PASCO: animating communities through the creative industries (future possibilities)

 The PASCO (Performing Arts Scene in Obrenovac) project has had significant effects on the cultural infrastructure in the Obrenovac municipality since the project started in 2009. Due to generous support both locally, Buskerud County in Norway and the KS funding programme of the Norwegian government, PASCO has had demonstrable economic, cultural and social impact on the region. The Aspire Trust, together with its Serbian and Norwegian partners had a critical role to play and this post discusses what could be provided in the short term in order to maintain the project momentum and continue to build cultural capacity.

There are three important processes we believe could be undertaken to embed the work of PASCO in Obrenovac and further afield:

* Accrediting practitioners as qualified community artists – a process which will give them credibility and visibility nationally and internationally;

* The provision of professional development programmes (both accredited and unaccredited) for teachers who are looking to develop their own skills in the field;

* The development of enterprise and small business start up skills in the region, particularly focused on the development of the cultural sector and creative industries.

Details of these proposals are as follows.

Accredited Courses: Foundation Degree in Community Arts (FDCA)

The FDCA places a significant emphasis on developing collaborative skills in interdisciplinary arts practice through drawing on, extending and focusing professional arts skills and applying them in a range of community contexts.

Designed by Aspire and accredited by the University of Chester in the UK, the course provides the knowledge, understanding and work-related skills required to play active and proactive roles in the community arts industry. Students reflect on their work and develop the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills required to work as arts practitioners and team members.

Modules are offered at either Level 4 within the UK Higher Education Qualification framework and can be offered at two levels (Level A for beginners Level B for those with more experience.)

Module titles at Level 4A include:

Workshop Skills                  Workshops form the foundation of all community arts practice. Gaining an understanding of the different approaches to running workshops, the theories that underpin the workshop process and how they can be applied in different contexts is essential to the work of the community artist.

Creative Process                  Successful community arts projects rely on a finding a concept which can be developed and realised through the integration of a number of art forms. At the core of this process is a creativity that permeates the progress of the project enabling a variety of practitioners and participants to make their contributions.

Research Skills                                    Gaining as detailed a picture of the landscape and environment as possible, both past and present, will provide a firm foundation for community arts projects. Developing and interest in finding out and the skills with which to do it form a significant part of the community arts process.

Project Development                  Like any other activity community arts projects require good management and administration. Clearly defined aims and objectives need to be planned, budgets and timetables identified and information communicated to all those involved in the safe delivery of a programme.

Module titles at Level 4B include:

Workshop Leader                  Practical experience of running workshops for as many different kinds of groups and in as many different situations as possible is the best way to learn how to become a workshop leader. Starting with the aims and objectives of community groups, working to a plan, improvising if circumstances arise, being able to recognise and correct errors are all part of the process.

The Creative Practitioner                  The work of the creative practitioner in the community is to respond to the aims and objectives of that community. Responses could be based on a single art form, but community arts projects that are based on a combination of art forms have more chance of attracting a range of people to participate, and therefore have a greater likelihood of being inclusive.

The Researcher                   Community Arts work is being practiced by individuals and organisations locally, regionally and nationally. A starting point for both finding employment and creating work has to be a sound knowledge and understanding of what work has happened recently and is happening at the moment.

Further details are available upon request.

The MPPACT Programme: Methodology for Pupil and Performing Arts Centred Teaching 

The involvement of teachers from Obrenovac in PASCO has been another essential element in the project’s success: we would suggest that should other municipalities develop their own PASCO type programme, that accredited CPD programmes for teachers could be established early on in the process.

Aspire  together with a number of other European partners have designed and delivered  the MPPACT project: the Methodology for Pupil and Performing Arts Centred Teaching  Project.   MPPACT was designed and developed by a range of experienced educational partners from around Europe and co-ordinated in the UK by the University of Winchester.  Other project partners were: VIA University College, Viborg, Denmark:  the European Performers House, Silkeborg, Denmark; the Hellenic Theatre / Drama & Education Network, Athens, Greece; the Directorate Of Secondary Education Of Eastern Attica, Greece; the University Of Peloponnese, Greece and  the University of Cyprus.

The purpose of the programme is to foster new teaching practices that engages with contemporary social realities and their reflection in the classroom, and recognises a new broader role for the teacher as pedagogue and works from pupils own creativity, imaginations and criticality.

It does this through the application of arts based disciplines which can develop new means of learning for children and adults, can provide new forms of knowledge and can be instrumental in catalysing personal and social transformation. The emphasis of the programme is on the creativity, imagination, resourcefulness and inspiration that teachers bring to their classrooms and how this can be enhanced, developed and celebrated.

