from everyday life. The promotion and appreciation of high standards in architecture, in industrial design, in town planning and the preservation of the beauty of the countryside, are all part of it. Beginning in the schools, and reaching out into every corner of the nation’s life, in city and village, at home, at work, at play, there is an immense amount that could be done to improve the quality of contemporary life.
  • §15 There is no short-term solution for what by its very nature is a long-term problem. This is a field in which, even in the most favourable circumstances, it will never be possible to do as much as we want to do as quickly as we want to do it. But that is no excuse for not doing as much as we can and more than has hitherto been attempted.

 

Participants

Here are a few links to and videos from some of Take the Money and Run? participants.

Liberate Tate

A collective dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding, founded during a Tate workshop in January 2010 on art and activism where Tate curators preventively tried to censor the workshop participants from making interventions against Tate sponsors.

Reclaim Shakespeare Company

Like Liberate Tate, a member of the Art not Oil coalition, formed in response to BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival and the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Reclaim Shakespeare Company  – also known as BP or Not BP? – are staging guerilla intervention on BP-sponsored stages in Stratford-upon-Avon, the West End, and at the British Museum to turn oil sponsorship into a hot topic within the theatre world.

General Ethical Resources

Corporate Watch

A workers’ coop “investigat(ing) the social and environmental impacts of corporations and corporate power”. Corporate Watch provides profiles of large companies and sectors, publishes research on ethics and business and produces reports and investigations available online.

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Ethical Consumer

“The hub of the ethical consumer movement” for the past 20 years, with a mission to “make global business more sustainable through consumer pressure”. Alongside the monthly print magazine, a online guide of 20,000 products powered by a sophisticated search engine assigning priorities based on 5 main criteria (below) that can be further broken down into sub-categories to draw the line even more precisely according to one’s principles (thus highlighting the difficulty of making a choice between all these principles):

  •  Animals
    • Animal Testing
    • Factory Farming
    • Animal Rights & Cruelty
  • Environment
    • Environmental Reporting
    • Nuclear Power
    • Climate Change
    • Pollution & Toxics
    • Habitats & Resources
  • People
    • Human Rights
    • Workers’ Rights
    • Supply Chain Management
    • Irresponsible Marketing
    • Arms & Military Supply
  •  Politics
    • Anti-Social Finance
    • Boycott Calls
    • Genetic Engineering
    • Political Activity
  • Sustainability
    • Company Ethos
    • Product Sustainability (organic, fairtrade, energy efficient, vegan & vegetarian products)

Ethical Consumer ratecard