Anna, Emily, Johnny & Susan, Wakefield, 13 June 2012

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Update from Peckham

I thought I would check in with a post and let you guys know what we have been up to at Peckham Sapce. There is this Review of TRIBE by Sarah Cole whcih opened a few weeks ago. I am also starting proceedings to establish Peckham Space as a charity independent from University of the Arts. I have to do this by the end of July and find funds to cover salaries x 2 that have been cut by UAL. It is really exciting but also a daunting amount of work... I have been thinking a lot about our retreat to Derbyshire and draw a lot of strenght from it, especially around the topic of developing trust in the commissioning process. I have the transcription that I have been meaning to work on since then but just not had the incentive with all this other stuff going on. More soon. . .

Monday, 11 March 2013

drawing ends together

Still confused after all this time...
I realise I have been putting off drawing together the research project, our group project, the things that have happened at AirSpace as a result and the Leadership programme as a whole.
I like things to make sense, and this is not easily or neatly wrapped up. Reading Susan's drawing together process is really helpful, as it doesn't attempt to make it all fit neatly together. There have been a number of  correlatory things going on at once, and so I think I need to treat them like that to understand them.
I think then, my output for this project will be
3 X transcripts with 2 project participants and one lead organiser.
A piece of writing about the questions raised by the group project, and how this lead to an organisational development session with AirSpace and the rewriting of our Mission Statement.
Some collages which relate to evidence of decision making that I will draw out from the transcripts and the writing about the development. Still to do...
Through conversation I realise that in some ways we have come back to the original thoughts: I realised that at the beginning I  wanted to talk about survival. The research undertaken made me look at personal survival in relation to organisational survival, and put those things together.

Thursday, 7 March 2013


A bit of text to accompany the photographs and quotes that I hope gives context to the work.  This is the first of two pieces, the next will attempt to answer my question.

When you ruminate, it means you think deeply about something.  It can also mean to chew the cud, to chat.  Either way, it’s a process not to be rushed.  Through conversations with peers and time to return to previous projects, the Extend leadership programme has been an opportunity to ruminate, in both senses.  Through a group project we discussed our work and asked questions of each other.  The group members encompassed many roles, areas of interest and skill.  We didn’t form a homogenous project; instead we supported each other to pursue our interests.

The questioning process has been particularly useful in reflecting on our participatory work and reflects my overall learning from the course.  Recurring phrases in my notebooks read “ask questions”, “be curious”.  The enquiring, not the answering has been hugely beneficial as a way to open discussion, consider different perspectives and return to overlooked details - often with the outcome of further questions. 

The question I was posed by the group was “how to put art at the centre of access?”  Much of my work is collaborative, bringing artists and participants together around a common point of interest.  It’s a process that values and benefits from the diverse experiences and ideas of everyone involved.  In thinking about my question, I returned to previous conversations I have had with participants and artists.  I found many points of wisdom and insight about the way projects are set up, how people are involved, the attitudes of the artists and what taking part means for people. 

There is not one answer to the question how to put art at the centre of access, but among the wealth of information, there were several points that I find useful to keep in mind.  These are presented here with extracts from the conversations and photographs representing that time shared, ruminating.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Old Man

Spent the weekend at the Edinburgh Printmakers, making the first of my six screenprints resulting from the research.  Great clockwork, physical, logical process, similiar to the darkroom, and very happy with the results...  The image was drawn from my research trip to Orkney/Shetland.  Will be spending a couple of days over the next fortnight producing the remaining five, including the lifecycle...Our proposal can be found by following the same link...

Monday, 11 February 2013

The AirSpace development session

I have written up what happened with my three questions: and how that led me to plan an activity with the other 2 AirSpace directors.
The three questions that I was given were:
Which direction do you want to face?

How do you make the gallery relevant to the community in which its in?

What are the connections between everything that you are doing and how do they work for you?

Originally this was meant to help move on our group project, but has a much greater reach than we thought - something which was quickly realised.
I realised that attempting to answer these questions could help greatly in planning for the coming two years at AirSpace Gallery, and if the questions could be explored with Andy and Glen (co-directors at AirSpace Gallery) we could figure out what each of us wants to do, and build this in. 

