Tuesday, June 24, 2014

“Building the Battalion”, Crowd-Sourcing and Ushahidi



A guest blog from one of my MA students Liberty Martin, who is helping me organise the In Battalions Festival next Friday 4 July. 

The 4th of July is an exciting date this year. The In Battalions Festival at Drama Centre London will bring Fin Kennedy and Helen Campbell Pickford’s work on the In Battalions project into its third and most dynamic chapter.

By investigating the effects of cuts to arts funding on theatre, the first In Battalions report outlined the problem, the Delphi study suggested possible solutions, and now the Festival will create the opportunity to take action.

There’s an emphasis on the new in this provocation. If we maintain projects that foster creative risks, new work and diverse voices, we maintain a vital theatre industry as a whole, where the mainstream is continually fed by the experimental work being made on the fringes. But only if that work keeps getting made.

The first In Battalions report went viral in 2012. From personal blogs and tweets to comment in the Guardian, people harnessed the power of the report to express their frustration at a pending crisis in theatre. Through the In Battalions Delphi study industry professionals proposed ways to “work with the Arts Council to protect risk-taking” in British theatre - without having to spend much money. The problem is widely understood, the solutions are more difficult to grasp, but there’s a common sense that there is a crisis.

At the first In Battalions Festival we’ll be proposing that crisis-mapping could be a useful tool for people in the UK theatre industry to share information, ideas and resources in response to reduced subsidy.

Many in the industry are already familiar with crowd-fundingplatforms like Kickstarter and Seedr, but there’s more to crowd-sourcing than funding. Should we be using crowd-sourcing as a way of distributing information rather than funds?

Instances of crisis-mapping have been effective in cases of natural disasters, in political uprisings and in longer term efforts to build communities and respond directly to shared problems.

Ushahidi was the name given to a website created by a group of volunteers in response to the violence that followed the elections in Kenya in 2008: the word means “testimony” in Swahili. In a time of confusion and upheaval a small technically literate group created a tool for people on the ground to share information on a Google map, intelligence which could not be accessed directly via any other channel.

The humanitarian technology network crisismappers.net was set up by Ushahidi founders in 2009 and continues to function as an international community with member affiliations all over the world. Ushahidi was also successfully deployed in 2010, in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. There the platform was used to link up aid organisations and people suffering in the crisis to share information in almost real-time and help respond to life or death situations unfolding throughout the country. It was also effectively used after typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines last year. You can read more about crisis-mapping on Ushahidi founder Patrick Meier’s blog

Now Ushahidi can be used or ‘deployed’ by anyone with the need or desire to share information on a map, inspired by the simple questions that have been so useful in crisis deployments, “What can you see?” and “What do you need?”

Crowdmap is currently being used in wide and varying contexts to deal with on-going situations. From “My health, my voice” an NGO project improving maternity care in northern Indian hospitals, to “Fix Your Street” a site allowing people across Ireland to report issues like vandalism, fly-tipping or broken streetlights for immediate review by their local council.

The concept of crowd-sourcing and crisis-mapping has gained popularity since 2008 and Ushahidi has been the most publicised developer, with founders going on to create new programmes based on their initial work. This tool is freely available and deployments can respond to any given problem or situation.

This is how a deployment could work in the context of British theatre. The In Battalions Delphi study highlighted a need to make free space available for developing new work. The most popular proposal was:

“Ask theatres to make under-utilised space available for rehearsal and performance of new work, scratch nights etc. on a free basis. These spaces would be listed on a national register of support and resources available for creative Research and Development, arranged by region.”
This was voted the most useful and practical way of protecting risk-taking in the industry, though naturally problems were identified. The difficulty of asking theatres to offer free space in a time of austerity, and the problem of who would administrate an online register were raised. The idea of getting councils and private renters to offer unused space was presented as a possible alternative.

A crowdmap deployment could respond directly to this proposal by bringing together reports on:

  • Free space that theatres are willing and able to publicise
  • Projects calling out for space to use 
  • Businesses that need to fill temporarily disused space

Information would be searchable by location, respond directly to a need identified in the industry and could help people make the most of the available resources in a local area.

In the Building the Battalion room at Drama Centre on the 4th of July, we’ll be bringing together people currently innovating in theatre (for instance the nation-wide movement for Fun Palaces), exploring the proposals in the In Battalions Delphi study for practical development, and using crowdmap as a tool for community building online.

As the pragmatist John Dewey said, “a problem well put is half solved.” The key to an effective crowdmap lies first in identifying a real and urgent need in a community, then setting up a deployment that speaks productively to that need. This Festival is an opportunity to work with a real problem and develop real solutions. We’ll be celebrating what we’re doing, and working out how to get what we need.

The In Battalions Festival is from 10am-5.30pm on Friday 4th July. Tickets are available to book now.

