If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details.
You can also see the world details starting to develop here and all of the writing I’ve done so far here, with other updates on my FB & Insta.
I spent the weekend out at Pichi Richi Park (between Port Augusta and Quorn) attending an artist retreat organised by Country Arts SA and Performing Lines as part of the recently announced Local Giants initiative. Twelve artists, including me, spent 2.5 days with three mentors and staff from both Country Arts SA and Performing Lines exploring and unpacking individual project ideas each artist pitched in their application. I pitched Novel November and the longer-term 2040 ambition I have from this residency.
It was so, so lovely to spend this time immersed with other regional artists sharing hopes, doubts, ideas and questions. It was also probably the first time I’ve really talked about my big ambitions for this project directly and openly with people outside of my direct community (other than the mentor chats through my Fellowship activity) so felt like a bit of a litmus test for “does this idea actually make sense and have potential?”
Readers, I think it does.
My challenge now, especially as I come to the end of this residency period supported by my Fellowship, is to make decisions about next steps to grow momentum and continue building the overall vision in a way that has integrity and a structure that can sustain me and others stepping in and out around other commitments. No small task but I am excited by what we might build and develop over the next few years. My brain right now is very much thinking about initial resources to support that, including meaningful local partnerships. More to come.
This week I’m back to writing each day at Part of Things with an open invitation for people to join me in person or online. You don’t have to be working on ideas/stories set in the lands of the river, you’re welcome to just hang out and work on unrelated projects. You can also still follow along everything I’m writing in the g-doc.
I haven’t created as much space as I wanted to for the deeper reflection on practice during my Fellowship so far. I’m okay with this overall, as the mentor chats have been really rich and opportunities like the Pichi Richi artist retreat have functioned in this way too, but I do still want to carve out a little more time over this coming week for that space to reflect, dream and learn. I will report back next Wednesday with how I go.
This weekend I’m also going to work on a small grant to support Sam and I to work together in Jan/Feb on developing up the bones of an idea for a graphic novel out of the lands of the river so far. It’s always a challenge to be in the middle of the creative side of the work and having to think about the next steps from a forward planning perspective, but it’s just the reality of this kind of work. Funding cycles are long (planning six to twelve months in advance minimum) and it also takes time to build other kinds of stakeholder and collaborator relationships, so I’m always balancing both in my head as I go. The here and now, and the where to next. Some people hate these two sides but I actually enjoy both. I enjoy strategic planning and grant writing and documenting as well as being in the room writing, dreaming, creating and collaborating. I’m probably very lucky to find pleasure in both.
Novel November Progress
Across the last few weeks I’ve attempted to explore at least one character on all of the five primary worlds of the lands of the river (which we still need to name overall?) and in doing so, continue to develop the wider world logic and other ideas as I go. This week I focused on characters on Uttie and Lican specifically, partly because Sam has done such beautiful illustrations of Tael and Vespur over the past weeks and I wanted to explore the places that had received a little less love.
I shared the Tael illustration in last week’s blog, but here is Sam’s vision of Vespur:
You can see dotted around the market a number of flower-fairies based on mice:
Though I also love these variations on flower-fairies too:
Sam did these imaginings of flower-fairies before I suggested the version based on mice and I love both for different reasons. I think I am starting to lean towards Sam’s original concepts (directly above) over the mice-fairy concept just because it enables more exploration for anyone who wants to create things in this world. Perhaps we might turn the mice-fairies into another project entirely, who knows?
People have asked “what happens if people write stories or create ideas that don’t match?” and honestly I think that’s fine. We’ve created some core things as a foundation but if people want to take those concepts and develop it in ways that are inconsistent that’s okay from my point of view. I’m working to be consistent within whatever I directly write and create myself, but it doesn’t bother me if we end up with a multiverse approach of things that don’t quite align or contradict each other. The real world is messy too and versions of the truth tell very different stories. I’m more interested in the process of people creating and building things with shared connection than I am in a super rigid world/structure that is internally consistent. Those of us who decide to continue collaborating and building bigger outcomes from this starting place will of course have to make decisions about what we do or don’t include, but that would be true anyway because any process of adapting between forms requires that (books to films for example). It might be naive of me, but I think the canon of this world will work itself out over time as we explore, iterate, test, share, develop. Either way, I’m interested in the process and in making space for people to believe in, and explore, their own ideas and instincts.