What I realised was that though I am a named Director at AirSpace, I am not able to invest as much time as other Directors (as I work 4 days a week - and need time for my own practice as well.) For this reason, I need to make any involvement really work for me. 
I feel that with a small artist led organisation like ours, it is important to keep in mind the individual career aspirations of those involved, and ensure that time give (often voluntarily) has some kind of alternative benefit. For this reason I planned a facilitated activity to work with Andy and Glen, in order to try to understand our individual career aspirations for the next two years, and to look at those alongside our plans for the direction of the gallery for two years, and to see how these relate to each other.
Keeping the original 3 questions very much in mind, the activity was structured like this:
1. Each participant has 5 minutes to write down all the things they do for the gallery.
- then sort into: things you still want to do, things you would like support to do and things you no longer want to do.
Each participant then shares these, and a discussion around identifying gaps, and possible solutions for shifting roles/responsibilities takes place.
 2. Each participant has 3 minutes to note down goals and ambitions for the next 2 years.
3. Each participant has 3 minutes to note down all the things they would like to see the gallery doing over the next two years.
Then participants present their goals and ambitions, and then what they would like to see the gallery doing - and links between own goals and gallery goals are explored as well as links between participants.
(This helps us to understand what informs each of our approaches.) Very helpful! 
4. Participants note down 5 points in relation to what they feel AirSpace is and should be, with a view to write a new/relevant mission statement. These are looked at and discussed, and links/crossovers explored.
5. We discuss the original 3 questions set out at the beginning to see if we have answers yet.
A new mission statement is written in the subsequent weeks, plus a timeplan set out, and an arts council bid completed (almost).
The process was really helpful, and actually showed each of us what our individual approach is to the gallery, what we need at this point in time, and what we can offer.
We have a board meeting next week (for our newly structured board) and we can present what we did, and how it has been developmental for us.
And Yes we have written a new mission statement: Here is the old one:

AirSpace Gallery aims  to be the centre for the Visual Arts in Stoke-on-Trent and the region, providing gallery, studio, educational and meeting spaces.
And the new one:
AirSpace is a collaborative, artist led project in Stoke-on-Trent, providing professional development opportunities, studio and exhibiting space and support for artists. Through a dynamic programme of exhibitions, events and activities AirSpace gallery brings critical, high quality conceptual art to the region.
(Though we are just living with it for a few days before the board meeting and might change it.)

image + text

Its universal and that makes it interesting for me; I don’t want to be an intellectual ingrown toe nail. For me, I’ve had worthwhile, interesting, engaging experiences that have made me stop and think. It has made me contribute thoughtfully. The key learning things came from the fact that we were focussed and there to make a contribution. As soon as you give purpose it tweaks your interest.
It’s not only stimulating; it’s satisfying its both. It keeps you intellectually engaged and it gives you a sense of wanting more.

One of the important parts of the project has been the involvement, that’s very important.  When its relaxed like that, people are not intimidated from putting forward.  It was the listening that was afforded everyone that I got a lot out of.  To me it was what the various people came back with that was important, some of the things were surprising, gave things that hadn’t occurred to me.  I enjoyed it. 

The listening, not just my listening, listening, was important to the whole thing.  We had to listen to one another, we learnt from one another and that opened doors.  It wasn’t idly sitting and taking in but it was being involved.

I came on board with an approach relating to my own practise....those ideas were blown out of the water in the consultation process.  Artlink’s process leaves time and space for you to be reflective and actually respond to workshops.  It means you can have a genuine collaboration and you can end up making an object which feels quite removed from my practice.  In many ways I’m surprised about what’s been made, that’s really exciting for me.  

 In the workshops it was my aim to involve everyone, yes to bring my expertise but to involve everyone so I can learn from them as well.  What’s interesting is the difference in response, that’s where I learn and everyone in the group learns from it.  

When having to complete a creative task set for you by someone else perhaps it is best to be taken by surprise. The organisation Artlink is very good at producing ‘Oh!’ and ‘Ah!’ moments. I have had many over my time as a volunteer. As it brings together diverse collections of people and places to find creative ways for individuals to be involved in their communities, Artlink seems to value the generative, restorative element of surprise.

