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“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” Camille Pissarro
“The artist is meant to put the objects of this world together in such a way that through them you will experience that light, that radiance which is the light of our consciousness and which all things both hide and, when properly looked upon, reveal.” Joseph Campbell
I need your help with something.
You may have seen my work as Social Artist in Residence at the University of London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration (C4CC). The definition of social art that I work with is “The process of skilfully bringing people together in such a way as to create a sense of beauty and attraction in those that see or participate in it”. My time at the centre has meant that the team hit several of their first year targets in a few months and I have encouraged a culture of conversation and online presence there. I’m just about to complete my first six months there and the University has just agreed a further six months extension.
I’m now looking for a simultaneous and complementary residency with another partner for least for the next six months (and possibly longer with the right organisation). I’m hoping that you can help me find such a partner organisation.
Why might you benefit from having me as a social artist in residence?
I believe that many organisations need more of their people behaving as social artists to create beautiful situations in their working lives and to allow creativity to blossom wherever it is needed. I see people obstructed and cut off from the people they need to be connected to. I see silos where people in another department or function are seen as too different to bother working with. I see industries decaying and ultimately falling apart with people knowing deep down that the old ways aren’t working for them, but unclear on how to find a new beginning. I see people inside organisations starved of inspiration and opportunities to reflect on and appreciate what they already know that can lead them out of where they are stuck.
As a manager and as a consultant myself I’ve tried to introduce new processes and tools to deal with this problem. I rarely saw the radical change and creative inspiration that was needed. I believe that real, lasting change happens in the gaps in-between the formal processes of an organisation. I’m offering myself as a social artist in residence to help fill those gaps with interesting and useful stuff that helps ease some of these difficulties.
If this all sounds like hand-wavey nonsense to you, then thank you for reading this far, it’s probably not for you. But if any of this resonates with your experience of work, then perhaps we can do something together.
How do I work?
I work with individuals and groups to encourage them to take their own first steps in social art. By definition, I don’t work in isolation, but t also won’t impose myself on anyone who doesn’t want to be included. I also rarely tell someone exactly what to do, preferring to let them discover it themselves. My work usually revolves around conversation, giving people the chance to engage in different kinds of talking and to recognise that they have the answers already but that the answer is sometimes just buried deep. I can’t guarantee you specific outcomes, but I am certain that you will be able to dscern a positive effect afterwards. This is art, not consulting, so I don’t have a structured methodology or a toolkit that you can scrutinise beforehand, however I can arrange conversations with people who’ve worked with me in this way if that helps.
What is it then that I actually do?
I will usually spend at least one day per week on your premises or directly working with your people. I spend some time at first just observing what is, how the organisation really works, what stories people tell about it, where people feel blocked and hopeless, where people feel hopeful and passionate. I may write about it and make connections with other things I’m currently working on. Soon, I will start doing. I will experiment. I will get people together to talk about something and I use different forms of conversation to help people see what they might do differently. I’ll also bring other parts of my practice in – perhaps inviting other artists or collaborators from C4CC to take part in conversations and sometimes, I’ll just sit around and make stuff – draw or write something – I go with the flow of what is needed. I also document as I go along – preferably on a public blog to help people see how things are coming along.
Perhaps you like the idea but a commitment to a six-month residency isn’t for you? There are other ways that I can help.
You might like to get involved in a one-off social art field trip project such as Tuttle2Texas by sponsoring some element of it. I can also facilitate creative conversations to generate ideas, inspiration and potential collaborations. Or maybe you’d like me to run a workshop or two on how your people can use some of these techniques to develop their own capability to engage in creative conversation through social media. I’m also available for a limited number of one-to-one mentoring/coaching relationships. Let me know if you’re interested.
Here’s a game that’s become popular among those of my acquaintance in recent years.
“Let’s do something to fix the world!” requires 3 or more players. Otherwise it risks descending into “Two boring gits mouthing off in the pub.” 20-30 folk make for a really good game.
