Extending my leadership

Engage Extend Leadership programme A short while ago, a good friend suggested that we both apply for the Extend leadership course. For a while i had been thinking about investing in my leadership, i had stewed over the options and had begun to consider how i could try to make it happen given child care responsibilities as a single parent.

Looking back at my formal arts training (of recent) it had become something of a short story. Not too surprising really. Maintaining a small youth arts led organisation within a local authority is no easy feat. Maintaining a small youth arts led organisation outside of a local authority is no easy feat. However, both feature a number of constraints and challenges which can limit and hinder personal growth.

Of course, you should never take for granted the role of informal learning. For me i have experienced a rich plethora of learning from young people, artists, local authority art leads and community partners which has sustained me and kept me going for all of this time. But i am ever mindful that my own learning desires have fallen short and i have not had time/made time to invest in my own artistic development.

I have allowed it to take a very comfortable back seat while i draw attention to the work of others. It would appear that i am more comfortable to draw attention to others and yet i have over the years yearned for more personal creativity and spotlight. Gulp.

So, in June 2018 i stepped into the arms of the Extend Leadership course. I attended our first residential in Leeds in June. I will take part in a group enquiry with four other people as well as my own personal one to one mentoring.

It is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster. An exciting one.


Safe guarding in arts practice


14732397_10153911973285868_3067742739219293573_nWe are seeing daily articles and updates focusing on Harvey Weinstein, Terry Richardson and more recently Kevin Spacey to name a few. High profile arts professionals operating in plain sight. Plain sight. The power and control of individuals coupled with an industry in pursuit of richer arts and culture experiences at the expense of many. Some of you will have read articles about Max-Stafford- Clark http://www.danrebellato.co.uk/spilledink/2017/10/21/max-stafford-clark

American Film director Victor Salva is a convicted Paedophile who continues to work with children and young people. He continues to work in film, receive finance and promotion. Roman Polanski famously fled America after admitting child rape, yet continues to make and produce films with a host of adoring stars. We now know that Harvey Weinstein operated in plain sight. Woody Allen has been accused of sexual abuse by his daughter, yet this goes unchallenged and he continues to work in the film industry.

So, how can we be sure that we are operating in a healthy work environment with so many disclosures of historic abuse occuring within arts and culture ? Do we all feel confident to challenge a lead artist, or support staff, or producer or commissioner if we see something that we feel uncomfortable about? Can you say that you would challenge inappropriate behaviour? Can you say that when you plan projects, events, performances that safeguarding is at the top of your planning?

It should be but is it…?

If we consider safeguarding issues for children and young people for a minute, whereby mulit agency safeguarding hubs in local authorities are designed for ANYONE to call if they have a concern about a child or young person. Safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility. It is not just for the youth worker, the school setting staff or the contractor that has commissioned the artist- it includes the artist.

All arts organisations and individual artists who work directly with children and young people, or who are involved in providing services for them, have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people.

Over my career i have seen and witnessed practice that i have had to challenge or to question and at times report. No doubt the first time that you do challenge a person or a practice, it can be uncomfortable and scary but it is vital and your concerns could very well add important elements to a jigsaw about someones practice.

It is high time we all take a health check about our practice in socially engaged arts practice, our own personal safeguarding policies, our own pursuit for great arts and culture. Check in. Don’t leave it to someone else to report.



A case for the arts

I recently found myself reading MORE articles about the value of the arts in education and wellbeing. The Education Endowment Foundation (EFF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) have recently announced five trials to test the impact of different “cultural learning strategies” as part of the ‘Learning about culture’ programme, which is will be rolled out to 9,000 pupils across 400 primary schools from September next year.

Really? Do we really need more evidence to prove the value of the arts? Its more than a little exasperating to see yet more studies and trials to demonstrate the value of the arts in education, health and wellbeing. If we are to repeat this process, surely much longer term studies are required. And what of the results? How are we to fund more of this if the studies prove successful? More lobbying?

What I find concerning is that yet again, the arts are not considered as valuable as “core” subjects and are subject to endless scrutiny and challenge. Time to give the arts centre stage, a level playing field alongside core subjects. We don’t see the same level of scrutiny for other subjects and its frustrating. We need more focus to grow engagement, more investment and more value.