MPPACT’s objectives are:

1. To evolve an integrated arts-based approach to teaching through the sharing of disciplines;

2. To foster educators abilities to revive pupil’s motivation to learn, using participatory performing arts practices and exploring young people’s own creativity and criticality;

3. To develop new practices that foster a ‘co-intentional’ synergy between pupil and teacher;

4. To develop a training course offering an alternative classroom strategy for achieving a critical understanding of relevant social issues;

5. To support and document the process and publish its outputs through web, DVD and printed media.

Further details are available upon request.

Informal Courses

We recognise that full time or long programmes may not be suitable for some artists or teachers so would also recommend providing short, focussed interventions for practitioners as follows:

The Creative Entrepreneur:                  A week long course will provide participants with the skills to become a provider of websites, photographic services, corporate and community video, and graphic design. It will provide the learner with the essential skills they need to successfully create websites for online businesses and develop their abilities as an all round producer of media. During the project, participants will create their own online portfolio for their own website which they can then use to promote themselves and their services. The course consists of the following modules: WordPress and e-commerce; Photoshop Essentials for Graphic Design; Making promotional videos; Photography: product, portraits, websites; Creative Writing.

 Visual Artists in Early Years:                   a 2 day programme which introduces Early Years practitioners to working with visual arts skills in order to develop creative practice of both practitioners and very young children between 3 and 5 years old.

 Rhythm and Things:                   a 2 day programme of training and skills development in singing, musical composition and percussion for Early  Years practitioners; and a parallel 2 day programme of skills and knowledge development for  musicians who wish to work in the Early Years sector, taught by Early Years practitioners.

 Creative Writing in Schools:                   a 4 day programme which develops teacher’s creative writing skills in order for them to develop their own pupils writing abilities.

 Film in a Day:                    a day long programme which introduces learners to the skills of film-making, both in front of and behind the camera.  Each learner ends up with their own copy of their own film at the end of the day!

Cultural Leadership and Enterprise Programme (CLEP)

CLEP would aim to provide knowledge, skills and expertise to new business developers who are working in the field of culture and the creative industries in Obrenovac and the surrounding municipalities in the fields of creative  and cultural leadership and enterprise.

CLEP would provide leaders in the fields of creative industries and culture a programme of activity which will contribute to developing a sustainable cultural and creative sector in the region.  This will include the fields of film, media, theatre, dance, music, visual arts, web design, graphic design etc.

CLEP will be structured around the following programme:

Business Start-Up Weekends – for those who are interested in starting up their businesses but have yet to take the first step

Entrepreneurship Bootcamps – for entrepreneurs who need additional focused advice and guidance on specific entrepreneurial issues

Enterprise Learning Programs – a suite of activities which provide specific skills to business developers who are interested in specific areas of expertise e.g. fund raising, Intellectual property, project management etc

Enterprise Clubs – social events in which members of the PEP network are able to share experiences, expertise, advice and contacts

Mentoring – Building A mentoring Network – for all leaders who want to learn at their own rate and in their own time, e.g. through on-line mentoring services

Sectoral Start-Up – workshops which focus on specific sectors e.g. film, graphic design, theatre

Business Networking & Other Events – opportunities to meet other business leaders from other sectors and other countries to share knowledge, contacts and expertise.

Future posts suggest long term strategies and possibilities.

What did the Romans ever do for us? Why the arts suffer when the Romans leave town

As Molesworth might have said in Down With Skool, ‘any fule kno’ that the impact the Romans have had on us is an unending list of civilising and culture enhancing benefits. Just take our roads as an example: they are long and straight, invariably lead to Rome, connect our major cultural centres, revolutionise industry and business growth and are directly responsible for the Highway Code and Motorway Service Stations.

The Arts, like any industry, have been blessed by the Roman approach to road building: so much so that we now regularly talk about arts and cultural infrastructure as if it were some kind of super cultural highway system.  That infrastructure creates the biggest cultural players, determines how they connect with each other, and sets the rules on who else gets to set out on the nations cultural highways. It has its own version of the Highway Code with qualifications, progression opportunities and rules of engagement to boot.  The concept of cultural infrastructure prioritises the importance of building based arts organisations, encourages the notion of entitlement and allows for small companies to tootle around housing estates like milk floats delivering their culture in bottles to grateful members of the public.

But what happens when the Romans leave town?

We’re seeing the effect of that now in our highways and byways. Roads fall into disrepair. Potholes are rife. Signage points in the wrong direction. We realise we’ve become reliant on a system which cannot do everything it promised to. The centre, as usual, can’t hold and things start to fall apart. 

