All About What Next?

Posted by: Artsadmin on Jul 9, 2013

This is a round up of presentations and discussion from our All About What Next? event held on Monday 8 July at Toynbee Studios.

What Next? aims to articulate and strengthen the role of culture in our society through engagement with policy-making and the public. Below is a brief write-up of what was spoken about and what questions were asked.

Introduction from Artsadmin Director Judith Knight

For me this all began with the forests. You may remember a couple of years ago the Government were threatening to sell of some of the national forests … there was an outcry up and down the country – and the Government did a U-turn. Some of us were thinking, if arts funding was threatened in such a way, would there be a similar outcry? And I think we – sadly – thought the answer was probably no.

There was a sense that for a profession that is all about communication, we were surprisingly bad at communicating the importance of the arts. Then there was a big conference in 2011 at the Young Vic to talk about arts funding – and out of that came the beginning of this What Next? movement...

We’re going to show a couple of films – first of all David Lan’s introduction at the Palace Theatre What Next? conference in April which explains how What Next? began. There were about 600 people there, but they were mostly from organisations, so we thought it would be good to hold this meeting for artists to come to. And then one of the films shown on the conference day by educationalist Ken Robinson. There are other films, and a record of the whole conference, on the What Next? website.

What has been important for me about What Next? so far is:

  • The breadth of arts people involved. From large and small arts organisations, individual artists and companies, across all art forms. The importance of speaking with one voice cannot be underestimated and it’s the first time in my career I’ve experienced such a bringing-together of arts and culture professionals.
  • What Next? has been working with Arts Council England, not against them, and helping make the case (have a look at ACE’s Advocacy toolkit on their website too).
  • It’s about constructive dialogue, pushing out positive stories rather than moaning about state of arts funding.
  • The regularity of meetings has been really important
  • It’s not a short term campaign, but a long term movement
  • It’s as much about reaching audiences and future audiences, as well as MPs and decision makers
  • It’s about values and well-being
  • It’s connecting with people outside the arts community – making unlikely alliances with other movements, policy-makers and local communities.
  • It’s engaging directly with other creative sectors such as the Cultural Learning Alliance
  • It's light touch – it’s not an organisation, anyone can join in
  • I think it has made a real difference already – the recent 5% cut to the ACE budget is not good, but better than we might have expected.

In our typical What Next? meetings we hold at the Young Vic, first we discuss the latest news affecting arts and culture. Then sometimes we invite a ‘speaker’ to talk to us for 15 minutes or so – this speaker could be from other campaigns or movements (eg we’ve had representatives from Save The Children or Stonewall) or politicians or similar. Then we identify tasks to take on for the week ahead.

But this is just an example of how we’ve been doing it. Everyone can do something – we may not all have access to cabinet ministers but we all have audiences, connections with the rest of society, schools, colleges, members of the public, who can all teach us something about how arts and culture is received in wider society, and what we can do to communicate the importance of arts and culture to them.

So far What Next? has been encouraging some simple ideas for how we can get the work of arts and culture out there including:

  • Developing relationships with our MPs. Whether writing to or attending surgeries, and offering those positive stories of arts and culture out there. (You can find a list of all MPs and their constituencies here). And encouraging our audiences to do the same – asking them to help champion arts and culture
  • One way of doing this is by creating unlikely alliances, inviting local teachers, community leaders, voluntary arts groups, etc to our events, to sit on our boards, to be more involved with our work.
  • Sharing the message of What Next? with our audiences and networks. What Next? is creating the What Next? Grid to help with this in the future.

Apart from London there are groups set up in Basingstoke, Cambridge, Midlands, Manchester, Liverpool, Coventry, Cardiff, Sheffield, Southwark, Yorkshire, the North East and the South West – and a Next Generation group. We hope that many more will start to convene. A list of upcoming meetings is at the end of these notes.

But it really needs the voices of artists alongside organisations, and we’re hoping that possible groups will emerge from this meeting (NB, they already have! See below).

