Monday, 6 October 2014

Clore Fellowship Reflections: days 8, 9, and 10

And so we come to the final days of our first Clore residential. Those days were characterised by increasing exhaustion, heightened emotion, and lots of creative thought. It felt that we began to break through to some really important conversations about diversity and the way we fund/subsidise/invest in the arts and culture.

1: On diversity. Wednesday dawned with a session of reflections and the usual meandering series of thoughts. And then, from nowhere, bam. Sandra Shakespeare - a fellow Gainsborough Primary school student we realised - knocked us all dead with a description of exactly why a diverse pool of leaders matters. Not just for the arts, but for everyone. I didn't take notes, sadly, and can only pretend to capture the contents here. But essentially it was to do with change and how if you always get the same narrow spectrum of leaders you can only get the same narrow spectrum of ideas and people involved. Most of us left with a sense of needing to learn more, and to act to improve the diverse pool of leaders. The next challenge, of course, is how!
2: On storytelling. Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery and Chair of the Clore Leadership Programme, spoke on our penultimate day about the importance of always telling your story. He spoke about writing the press release to announce your appointment before any job interview, as a way of thinking about how the job fits into your narrative and why you are the perfect candidate for the job. As someone who loves stories but tends to see my own life in disconnected segments, this has encouraged me to think more actively about the narrative overview I am telling about myself and my life.

3: On freedom from bricks and mortar. John McGrath from National Theatre Wales spoke about their model of theatreless production in and with communities across Wales. Working in an organisation that is currently involved in a capital project, this was an interesting counterbalance to  how I've might do about creating a nationally significant organisation. It reminded me in a strange way of the debates around the building of Wembley stadium and whether the England team being itinerant might not have better served fans and enabled greater creativity by not shackling a team to bricks and mortar location. John was keen to point out that it was just one possible solution to the specific situation of theatre in Wales, but there are interesting themes that it raises about how to be responsible to and for and with the people you are meant to be serving.

4: On Flu.That is, Freedom, Laughter, and Uselessness, the guiding principles that Kevin Jones uses to run St John's College School. A flu I can't help feeling more schools should adopt. Boredom as a currriculum item seems entirely useful to me. Uselessness too. It is in these times when learning and creativity and innovation come to the fore. And Kevin should know, he won a National Best Headteacher award in 2013!

5: On quiet vulnerability and the power of silence. Even more than Kevin's FLU policy, I was struck by his style of speaking. By the end of his half hour talk on childhood and learning, nearly everyone in the room had tears running down their cheeks. And it wasn't just because some of what he was talking about - the challenges facing children in a test, test, and test again culture - but the way he delivered it, the space he gave to every one of his words. Teachers of public speaking might question the way he read a script word for word in a flat monotone voice, or the way he spoke in long sentences. But it was his breaking of conventions that so appealed to me and made him so affecting. Most of all, he was comfortable sat in the middle of a room with 30 eyes on him, being vulnerable and letting things happen at their own speed. We listened in to hear him. We filled in his silences with our own thoughts. It all reminded me of Tracy Chapman singing at Wembley Stadium during the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday concert in 1988 - the power of one person quiet and vulnerable and completely without bravado inviting everyone to join them in their own space. Like Tracy, the act wouldn't have worked had the content not been so spectacular. You can read more about Kevin Jones here and here. I think he should do a Ted Talk - he'd have hits by the million! 
I want to learn to do this, to eschew the act and embody myself on stage, with exceptional content of course!

6: On what comes next. Matt Peacock, founder of Streetwise Opera and a Clore 1 Fellow, spoke on our final morning about the way that they work with the homeless to improve wellbeing and provide a bridge back into the community. It is a fabulous looking programme and Matt speaking a little of his introversion and the problems he found on the residency chimed with me. But what really stood out was his dedication to what comes next and the afterlife of a project. He spoke about the most important day of a project being the day after the final project.

7: On standing on the shoulders of giants. One of our Fellows from Hong Kong had a way throughout the programme of coming up with visual images to sum up what we were doing. On the last day, completely without realising that she was paraphrasing Isaac Newton, she painted the picture of us as fellows clambering onto the shoulders of all the people who have gone before us, all the experts and leaders who had come to talk to us, and glimpsing horizons we wouldn't otherwise have spied. It was a great image to leave with. The responsibility to look to the distance and dream big. The humility to remember we were only here thanks to the amazing generous work of the Clore Leadership Programme, and all those who had supported us. But that we are all citizens, and that it is everyone's responsibility to act to build the world we want, however small we feel. 
So, to the giants, thank you.

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