On 7th September 2016, I was delighted to be invited by visual artist Rabab Ghazoul to present a Pecha Kucha style talk at the Cardiff With Culture symposium at G39. It was an amazing day of sharing and connecting. I’m still feeling the resonance of the space and look forward to seeing all the beautiful people involved again very soon.
Here’s the talk…
In May this year, I went to lecture about sharing cities. There I happened upon Mark Hooper, founder of Indycube, and we got talking. Then we started a conversation and invited others to join in. We are allowing something to grow in its own way. We are calling it Cardiff Coalition. We see that coming together to have conversations is worthwhile, and fun. As things progress, we are meeting new people. We are connecting.
During the Cardiff Without Culture campaign we identified a challenge, galvanized, mobilised, organized using online tools, came together, became visible, and we created change. It showed that it is possible to affect change from the grassroots. The internet played an important role in the campaign.
And now, we are together, in this room, with each other.
The thing for me that feels urgent is to find a way to address our current challenge to sustain a thriving arts and cultural sector in our city in an age of austerity
How can we create sustainable organisations and enterprises that do not rely on grant funding and which are built on and encourage values that are good for people and the environment?
One way of understanding our current reality is that we apply for funds to carry out our work. We are constrained by our funders and one of our key drivers is the need to survive.
We also facilitate all the benefits of arts and culture to society through this work, but often it comes back to our need to pay the bills.
Now, think for a moment what we would do if we didn’t have to generate an income for ourselves? What if our basic needs were covered, what would we do then?
It’s come out of the experience I’ve had over the past few days whilst I have been in Ukraine learning to facilitate the British Council’s Active Citizens programme and from conversations with Mark, and with the other people I have met in recent months through Cardiff Coalition.
Here’s the idea….
What if you had enough money to live comfortably, what would you do? How would your projects and endeavours be different?
What if we got together to explore our answers to these questions (call it our vision perhaps), and worked out what our first tentative steps towards this might be…Could this be a way to work out how to be sustainable?
To explore how we might create a sustainable future for arts and culture in the city, my feeling is that we should be asking ourselves how we can do things differently.
We need to be asking how everyone can be involved in this innovation, addressing issues of access and inclusion. We must remember who all our online organising excludes. We need to be finding ways to communicate beyond our echo chambers. We need to listen.
We need embodied thinking, we need to grow the possibilities in our bellies. We need to learn to be flexible through movement.
We need to reawaken the creative spark inside all of us, because to be ready to build a sustainable future, we need to be well, we need to take care of ourselves and others, we’re aware of the link between creativity and wellbeing, let’s harness that.
To be well we need to be connected. To be connected we can harness the power of the internet, which is an effective tool for bringing us together.
We need to get to know each other. To get to know each other we need activities to do together to build community, to grow and solidify that which bonds us, our social capital.
Here’s the caveat – our current model of leadership is not fit for purpose, one person with a vision charging ahead into the future hasn’t served us so well.
We are living with complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability, we need to reassess what it means to be a leader and we need to find ways to work in a world that’s constantly changing.
It’s about how we negotiate our way through the challenges we face, how we look for leverage points and how we learn to be emergent leaders. It’s about learning to be flexible and learning to be present with what is, it’s about awareness.
Imagine a river. Your challenge is to use a boat travel as a group from the mountains, down to the sea. Now, you could all get in the boat and get in the middle of the river and paddle with all your energy, ploughing a straight course through.
You’re going to run out of steam pretty quickly. You’re not going to be taking account of the conditions, the weather, the ecosystem, the needs of the people in the boat. It’s going to be hard, there will be conflict and you’ll likely capsize.
You notice that on some days the water runs smooth. When you drop a branch in you see the currents. You feel the wind, and acknowledge the trees, mountains and wildlife. You work together and you feel solidarity. After plenty of time watching, observing and learning, you all tentatively get in your boat.
You feel the weight of your bodies and feel the movement of the water. You let the current take you. The wind picks up and moves you to the edge, so you use a little energy to correct your path. As you move along the river the conditions change, you paddle fast, you paddle slow. You rest. You use oars to push away from the banks and you hold tight and support each other in the rapids. You listen to each other’s ideas, all voices are valued, no one voice is louder.
The journey is different because you have spent time being aware of what is happening, making small interventions when necessary, trying lots of things to see how they work and you have done it together.
This is how emergent leadership works, it’s about empathy, listening, being flexible and innovating. It’s about being present. This is a story about living with uncertainty, complexity and unpredictability. This is our story.
I’m really interested in learning how we can create a sustainable future for arts and culture in the city because I recognise the value for us as human beings.
But I cannot do it alone.
I can have a crazy idea that if we get together and talk about what we’d do if we didn’t need to worry about our income it could help us create sustainable projects that are good for people and the earth. But, if I have an idea in isolation, it means nothing.
I have learnt from my experience over the past few days and weeks and months that our capacity to create the change we want to see in the world comes from our ability to connect, communicate, collaborate and build community.
We are in it together.
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