Fabric of life- The finale

The Fabric of Life project is a young people’s project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in which the participants have looked at the history of fashion as a form of identity with particular focus on gender and sexuality. Forty five young people from Bradford on Avon, Chippenham, Salisbury and Trowbridge have engaged with the project.

You may have already been following the story of this project, but if not catch up by reading these blogs:

The Fabric of Life blog 1

Fabric of Life blog 2 – One Week, Three Museums!

Fabric of Life blog 3 – The V&A … Three times!

Fabric of Life blog 4- Theatre, Gender and Sexuality

Fabric of Life blog 5 – So Far …

Fabric of Life blog 6 – Summer is over

You are now invited to celebrate the culmination of the Fabric of Life project in Trowbridge on 23 November 2017.

Featuring interactive performances, poetry, a cabinet of curiosities as well as found artefacts and fabric. Involving forgotten histories and imagined stories from the past, the event will be display a series of playful nods to the past and present with an opportunity for visitors to reflect on our changing history.

Come along and join us as we explore the history of fashion as a form of identity, gender and sexuality.

In order to make sure that the event runs smoothly we need to know if you are attending.

Please RSVP to arts@wiltshire.gov.uk  by 16 November 2017

Worry time

Each day after school, my daughter and I sit down for a bit of “worry time” which is fast becoming “talk time”. It is an opportunity for her to share her worries and thoughts about things that she is struggling to shake off.

The idea of worry talk time was recommended by various books; “What to do when Mistakes Make you Quake” by Claire A.B. Freeland and Jacqueline B. Toner and “What to do when you worry Too much” by Dawn Huebner were two of the more recent books that have shaped this idea.

We are making good progress and she seems to be finding new ways to articulate and regulate her fears and manage her worries. We have upped our game in terms of play, arts engagement and exercise. We use a lot storyboarding.

Studies have pointed to the decline in the wellbeing of young people in Britain. An estimated 850,000 children and young people in Britain have mental health problems and related physical health problems.

Over ten years ago, arts on prescription or social prescribing as its often referred to evolved. It was set up whereby health practitioners referred people to a service or a source of support. The idea is to help people in their recovery through creativity as well as increasing social engagement.

Its true that we do need to develop and enhance our conversation about how we invest in the arts for communities and merge our practice to inbed this approach across all ages.

Social prescribing is a great idea and one I really value. The idea of working with health practices to prescribe arts and cultural engagement and enrichment, or libraries on prescription as well as leisure prescriptions. We need more!

For children it should be no different.


Dismantling an arts organisation

For the last couple of months, I have been busy packing things away…

passing on resources, objects and bits of knowledge.

Plenty of tea and coffee has been consumed coupled with various chats and exchanges about past and future plans for us all.

Its been a strange time for me but one I have sought out in the pursuit for change.

I have been managing and directing an arts organisation in Wiltshire since roughly 2009 but yesterday was my last day as we are now closing our doors after 17 years.

So, as the artistic lead I got to close the door, pull the blinds down, delete some files, dispose of our goods, sweep up and turn the lights out.

A strange feeling to say the least.

Long before I took over the reigns, the company was the formed by a group of like-minded people with the ideas and enthusiasm to make a realization come to life. Supported by the Arts Council, Arts service, various enterprising artists and facilitators and the Youth service a new service evolved.

Its focus was to bring socially engaged arts practice to young people, working with and for its community.

In its time, it has seen some amazingly fun and quirky projects, shaped and supported some amazing artists and young people. It has created some diverse and exciting projects. For that I am incredibly proud.

We all are.

Forging partnerships and work in unlikely places has always been my passion. To include everyone. EVERYONE.

To amplify the voices of the least heard has been my motivator.

It should be simple really. Accessible places and spaces, projects, programmes and debates. Enrich and share and show and ensure that you are honest in your weak points and find a way to include everyone.

Do it.

The cultural sector is richer for it.

We need to engage and excite children and young people who wouldn’t dream of being involved with us as artists.

And we did just that, over and over. It was exhausting, tiring and at times I did wonder what on earth we were doing. But we did and it was very good.

It is bittersweet but like any relationship things change. We are in a different time as many of my friends and colleagues shared with me over endless tea and coffee and cake. That is true.

So, here I am braving a new world with exciting plans and exciting ideas and an exciting future.

We did good, we created amazing things and we DID have fun.