The players are gathered out of business hours in a conference suite of a leading company or a government department. In the foyer, they are given mineral water, orange juice (occasionally cranberry), tea and coffee. Sometimes there are peanuts and kettle crisps. Gamesmasters who introduce alcohol at this stage are asking for trouble. The players are left to mingle. Most huddle in corners with their old pals. One or two, not knowing the etiquette, pursue other players around the room trying to press business cards into their hands while describing their highly valuable services.
After this warm-up period, the players are led into a meeting room which may contain tables and chairs arranged cabaret style or just chairs randomly scattered or, in the Owen variation, there may be little or no furniture at all.
The gamesmaster/mistress announces the theme for the evening, the “Big Question of the Night” or BQN (once hilariously, but mistakenly referred to as “the bacon” – ie “If we can please just get back to the bacon”). If any mild excitement has already emerged s/he will dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd by reading the contents of a long and detailed Powerpoint presentation. The theme is usually a confusingly worded question. Those devising the BQN should ensure that it covers a very wide subject area – it needs to be BIG, man, really BIIIIG. Squash out any specificity and introduce as much ambiguity in the question as possible. To add spice you may wish to declare that supposedly well-defined and well-understood terms are up for re-definition in this context.
Players are now grouped by a method of the gamesmasters choice, though “Boys v Girls” and distinctions based on social class or ethnic background are generally frowned upon in today’s politically correct dystopia. Don’t worry, the socially capable can get on with anyone and those who look a bit lost can be shepherded up into a “Nerds” group.
Now the “conversation” starts. There are a number of recognised opening gambits: “There’s nothing new under the sun”, “We must firmly lay the blame at the feet of the last government”, “I’m alright, Jack” etc. are played as a dummy to make sure that any new players don’t have a clue about what’s really going on. Then the real play starts. Players take it in turns to offer their solution to the BQN.
You may find the following observations on play to be useful:
1. If you are there to sell a commercial service that might at a stretch be a solution to the BQN, you must not refer to that service by name, nor may you reveal (except in a whispered aside to a trusted co-player) to the group this happy coincidence.
2. If you know or suspect that a co-player is trying to sell such a service, it’s considered bad form to declare this outright. However, you might make some knowing remark which makes your co-player blanch while the rest of the team remain unaware.
3. Wherever possible your contributions should refer to solutions that stress certainty, incentivisation, efficiency, driving out redundancy and duplication and the well-known fact that all human-based systems tend toward equillibrium. Phrases such as “it’s human nature”, “survival of the fittest”, “no pain, no gain” are all splendid signs that the game is going well.
4. Points are available for telling a story you once read in a book. With a bonus if you manage to get the title of the book and the name of the author completely wrong. Extra bonus if you actually heard the author speak but still get her name wrong.
5. Points are sometimes awarded for inventive use of diversionary tactics such as arguing definitions, restating the important differences between the public and private sectors, drawing pyramid-shaped diagrams on the back of a napkin. However, most conoisseurs will recognise these as the hallmark of the newcomer or amateur.
6. At the discretion of the gamesmaster, a “plenary” session may follow where those players with inflated egos get to repeat everything they said and ignore what the rest of their group offered. If these people are particularly self-important, you may wish to provide “scribes” to make a glowing record of their wise words on flipchart paper. Then it’s off down the pub.
1. People who try to point out that this is just a stupid game that we play and it never gets us anywhere except salving our consciences, and it’s always the same old faces and god, what are we doing here? may be pronounced “A Bore” and sent to the corner to think about their wicked ways (mostly though they are simply ignored).
2. Anyone trying to start a real human conversation based on individual, personal experience, that isn’t about selling anything, or making people look wrong, or making ourselves look good is given one chance to try again and a withering look of pity. If they start up again they will be escorted from the premises immediately.
The winner is anyone with a vested interest in their little bit of the world staying exactly the same as it is, thank you very much.
This isn’t about whether the use of “friend” on online social networks is appropriate. Neither is it a heart-warming, tear-brimming story about one of my mates, how fabulous they are (though I have a few stories like that to tell) and how I’d like you to be one of them.
It’s about a specific use of the term “Friend” as used by arts organisations to mean someone who gives regular financial support in return for the value they get from that organisation.