If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details.
You can also see the world details starting to develop here and all of the writing I’ve done so far here, with other updates on my FB & Insta.
As mentioned in last week’s blog I spent Thurs & Fri in Adelaide attending Reset, with two fabulous emerging artists, Kirste Jade and Jess Weidenhofer, who have both been part of Novel November (and have worked with me on other projects in the past). Lots and lots of food for thought and you can scroll through and have a look at my reflections during the two days over on my Twitter account, and see a wider cross-section of insight via #ResetArts.
Attending conferences and gatherings like this has always been an important part of my practice/creative career for a bunch of reasons, most of which I’m terrible at articulating but if you’re twisting my arm to pull out some key reasons:
I’m really aware of my lack of formal training and the professional development and informal learning from these kinds of gatherings is really valuable to me.
the general opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, new professional crushes, new networks and new projects. I always go away with a handful of people/projects/organisations that I want to find out more about.
I feel a sense of responsibility to be an active participant and contributor to the sector/industry/community, and that means showing up, listening, reflecting and adjusting what/how I’m doing things where relevant. For example there were some really thoughtful and direct calls to action at Reset about divesting from mining companies (ie. don’t take money from resource corporations because it’s implicit support and “artwashing” the damage these corporations are doing to our communities and planet). I’ve always had mixed feelings on this because all of the money we accept is “dirty” and has strings attached, but the conversations at Reset have asked me to revisit the absolutionism in some of my earlier mixed feelings. Context does matter and there is nuance and I don’t want my work to directly or indirectly contribute to the success of companies and individuals who put profit over community. I’m always learning. Always.
as I’ve moved further into my career and developed professional networks and friendships, gatherings like Reset have also become mini reunions, which links back to the first dot point, but also has a value in itself. Relationships matter and the relationships I have sustain me and inspire me. All of my work starts with and is founded on relationships (*side note, if you haven’t already read it, please go and read Jade Lillie’s The Relationship is the Project. A fab book that resonates with so much of my perspectives.)
Attending Reset was good timing for Novel November, because as mentioned elsewhere, this residency project is a starting place to explore and start building the foundations for a much bigger long-term project, so thinking about sustainability, about workplace practices, about collaboration and advocacy and community building is very much on my mind. It was valuable to have some outside provocation to keep stirring and stretching my own thinking. It was also personally meaningful to me to have Kirste and Jess there with me. Both acknowledged that some of the content was difficult for them to connect to and understand and I remember that the first conferences I went to often felt like gibberish, but I know how each opportunity kept opening up new learning and new opportunities for me and I hope it will be the same for them. I’m still unpacking all of the conversations and ideas presented at Reset – I’m a slow thinker – but you can find out more about it here.
If you’ve been following along in the g-doc, you’ll know I haven’t popped in any new writing since last week’s blog, which is why I’ve named this week’s blog: what does work look like?
I hear a lot of writers berating themselves for low word-counts and not producing enough content. I don’t do this (though I used to!) because I know that I produce a lot of work in lots of different ways across the many threads of my practice/work life anyway, but also because I know that “work” and “writing” doesn’t always look like sitting at a computer typing words into a document. Sometimes writing looks like taking a walk to process ideas and wrestle with a plot point, sometimes writing looks like planning out a practical schedule to give you more writing time and breathing space, sometimes writing looks like professional development and networking, sometimes writing looks like day-dreaming, sometimes writing looks like scrawling scraps of ideas onto serviettes while out to lunch with friends, sometimes writing looks like admin and the business side of making it all work, sometimes writing looks like research, sometimes writing looks like being out in the world and living your life, sometimes writing looks like rest.
This past week has included all of those things and more.