What we forget in the ever increasing gloom of broken highways and damaged cultural motorway infrastructure, are the byways which existed before the Romans ever trampled over our green and pleasent land.  We used to have green roads, white roads, turnpikes, ridgeways, death roads and all manner of connections which allowed us to connect with differing communities and make sense of the wider world.  This wasn’t about a counter cultural way of getting about – this was a far more complex way of getting about which generated many more views on the cultural landscape than the straight Roman Road would ever have allowed you to do.

With our larger cultural infrastructures such as the Arts Council and the local authorities facing whole sale restructuring, and hugely inflating competition for ever dwindling public resources, the Romans are now leaving town too. The promises of infrastructure – careers, qualifications, shorter journey times are now well and truly found wanting.  Cultural traffic is grid locking in our cities and in our countrysides, there’s too many lorries for not enough country mile and the potholes are earning garages a pretty penny what with the damage to our suspension systems.

Many cultural organisations now can’t rely on the infrastructures of old to do what they need doing. We now need to reinvest ourselves in those highways and byways of old and make new connections on the equivalent of our white roads which don’t rely on the grace, favour and declining ability of the big funders of old to help us plot our way through the current contemporary cultural geography. 

This is much, much more than working in partnership – the tired old dictum of the old infrastructures.  This is about making new cultural spaces and places, new coherent multi-nodal cultural connections which demonstrate how cultural villages can connect, supply each other, develop their own longevity and take some ownership back of their own destiny.

What did the Romans ever do for us?  Too much.  It’s time we started doing it for ourselves.

See also http://landobservations.com/writing/page/2/

Tips for Business Start Ups: 5 ways to act like a partner

There’s been an increase in recent years of large public sector organisations who, in developing all sorts of cultural initiatives from music to leadership to creative learning, identify themselves not only as funders but as partners too.

The notion of quite what they mean by partnership varies wildly from organisation to organisation and sometimes on a day to day basis within the same organisation too. Clearly, as perhaps the main funders of a project they have every right to be concerned and interested in how public funding is used – but this has always been the case with any public sector funder in the past.

No, the difference with these funder-partners is not only that they are concerned that the funding is used appropriately, but they also see themselves as having a hand in the messy business of delivering aforesaid projects. They want to work on both an arms length principle – and also be upto their elbows in the minutiae of delivery, and preferably control that as well as the cash flow, contractual agreements and at what time we take a lunch break.

This may of course be fine if those funder-partners had any skill in the delivery of those projects. But frequently they have been out of the sector for so long they have lost any touch they might have had in the past in delivering those projects. It’s like your great-grandad insisting that he get a stint on the turntables down at the local youth club to show everyone how it’s really done.

But more irritatingly, the funder-partner is less than helpful if they can’t get the basics right of partnership working. This means working within the following guidelines:

1. Liberty. Understanding that partnership works best when partners enter that partnership voluntarily and are not coerced into or into an arrangement that suits one partner better than the other.
2. Communicate. If we agree a communication protocol, then stick to it. Especially when times are getting pressured and deadlines are looming. Don’t pass off your communciation inertia with the excuse that you’re busy. We’re all busy these days, very very busy and your busy-ness is no more important than anyone elses.
3. Take responsibility. Don’t just point accusingly at one partner in the arrangement but share the load and take responsibility for what the partnership has agreed.
4. Respect language differences. Appreciate your way of knowing the world and acting upon it is not the only way of living the good life. Other partners might speak differently, use different metaphors and may not be hide-bound by your language (they’ll be hide bound by their own) – the value of your partnership is in appreciating those differences in language and not just railroading over them.
5. Realise your funding is not the be all and end-all. It’s not just your money that makes you a partner – you have to bring skills, knowledge and wisdom to this process not just a large bank balance. A decent partnership isn’t a forced marriage where you bring your ugly self and explain it away with the large inheritance you’re bringing to justify your place at the table.

All partnerships need the benefit of joint wisdoms and a commitment to talking and respecting each other. The funder-partner who manages to avoid all these guidelines in the name of accountability is nothing more than a control freak.

What does it mean to be European?

We’re here in a restaurant: one German, one Brit, one Rumanian, two Turks, two Hungarians and a Dutchman. Our gestures give us away; the sweep of the hand from the plate to the waitress, the cough, the handshake, the momentary awkwardness which signifies major, troubling difference.

But there’s a generational context to this idea of Europe: the younger ones here are laughing as if nothing were amiss. This is about us, here and now, putting our history behind us and ignoring the coughs and embarrassments of their elders and adopting the easy going nature of a young Hungarian lad whose laughing with a Romanian girl with no more to it than that.

And what binds us? Allegedly a spirit of peace, democracy and don’t forget the economy… Of course, it’s all about that and where we can get the next generation of refuge workers from who will do shite jobs for the lousiest of pay and then not unreasonably apply for a national, legal identity.