Running on Trust


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.  

Where Culture Meets Commerce

The Long Read

2014 will be Year of Creativity in the UK, or at least that’s what the launch party was called – celebrating a brand new website all about the creative industries, produced by the Creative Industries Council, a policy advisory group providing a “joint forum between the creative industries and government”.

19 organisations – official government bodies, like Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and a host of professional industry representatives, such as the British Fashion Council or the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising – came together to make the case for creativity. Full of facts and figures, case studies and resources, the website is designed as a “single overview and destination guide to the UK’s unique creative landscape” for an “international trade audience”. It’s part of the Britain is GREAT campaign – a government initiative to “welcome the world to visit, study and do business with the UK”.

The website is showcasing the UK as the place “where culture meets commerce” and the British creative industries as a great choice for discerning investors; every industry represented gets a micro-site with facts and figures and lists of reasons to choose British. It’s also a source of information on funding and financing for creative industries professionals, via a link to the Creative Finance Network. For both audiences, a calendar gathers all significant trade and industry events, from the London Art Fair to the London Fashion Week, the British Craft Trade Fair and Liverpool Sound City.

It also features a series of video interviews with UK Trade & Investment Commercial Officers based around the world, from Russia to Brazil, India, Japan and the UAE. Here’s the French representative, talking about how the UK creative industries are perceived across the Channel, pondering about the areas of creative growth in France (“it’s a bit difficult at the moment”) and attempting to describe her own culture in 3 words.

Industries represented include:

  • Advertising
  • Architecture
  • Arts & Culture
  • Craft
  • Design
  • Fashion
  • Games
  • Music
  • Publishing
  • TV & Film

Each industry gets their own ‘5 reasons’ to convince investors to choose the UK to fulfill their creative needs, and Arts & Culture’s bankable features include: – International collaborations, with a nod to “the UK’s history as a global trading nation and its use of cultural diplomacy” (such as the World Collections programme or the Royal Opera House working with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, the National Performing Arts Centre in Mumbai and the Royal Opera House Muscat, Oman to offer tours, broadcasts, cinema screenings and training programmes); – Professionalism, integrity and originality in the performing arts and music, making the UK a global influencer – here musicals, stand-up comedy and blockbuster exhibitions are quoted as examples of the wide reach and appeal of British productions;

– A strong education system, through conservatoires, performing arts schools and museum curatorial programmes that attract students “from all over the globe” and train the next generation of arts professionals;

Sector-wide partnerships, through networks and umbrella organisations that foster regional, national and international collaborations;

– And an entrepreneurial mindset, with 88% of people in the performing arts sector, for instance, working in companies of five or fewer people, including for themselves – higher than the UK average of 76% (although I’m not sure that this is necessarily a good thing). The Clore Leadership Programme also gets a mention for offering a range of fellowships, short courses and workshops aimed at developing leadership and business skills across the sector.

The facts and figures – rather London-centric and largely drawn from recent Arts Council research documents such as The Contribution of the Arts and Culture to the National Economy, published in May 2013, and the Advocacy Toolkit, summarised here on Arts of Festivals – serve the economic purposes of the campaign, showcasing a strong a confident arts & culture sector that can export productions and artists and attracts students and tourists, and the notion of cultural diplomacy is pervasive throughout – the British Council is a core institutional partner – but there is yet another aspect of the campaign that transpires in the case studies: bringing home international talent to contribute to the vitality of the British scene.

Two out of four of the case studies feature international artists who are currently working in the UK through the new Visa Tier 1, open to artists with “exceptional talent”. Arts Council England has been appointed to assess the applications for the first-year pilot scheme and has produced a video about the process (with Canadian circus artist Hugo Desmarais and Turkish author Elif Shafak, featured in the case studies, and Ugandan singer-songwriter Sarah Ndagire):