This coming weekend there are no community workshops because I’m lucky enough to be heading to Pichi Richi very early tomorrow morning to be part of an Artist Retreat with Country Arts SA and Performing Lines until Sunday afternoon. I’ll be working on my bigger picture ideas for Novel November during this retreat and connecting with other wonderful South Australian regional artists.
Next week I’ll be back to writing in the g-doc each day before wrapping up the Novel November residency with a little sharing celebration on Sunday 28th November.
Novel November Progress
Content note: grief, death, death of a young person, suicide.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog, a young person I know died recently and that informed some of my writing in the world of Novel November last week. Sam responded with this illustration to some of that writing:
Sam has also created this beautiful rendering of Tael and folk headed to the library:
Sam’s illustrations are beautiful and I’m going to share more of them on Insta & FB across next week so stay tuned for that and my next update on Wednesday 24th Nov.
If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details and boring the life out of you.
You can also see the world details starting to develop here and all of the writing I’ve done so far here, with other updates on my FB & Insta.
Surprising no-one (including me) I’ve contributed more time to the Fellowship and Novel November over the first week than I intended to. This is because some things just took me longer, I’ve added some extra things in and because I’m enjoying it! Having said that, I am still doing some work for both Writers SA and headspace Berri, and an independent projection outcome due this month so I do need to pace myself. The Fellowship is my primary focus, but it’s not my only commitment. Rest and downtime are important parts of doing good work too.
This week I’m only writing Mon, Tues and today and then heading to a conference in Adelaide Thurs/Fri. Sat & Sun are Novel November community workshop days with a poetry focus on Saturday and a scriptwriting focus on Sunday. Over the weekend just gone we had a short story focus on Saturday and on Sunday looked at graphic storytelling (comics/graphic novels/narrative zines) and branching narratives (twine games, choose your own adventure stories). There were seven participants on Saturday, including me, and four on Sunday.
Reflecting on the workshops:
Saturday I think I tried to make the short story workshop too general and didn’t bring enough of Novel November and the ongoing work of the project into the workshop. This is because I was trying to make the workshop content relevant to a broad range of ages and for people who wanted to apply it to their own outside projects. My intentions were good, but ultimately these workshops *are* for and part of Novel November so I think it’s important that the examples, exercises and content draws from and builds on wherever Novel November is up to. I’m still really happy with how the workshop went and the many conversations it started.
I also wrote this silly but fun little drabble during the workshop:
No-one ever thinks sheep are dangerous, making them perfect for smuggling. Which is how I found myself tied to the belly of a sheep in the middle of a cycle-night, ready to board the living-ship Fugenavis. Jared was ahead on another and I knew he’d be freaking out, but I just had to hope and pray he wouldn’t scream. We were boarded onto Fugenavis without any trouble but I’d lost all feeling in my legs by then. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought through how we’d get loose. Which is how I ended up a ghost on Fugenavis. Sheep are dangerous things.
Drabbles are a short story format where the story has to be exactly 100 words.
I tried to take this reflection into Sunday’s workshop with examples and exercises that directly related to Novel November content. The examples were good but my energy was not. I was exhausted and flaky and really struggling to bring the energy and care needed to facilitate the workshop (to my own standards). My mind kept wandering and I tried to fit waaaaay too much into the one day, meaning that we kept rushing over things to get to the next thing I’d planned. The best outcomes of Sunday’s workshop weren’t in the content, but were in the conversations between, when we spoke about other interests and projects people were working on. By about 2pm I’d just fizzled out completely and we collectively decided to abandon the rest of the workshop content I’d planned and just write together. Even that wasn’t working for me so I used the time for some planning for this week instead.
That’s not to say the workshop was a complete waste. I showed everyone the basics of writing a logline and we had a go with a little collectively made up story about a character on Uttie who has to deal with a setimret infestation.
We also talked through the basics of what a pitch packet for a graphic novel contains and looked at a whole bunch of interactive narrative examples together, including these:
My point being: things don’t always go to plan and sometimes we’re just not in the right head space for a particular activity, but we can still find value in the connections and the sharing of small breadcrumbs to help people find their way.