Liberty Martin trained specifically in Small-Scale Theatre Practice and is now completing a practical MA in Dramatic Writing at DCL, Central Saint Martin’s College. @LibertyMartin

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In Battalions Festival, Friday 4 July - first speakers confirmed!


19 June UPDATE - Confirmed speakers

In Battalions Festival
Friday 4th July 2014, 10am - 5.30pm
Drama Centre London, Central Saint Martins


Confirmed speakers so far

The first In Battalions Festival at Central Saint Martins on Friday 4 July is shaping up to be the summer's unmissable event of cultural debate and provocation.

Confirmed speakers so far include:

  • Neil Darlison, director of Theatre at Arts Council England - taking questions on ACE's National Portfolio funding decisions, which will have been announced just three days prior.
  • Kumiko Mendl, Gillian Hambleton and Chris O'Connell in conversation - all artistic directors whose theatre companies experienced a 100% Arts Council cut in 2011, but which somehow survived.
  • Tassos Stevens of Coney and Alan Lane of Slung Low - both new NPOs in 2011, talking about what NPO status has allowed them to achieve.
  • Dawn Walton of Eclipse, Jennifer Lim of British East Asian artists and 'disability diva' Mandy Colleran debating how cuts to the arts have affected diversity in the sector.
  • Natalie Wilson of Theatre Centre, Paul Webster of Pearson Education, plus some London school teachers, on the state of young people's theatre and the future of Drama as a subject in schools.
  • Mags Patten, head of Communications at Arts Council England, on the PR challenges facing the organisation.
  • Delphi Champions - theatremakers who took part in the In Battalions Delphi study making the case for their top proposal and inviting delegates to form a consortia to take it forward there and then. These include Jonathan Petherbridge from London Bubble and playwrights Ben Yeoh, Samantha Ellis and Hannah Khalil.
  • Stella Duffy, writer and performer, talking about her new project Fun Palaces and how she got it off the ground.
  •  Jez Bond of Park Theatre and Paul Robinson of Theatre 503 - thriving theatres without any regular public investment - talk about how they pull it off and the daily challenges they face.
  • 'Funding Provocateurs' - David Powell, co-author of Re-Balancing Our Cultural Capital, cultural policy guru John Kieffer, and UKIP's culture spokesman Peter Whittle all present radical ideas on the future of arts funding in the UK.
  • Experienced political lobbyist Rosie Luff of Hanover Communications and Nick Ewbank, regeneration consultant and director of the AHRC's Cultural Value Project giving their tips on how the arts can make their case to politicians from all sides in the run-up to the 2015 election.


As if that wasn't enough, keynote speaker Taryn Storey of Reading University will be unveiling her doctoral thesis The Arts Council and the Politics of Risk: Funding for New Writing in a Neo-Liberal Age. Taryn's research forms part of the AHRC funded project Giving Voice to the Nation: The Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre and Performance in Britain 1945-1995, a collaboration between the University of Reading and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

There will also be ‘open mic’ slots for delegates to pitch their own ideas for new projects and innovative solutions to protect artistic risk-taking, with the opportunity to found a consortium to take the idea forward there and then, using online crisis-mapping resource Crowdmap – tutorials for which will be available on the day.

Tickets start at £20 for freelance culture professionals and are selling fast! Box office: http://www.inbattalionsfestival.eventbrite.co.uk  

Ends.


Notes for Editors

The In Battalions summer festival is a follow-up to playwright Fin Kennedy's 2014 In Battalions report (www.finkennedy.co.uk/in-battalions). The event is a new opportunity for professional theatre-makers, academics, politicians, journalists and other culture professionals to share innovative ideas and practical models for maintaining a vital theatre ecology in the UK.

The Festival will be arranged across three rooms:

NPO Analysis: a room dedicated to charting and debating the Arts Council's funding decisions announced on the 1st of July - just three days prior to the Festival.
Building the Battalion: a room dedicated to founding a permanent online In Battalions community inspired by open-source crisis-mapping platform Crowdmap.
Money and Politics: a room devoted to discussion of alternative arts funding models, and ways for the subsidised theatre sector to make its case to politicians in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

The one-day Festival runs from 10am to 5.30pm with a social event in the evening. It will take place in the new Central Saint Martins building at Granary Square in central London, just behind St Pancras and Kings Cross stations. The Festival is organised with students from Drama Centre London's new MA Dramatic Writing programme, and is part of The Year of Experimentation, a three day new writing festival taking place as the culmination of the first year of the course.