Friday, 8 February 2013

six questions

 An interesting catch up on Skype for us - I had hoped that the presentation in Leeds would solidfy whst we are doing but unfortunately seems to have dislodged things a bit... In terms of our conversation we discussed publishing online rather than in a publication - better reach and potentially more useful.  We also discussed the possibility of an event as a manifestation - something I hadn't thought of...  It would be interesting but I feel that we need to put a line in the sand, a marker down here, ...  (and then have the possibility of an event)  otherwise things can rumble on...

It seems to me that our six questions are key again - maybe these should be the answerables that we build our manifestation on...  I certainly feel that me and Susan's work try to answer ours - Emily and Anna are less fixed on their outcome at the moment - is it helpful to try to answer your question/s guys?

By having the questions on the homepage, these could introduce  our research for the viewer, aiding their navigation- we could then introduce a bit of context as to why we wish to answer this question... I think this could work...

How do you make the gallery relevant to the community in which its in?

How to build trust into the commissioning process?

What are the connections between what you are doing and how do they work for you?

How to put art in the centre rather than access?

Which direction do you want to face?

How to build a structure that has room for change or  failure?

Mix Tape

We are thinking about a manifestation in the form of a website mix tape: Emily's image of Mixtape from our presentation above.
We just agreed in our skype meeting to share other sites we like for different reasons.
I like as I like how it's quite random.
I really like the Miranda July website because I love the first page.
I quite like the idea of it being a repository for all things participation, but realise that might be too unmanageable, and our conversations seem to suggest it is purely a repository for the content we already have. I will have a think about others that might be good to look at.


What became clear to me through doing our presentation was a need for me to try to draw together the research activity that I engaged in, and the practical changes that have been happening at AirSpace, in relation to the learning from our group project.
Johnny, you have mentioned a few times that the research transcripts may not be where it's at, but for some reason I am still really keen to see them finished, and to write up a paper or something on them.
I do see what you mean though, and in relation to the Common Practice text (thanks for that by the way - still reading it) It would be a good idea to try to think about AirSpace and its value as a small arts organisation, and in particular in relation to the cuts. This idea of needing to adapt to become either more corporate or more philanthropic definitely seems to need to be looked at in more detail. I think we have recognised that we need to almost become more strategically self-serving, which seems the opposite of philanthropy, in order to ensure sustainability (of our own interest in giving so much to the project, without monetary reward.) Maybe this could be an angle for me to look at.
I am trying to pull things together, and think about what to do with the content gathered. I am hoping the conversation we have this afternoon might help with that.
In the mean time, I have added our 4 leadership badges to my collection of small things.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

AJE old process

So back from the second residential in Leeds -

.... a very different affair from Wakefield...

Unfortunately Susan couldn't be with us, so SAJE  became three (AJE), with susan voice in attendence via Anna... reactions? All fine, although more critical feedback would be good.  Next step is to review what the mixtape is and how we distribute it.  I was very aware when we were presenting that this wasn't the format it was intended to be viewed in - somehow, in a presentation, it becomes too reduced, no rhythym, too regularr and too reductive...  The joys of a mixtape were always the unexpected, so lets think of:

  • rhythym and pace, 
  • editing (smooth or jarring)
  • volume (shouting or whispering) 
  • placement/distance (close or far)
  • level of completion or production: rough cut or polished
  • Clarity or distortion
  • and of course visual appearance - looking, reading, squinting, remembering, interpreting, translating
Anna - was forwarded this paper today, Value, Measure, Sustainability: Ideas Towards the Future of the Small-Scale Visual Arts Sector,  from Common Practice which I read and which i think will be of particualr relevance to you: (auld Emily was at the symposium which generated the publication) The publication looks at generating "ideas towards the future of the small scale visual arts sector", in relation to sustainability.  Overall a good document, which first problematises the 'ecology' model - i.e. that the fittest will survive, which of course favours those who are more able to survive (which i think and have formulated as being more akin to the 'Cultural Greenhouse' model - who gets brought in over winter...) but also that small orgs function is to serve large orgs... (the hierarchical ladder model)...