This is for anyone who would like to write their own stories, poems, songs, scripts and ideas set in the lands of the river in between. I’m still adding materials, and some of the materials will be edited/change as we continue making discoveries but this is the starting place I’ve been writing from/in so far.
Each Monday during Novel November I am sending illustrator Sam Wannan a package of written material developed through the residency so far. Sam is then responding with illustrations to whatever grabs him within that material (and reading along in the live g-doc). Last week Sam sent through a whole bunch of concepts for many of the peoples we imagined during the world-building weekend and this absolutely glorious illustration of the ship Fugenavis:
This interpretation of Fugenavis was inspired by this little piece of writing I did on the very first writing day (Monday 1st November 2021):
A ship called Love
Coats flapping in a breeze that has no wind,
magic river running to a trickle, and questions.
Questions seep into the rock –
They gather the misfits, the pirates and the pretty
and the curious, voiceless dreams
that sit crouched between their knees.
They build a ship, the first in this world.
Large, unwieldy and ugly,
she waddles and wails amongst the stars.
They call her “love” but her name is Fugenavis.
The ship that became a world.
The ship that became a home.
The ship that became a legend.
The ship that saved them all.
I have loved seeing Sam’s illustrations coming into my emails and really glad we were able to find the resources to make this happen. The illustrations feel like a lovely little gift to me, which helps with motivation and connection to the worlds/project, and they’re also something visual that I can share with everyone else on social media to help communicate more about the project as it unfolds. Honestly, I just want to win the lotto so I can pay Sam forever to illustrate everything I write!
If you’ve dropped in or been regularly following my writing progress in the g-doc, you’ll have noticed that I am hopping around a lot in all the ways: characters, location, form, genre. This is deliberate and something I will keep doing right across November. The purpose of this residency isn’t to have fully resolved material, it’s to end the month with 2-3 stories & ideas that can be further developed and built on in 2022. So I’m deliberately iterating and exploring and beginning from different places and in different ways. If there are characters or stories or ideas currently in the doc that you feel more invested in though, please let me know! Knowing that will help me determine which stories I should develop further or return to during November.
Content note for this final section: grief, death, death of a young person, suicide
If you follow me on social media or you read Monday’s Novel November writing in the g-doc, you’ll know that a young person I worked with when I lived in Adelaide died over the weekend. The death of anyone you know is always devastating, and the death of a young person especially so. I’ve felt so, so sad this week since finding out. I thought about taking a writing break from the residency on Monday and just giving myself some space this week but instead I found myself in the g-doc anyway, writing from that place and those feelings of grief and loss and hurt and worry for those left behind. The writing I did, the stories and the characters and the circumstances, was all completely fictional and grounded in the context of the lands of the river in between but it reminded me of why I love fantasy (and science fiction) as genres.
I spent so much of my own adolescence escaping into fantasy novels, and fantasy is still my preferred genre as an adult, though I read more widely across genres now. The thing about fantasy, or at least the fantasy I love, is that fantasy might happen on imaginary worlds with imaginary creatures and heightened action, but the stories, always, are ultimately about what it means to be human. What it means to struggle and question. What it means to love and to lose. What it means to grieve and betray and be betrayed. What it means to belong and to not belong. What it means to forgive and accept and make space. What it means to heal and to hope. What it means to hurt in every fibre of your skin. What it means to journey through all the unknowns of what makes a life. What it means to hold on and what it means to let go.
I love fantasy because it allows us a little space (through the fantastical settings and creatures) to really look and see. See who we are, see who we have been and see who we could choose to be.
I want Novel November to be something fun and enriching and welcoming for me and my community, but that doesn’t mean it’s fluff or without substance. The stories we tell in this world are about exploring the Riverland. Who we are, who we have been and who we might become. Those stories are fictional and metaphorical and subtle, but they are there if you look.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you attended the World Building weekend for Novel November or you are otherwise interested in what I’m doing as part of my National Regional Arts Fellowship. Across November and into December and January, I’ll be doing a series of blog posts about the project and my Fellowship and my process within both. This is the first blog. This blog series is a way for me to invite you behind the scenes of what I do and how I do it. You are welcome to ask questions using the comment section and I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments or future blogs in the series.