David Jubb (BAC) and Erica Bolton (Bolton and Quinn), both from the original London group, were also at the meeting and joined in with responses to some of these questions.

Questions and Comments

What is role of the public?
Ideally we'd love the public to be championing arts and culture as much as we do. In our experience it’s the teacher from the local school, the project participant, the public people involved that articulate most effectively what the arts mean to them.

The Young Vic meeting is always on a Wednesday at 8.30am, which doesn’t suit my hours. What should I do?
The Young Vic group is just one group of many, and there are many more all over the country that meet at different times and with different sorts of regularity. It may be that you’d like to set up your own group at a time that works for you. We’ve found that having regular meetings is really important, rather than just meeting at a crisis point, but that could mean once a week, fortnight or month for example. A list of upcoming meetings can be found below.

How do these groups then communicate with each other?
We’re still working out the best way of getting all of the different groups to communicate with each other. At the moment everything is sent to two part-timers who try to disseminate that information back out again, but there’s no official set-up in place. It’s something we need to get sorted. A What Next? get-together where representatives from all the groups can be in attendance is planned for Wednesday 4 September from 11am - 1pm (see below).

Is there a specific timeline for when actions are supposed to happen?
Not really, What Next? aims to be a long-term campaign. We’re hoping that the three calls for action (mentioned above) are simple and effective ideas that artists and organisations can put into place as soon as they’d like to.

Are the different groups different types of people? (E.g. one with arts organisations, one with artists, one with young people, etc)
They don’t need to be and in fact we’d probably encourage a mixture of artists and organisations in any group.

How do I set up a What Next? meeting?
Once you have your group together, designate one representative to get in touch with Hannah Bird or Lizzie Crump, who manage the whole What Next? group. If you would like, members of the core What Next? group have offered to visit one of your first meetings to discuss the movement in more detail, and/ or show how a typical meeting could run.

Is What Next? more heavily weighted towards theatre-makers and organisations?
No there is a real mix of visual arts, theatre, music, voluntary arts, performance and live art, film – it really is the widest group of people involved in arts and culture that we’ve ever seen.

Are there any Arts and Farming groups involved?
Not that we can think of… but there should be!

Is there a way that more regional groups could have access to the latest arts policy arts news that the core Young Vic group have?
We have been talking about ways we can do this. One of the reasons we wanted to hold this meeting is to spread this idea to artists. Other ways in which other groups have kept track of this is on twitter through the #WN2013 hashtag.

How do we get important speakers to come to our more regional groups?
The What next? movement already holds some kudos for inviting politicians and campaigners along. But it’s equally important to be getting local communities and those other unlikely non-arts alliances along. The more we can get positive stories to the electorate, the better – if your local park's group have a great story to share about their involvement with the arts, let’s push that. It’s the kind of thing that would be great to see on the National Lottery programme for example.

But there’s more to the What Next? movement isn’t there? At the heart of it, it’s all about raising the status of art in life.
Exactly.

Upcoming meetings and events

A new Tower Hamlets group was set up following this meeting and are organising a first meeting on 25 July 6-7pm at Toynbee Studios. Contact Jess or Dave for more information.

The next Southwark group meeting is on Thursday 11 July, 8:30am at Vibe Gallery in the Biscuit Factory. Contact Shabnam for more information.

What Next? Next Generation meetings are focused on early-career artists and younger members of the public – the aim is for it to be a cross-arts group that’s less intimidating. The next meeting is at the Roundhouse on Thursday 25 July, 10am. Contact Heather for more information.

Independent Theatre Council (ITC) are potentially organising a big What Next? meeting in Edinburgh in the 3rd week of the festival. More details about this will go up on the What Next? website asap.

All groups will be invited to send representatives to a get-together on Wednesday 4 September (tbc) from 11am - 1pm. More details about this will go up on the What Next? website asap.

Bob and Roberta Smith is organizing the Art Party Conference in Scarborough at the end of September, which certainly connects to the principles and ideas behind What Next?.

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