Worth a read - although one thing that seems missing to me is any investigation of where the resources come from, and what the money is intended to do...  If space in the symposium/publication was devoted to why we should fund public art in the first place - then maybe we could see how small arts orgs specifically particular serve that goal, which might be one approach within what is referred to as collective strategies...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

thoughts on leadership

My work always starts from the interests, ideas, needs of project participants.  I usually try to work co-operatively, bringing everyone into the decision making, taking all contributions into account.  My thinking was that if I worked hierarchically, participants wouldn’t have a sense of ownership of the project.  What often happened though was a lack of direction.
Over the past six months, I have reflected on what was successful and unsuccessful, had discussions with participants from past projects and as a result planned a new programme of participatory projects.  I held focus groups to share the ideas and approach for this new programme.  By doing this as presentations, I turned around my usual approach.  Through this I found hierarchical and co-operative are not opposite approaches; presenting a clear idea then enables people to choose to get involved so at times working hierarchically may support co-operation at other stages.

Through this process, I have now written a three year plan with a clear vision and rationale.  I plan to use this to encourage further participation in projects with people with disabilities, artists and arts organisations.  From the Cultural Leadership Reader, the article that resonated most with me was about Connective Leaders: building “a sense of purpose across organisational boundaries, perceived connections between diverse people, ideas and institutions.”

I feel my role as a leader is to articulate a sense of purpose, I would also add to the idea that it’s important to build in check points to ensure the purpose is mutually held; that it reflects the interests off all involved.  Articulating a broad purpose is not the same as controlling all details, the broadness can allows for contributions, for their to be changes and areas of uncertainty.  I have been using the Disney model to separate planning; the vision, planning and evaluation; and found this useful for me and also for participants to know what is being asked.  During a focus group, one participant made a comment, which reassured me about my approach:

“Having a destination creates an archway to look through but as with all creative processes you don’t know how to get there, discussion shapes it.  Being involved in the process with the artist gives a sense of ownership and pride; you feel you’ve created it together.”

I also realised that I’m often trying to fix things when actually the work can set up situations that hint at alternatives without providing solutions.  Reflecting on past projects, I found that work successfully improved access for disabled people, not when advocating for specific changes but when projects brought people together.  This provided opportunities to share and discuss new experiences. 

Part of my leadership is my conviction that art releases the imagination; helps us consider alternative perspectives.  What those will be and what will happen next, you can’t know so you set up contexts and let things happen.  I don’t need to fix, control, document, but briefly bring people together in specific contexts and enjoy the surprises. 

Working on the group project has been really useful to share our practise and ask questions of each other.  Again, it’s not about fixing, or advising, it’s been about supporting each other to reflect and come to new understandings.  I’ve learnt this is a really valuable process and hope there are ways to continue beyond this project.  There has been a lot of sensibility; we made a plan but treated it flexibly by checking what we each needed at the time.  Reflection was aided by the context we had chosen, a wood burning stove, big pots of soup and country walks. 

The question I was asked was “How to put art at the centre rather than access?”  In response I’ve written a short statement that I hope succinctly explains my approach.  As this approach includes working closely with participants, I’ve also collected and presented quotes about experiences.  The statement and reflections on projects have informed a project blog which presents the new programme and an archive of previous work.

A question I asked Anna was, “What are the connections between all the things you do – and how do you make them work for you?”  I realised that the question I asked was relevant to me as I’ve stopped drawing which used to be really important for me.  I’m now using the project to motivate me to pick this up again as a reflective tool.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


Having agreed to make a badge for each of us which will underline the part of the presentation where we draw out relevant learning for the wider group we have each chosen a slogan to represent one aspect of our learning.
When it gets to the bit where we share that, we will offer the other groups a chance to select one of our badges, which hopefully will get them thinking about the relevance of our learning to their own experiences on the programme.
Susan's badge says Expert in...and people can add their own text. and comes from Acknowledge and use the expertise of everyone in the room, including yourself.
Emily's says Leadership is responsive and came from understanding about confidence in flexibility.

 Johnny's say equality/quality and mine says 'don' mind the gap - and comes from a realisation through involvment with the course that the job of the leader is not to always fill gaps, but might just be to recognise them.