If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading these blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details and boring the life out of you!
So….let’s talk about where things are up to and where they’re heading and some of what I’m currently thinking about and working on.
Novel November is a month-long residency project and the vehicle for my Fellowship, so there is kind of two things happening alongside each other – one is my development through the fellowship and one is the progress of Novel November as a project/outcome. Novel November itself, is also only the first stage of a longer term project and outcome/s.
My proposed fellowship activity will enable me to spend four weeks working full-time on my practice through a meaningful, tailored and self-directed collaboration with members of my community, including targeted mentor support. The activity will be a blend of solo time learning, writing, ideating, exploring, reflecting and documenting, alongside targeted mentor check-ins, and weekends spent working with community to co-create responses to an imagined speculative fiction world inspired by the Riverland.
Each week I will be actively iterating creative responses to this learning and to my weekends engaging with community members. The entire residency will be a repeated process of learn, dream, respond creatively, share, reflect, repeat.
I will be bringing together the many threads of my creative practice – writing (especially my interest in speculative fiction as a vehicle for community connection and resilience), socially/community engaged collaboration, reflection, performance making, producing and community organising and blue sky dreaming – to explore, experiment and test my own ideas and the next forms I want my practice and projects to take. Over the past decade, my creative practice has continually taken a back seat to projects and jobs that could generate a sustainable income, and this means my independent creative projects have almost always been rushed and forced to fit into the gaps between other things, this fellowship support would enable me to spend a dedicated chunk of time immersed in a single project and deeply interrogating my own practice and the next steps I want to take. This is particularly timely as a 2021 activity, as I have been actively working this year to reduce my paid “dayjob” work to three days a week to focus on independent creative projects across 2021, 2022 and beyond. This fellowship activity would provide me with the right stepping stone at the right time on this journey.
Documenting and sharing my fellowship experience will be embedded into the residency process, and I anticipate that I would spent at least 3-5 hours per week across the month on this element alone. This will be part of my reflection process to deepen my own learning, but I am also committed to turning my own learning into useful resources for others so I will be actively documenting the processes I undertake and making them available on my blog. This will include personal reflection notes, excerpts of writing and other creative material produced at various stages of development, photos and links to materials I am reading/reflecting on.
So Novel November is a project and an outcome itself, but it is also a vehicle for my own ongoing learning and development as a creative practitioner. Every project I do (independent or otherwise) is always both for me, especially as someone who hasn’t (yet) completed any tertiary education in the arts. I also want to acknowledge up front that my “dayjob” is also in the arts and I currently work 0.6 FTE (3 days per week) for Writers SA as Statewide Regional Manager and Riverland Coordinator. I wasn’t working for Writers SA when I applied for the Fellowship but after I started working there and was awarded the Fellowship, I had a conversation with my manager (Writers SA Director Jessica Alice) to talk through how I would manage my commitment to Writers SA and to the Fellowship. Through this negotiation Writers SA is supporting me to work on the Fellowship 0.4 (two days per week), as an investment in me as a regional writer and also because Novel November itself is directly serving the vision/mission of my work at Writers SA. I am so grateful for this support of my independent work and this flexibility from Writers SA. This means I can still be fully immersed in the Fellowship process without feeling like I’m letting Writers SA down, and also means that I’ve been able to add to the resources pool (ie. money) available to support my Fellowship activities.
Process wise so far, I’ve been very much in “doing” mode – we spent the weekend world building (which I’ll talk about below) and I spent a few hours Monday and yesterday just writing and thinking. Today has mostly been a bit of an admin day, though I’m hoping to tackle some writing before bed too. Tomorrow I’m planning to do some writing, and spend some time reading, reflecting, and planning for this coming weekend. Friday I have my first scheduled mentor check-in.