As I become more comfortable with being a Social Artist, I’m offering my own version. So I got thinking about value and of course I asked people to help me out. I set up a survey to ask people what they would get if they had £5, £10, £20 or £50 and they came back with the following answers:
For a Fiver
Flowers for the missus; A trip on the Cardiff Waterbus; A trashy magazine and a packet of starmix; Comics from the bargain bin;
iTunes; Take-away for lunch; Either a beer with a friend or dessert with a friend; a magazine or book; A really really good ice cream: at a 1950s ice cream parlour in Broadstairs overlooking the sea – Morelli’s is the one http://www.classiccafes.co.uk/Seaside.html ; Go to Hawkins Bazaar. Enjoy!
For a Tenner
A “push the boat out” bottle of wine i.e. one that’s more than a Fiver;
An edition, or back edition of Special ten – Ultimate goodness http://www.specialten.com/ ; A couple of good steaks; New comics; Beer, supermarket special offer most likely; Books from Oxfam; Pack of smokes and a beer with a friend; new knickers; Your favourite trash author has published a new book. You pretend to your friends you don’t read this stuff. You can wait, as you usually do, for the cheap paperback edition to appear on Amazon or a second hand copy from Abe Books. Or, you can splurge £9.99 on the hardback, discounted, offer at your local bookshop. You can walk in and buy it. Yes!; Fish and chips for two and cups of tea on the beach at Whitstable in the winter.
A bottle of single malt (you have to wait for them to come on special); Cheap bottle of Moet rose – usually on offer in Tesco, owner of all land; A bottle of wine and ingredients for dinner for my boyfriend; A mix of comics, old and new; Cinema tickets for two, sweets with the change; Doctor Who DVDs; Dinner with a friend;
241 cocktails with friends in cardiff (wouldn’t get much for £20 in london); Spend it on flowers – from Steve at Chapel Market, near Angel – do a deal you can get lots for £20; Look at Moleskine notebooks. Go on, you know you want to.
Dinner; Lunch, or dinner in my FAVE cantonese in the UK ever in ever of historian style ever – http://www.riversidecantonese.com/; Taking my boyfriend out for dinner; Big comics (or graphic novels, as they’re known); Meal for two, out at restaurant; Stick it in an ISA! If that’s not available, solar powered electro-gubbins; New sex toy to be used…..with a friend!; a new frock; Take 4 friends to the movies in Leicester Square; or the poshest cinema in your area and buy them popcorn. Ace!; Go to your local railway station. Tell them you’ve got £50. Say “A cheap day day return to somewhere nice please. Where can I go?”
Now obviously this represents a wide variety of tastes and geographies as well as some clear preferences based on gender, but it gives you a pretty good idea. So, I’m offering the same rates for regular donations each month – maybe you see me as “comics from the bargain bin, a take-away lunch or a really good ice cream” once a month – in which case you’d go for the £5 option. Or, at the other end, maybe to you I am “solar powered electro-gubbins, a cheap day-return to a mystery destination or… a new frock” – then I’ll put you down for £50pm. See?
But that’s not all. I’m not just asking for cash because you think I’m like an ice cream (?) I’m offering the following benefits in return for four levels of monthly payment.
£5 – a link and a public thank you on the social networking site of your choice, plus the warm glow of knowing that you’re supporting Social Art. Oh, and acknowledgement when I see you next – shoulder squeeze for the gals, manly shoulder punch for the guys.
£10 – as £5 PLUS a postcard from me saying thank you and an invitation to an annual party for other tenner friends
£20 – as £10 PLUS a postcard-sized piece of original art from me twice a year and an invitation to a special summer picnic and a mid-winter feast
£50 – as £20 PLUS a copy of Tuttle Chronicles – a new quarterly publication for such special friends and a quarterly meetup with sparkling conversation.
UK friends – paying by standing order avoids paypal fees – e-mail me and I’ll send you the bank details.
If you’re going for anything higher than £10 I’ll need a postal address for you to send you goodies.
PS thanks very much to Jon; @chkn; Kathryn; Pete; @tookiebunten; edent; WankerGirl; lynsey; and Brian for their ideas
PPS if you’re not my “friend” you can still be my “friend” and you can definitely still be my friend.