Tickets to the Festival cost £20 (Non-NPO), £35 (NPO funding up to 500k) and £50 (NPO funding in excess of 500k). They can be booked through www.inbattalionsfestival.eventbrite.co.uk

For further information contact: inbattalionsfestival@gmail.com  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Battalions Festival, Friday 4 July, Central Saint Martins College




In Battalions Festival
Friday 4th July 2014, 10am - 5.30pm
Drama Centre London, Central Saint Martins

A celebration of risk, innovation and collaboration in British theatre

On the 4th of July 2014 the first In Battalions Festival will take place at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins. This one-day summer festival is a new opportunity for professional theatre-makers, academics, politicians, journalists and other culture professionals to share innovative ideas and practical models for maintaining a vital theatre ecology in the UK and will take place as part of The Year of Experimentation, a three day new writing festival taking place at Drama Centre London as the culmination of the first year of its new MA in Dramatic Writing.

The In Battalions report, published by playwright Fin Kennedy and researcher Helen Campbell Pickford in 2013, received widespread coverage and formed a significant part of the recent debate about arts funding cuts, in particular around theatres' capacity to take risks on developing new plays and playwrights in an age of austerity.

The 2014 follow-up, the In Battalions Delphi study, brought together 36 innovative solutions to this problem, sourced from and voted on by theatre professionals. These proposals suggest new ways for theatres and theatre-makers to work with the Arts Council to protect creative risk-taking on new work.

Playwright Fin Kennedy said:

"The original In Battalions study of 2013 found theatres across England cancelling shows and cutting back on creative Research and Development as a result of Government cuts to the Arts Council. The Delphi study was a solution-focused follow-up. Both studies have been widely circulated online, and carved out some valuable 'blue skies' space for our sector. But what's needed now is a physical space where culture professionals can come together to make real connections to take these ideas forward. The In Battalions Festival at Central Saint Martins is the third stage of the campaign, and attempts to do just that. I'd invite anyone who cares about the future of new British theatre to come along, meet inspiring speakers and share their ideas."

The In Battalions Festival is a chance to discuss some of the issues raised by the In Battalions reports, form consortia to take forward solutions, and suggest new ways in which the sector might work together better, fund itself more sustainably and articulate its case more effectively. The Festival will be made up of talks and provocations from invited speakers, studies of best practice within the theatre industry and other art forms, space to debate how best for the theatre industry to make its case in the run-up to next year's general election, as well social time for attendees to make connections with one another.

The Festival will be arranged across three rooms:

NPO Analysis: a room dedicated to charting and debating the Arts Council's funding decisions announced on the 1st of July - just three days prior to the Festival. Neil Darlison, Arts Council England’s director of Theatre, has agreed to talk about the NPO process and take questions from delegates.

Building the Battalion
: a room dedicated to founding a permanent online In Battalions community inspired by open-source crisis-mapping platform Crowdmap. Delegates can form their own online groups to take forward proposals from the In Battalions Delphi study.

Money and Politics: a room devoted to discussion of alternative arts funding models, and ways for the subsidised theatre sector to make its case to politicians in the run-up to the 2015 general election. The room will end with Cultural Question Time, a panel discussion in which representatives from all the major political parties will set out their cultural policies and take questions.

The one-day Festival runs from 10am to 5.30pm with a social event in the evening. It will take place in the new Central Saint Martins building at Granary Square in central London, just behind St Pancras and Kings Cross stations. The Festival is organised with students from Drama Centre London's new MA Dramatic Writing programme, and is part of The Year of Experimentation, a three day new writing festival taking place as the culmination of the first year of the course.

Tickets to the Festival cost £20 (Freelance artists and non-NPOs), £35 (NPO funding up to 500k) and £50 (NPO funding in excess of 500k). They can be booked through www.inbattalionsfestival.eventbrite.co.uk. For further information contact: inbattalionsfestival@gmail.com

Ends.
Notes to Editors

In Battalions
In Battalions was a research-led report in 2013 and follow-up Delphi study in 2014 about the effects of Government cuts to the Arts Council on theatres' capacity to develop new plays and playwrights. It has since given its name to a loose collective of professional theatre-makers eager to continue this conversation. http://finkennedy.co.uk/In-Battalions


MA Dramatic Writing
The MA Dramatic Writing is a new course at Drama Centre London, Central Saint Martins, and is dedicated to exploring new models of training for dramatic writers in the UK. The course is led by Jennifer Tuckett, who previously founded the UK's first formally industry-partnered MA in Playwriting in partnership with the Royal Exchange Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Octagon Theatre Bolton, ran industry-partnered projects training writers for theatre, radio drama and digital media with the BBC, and developed Guardian Masterclasses Manchester.  http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-dramatic-writing-drama-centre-london

National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs)
NPOs are client organisations of Arts Council England, which receive an annual grant for a three-year period. Applications for the last funding round closed on 14 March 2014 and the results will be announced on 1 July 2014 – just three days prior to the In Battalions Festival. In the 2011 round over 200 arts organisations lost their Arts Council support after ACE was forced to pass on a 29.6% cut to its funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This latest round is expected to be equally dramatic.