The mentor check-ins are 1-2 hour Zoom chats with a range of people. I reached out via email to a wide mix of practitioners from theatre, film, literature, games, community art, nerd communities, activists and many other circles to enrich my thinking and exploring. I want to talk with artists, producers, curators, ideas people, marketing folk and people outside of the arts. Some of the people I contacted I already know a little bit and others I know of but haven’t had any direct contact with. Some of the people I reached out to didn’t respond, which I completely expected – especially the “cold” emails to people I’ve never met – but most did and all in the affirmative, which is really lovely. In case you’re wondering this is the guts of what I sent people (with some additional notes at the beginning depending on if I knew the person and/or how I knew of their work):
I’ve been awarded a Regional Arts Australia Fellowship this year to tackle the first exploration of a project I’ve been dreaming about for a while. Thanks to the Fellowship, I’ll be spending every day in November exploring the idea of creating a new fantasy world inspired by my home here in the Riverland and how this fantasy world can be a container/foundation for a range of creative outcomes over the coming years. My Fellowship format is facilitating weekend workshops with my community and then writing/planning/ideating/creating independently each weekday. Some background and an overview of the schedule for November here (including a link to FAQ): https://partofthings.org/portfolio/novel-november-2021/And a bit of background on me/my work here if needed: https://alyshaherrmann.com/
Why am I emailing you? Within that month-long process of dreaming, ideating, writing, reflecting, exploring, I budgeted some time for me to access mentors as catalysts/ to bounce ideas with other brains etc and I would love to have 1-2 hours of your time in this capacity somewhere in November. I can be uber flexible about when as I know you’re a very busy person! I am deliberately reaching out to a wide mix of practitioners from theatre, film, literature, games, community art, nerd communities, activists and many other circles to enrich my thinking and exploring. I want to talk with artists, producers, curators, ideas people, marketing folk and people outside of the arts.
What would this include/what do I want from you?1-2 hours of your time to chat with me over Zoom (1 or 2 sessions). I’ve budgeted $110 an hour for these chats. There is nothing to prepare and nothing to follow up afterwards, just being present for a conversation with me and wherever that conversation goes. During these chats I am hoping to:
– hear a little more about your career pathway and background and how you’ve developed big ideas and backed yourself when doubts creep in.
– chat through where the ideas for Novel November are sitting at that moment in time as a way for me to think through challenges/direction/ideas with different mentor brains.
– perhaps go away with 1-2 movies/books/theatre shows/games etc that you can recommend as further professional development aligned with my interests.
– if appropriate introducing me to other relevant networks of yours.
Eight incredible people agreed to have one of these chats with me, including people I honestly expected wouldn’t bother replying. A ninth person also rang me the day after I emailed them to yarn on the phone for over an hour about what I was doing, and how their work might be able to help. This person asked not to be named and not to be paid for their time but I still want to acknowledge that investment and input here by mentioning it.
For me the key reasoning behind these mentor chats and budgeting for them with my Fellowshop resources is because being a regional creative means I don’t have access to casually meeting people in foyers and workshops to have those more natural conversations (and I’m also an introvert who finds those environments a barrier anyway!), so in some ways I’m just really setting up a bunch of conversations to meet people and say hello and hear a little about different creative pathways/industries from different perspectives to inform my thinking and keep opening up my networks.
People sometimes talk about opportunities in the arts as “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and in many ways that’s true. I think perhaps less so because of nepotism (which is often the implication) and more because of access and information. When we have relationships with people (working or otherwise), those relationships are a source of information and access – come to this thing with me/ hey did you hear about / I saw this opportunity that would be great for you/ etc, etc. When we live and work in spaces with lots of other artists or creative infrastructure (things like galleries, theatres, regular events etc) we have lots of opportunity to naturally build those relationships and that’s why opportunities tend to flow a little more easily to city-based artists, they are more likely to know about the opportunities and have access to people to help understand and unlock those opportunities. I know it doesn’t always feel that way to city-based artists who feel on the outer and outside of the cliques, but that proximity alone still does make a difference (in my experience of living in Adelaide for four years, compared to the rest of my life/career in the regions). Even just being able to regularly access a gallery or see professional shows at a theatre makes a difference to people’s practice: it energises thinking, introduces new concepts and artists to follow, it inspires. Those are some of the barriers and gaps we face as regional artists.
There is no professional gallery in my community and no professional theatre-makers who regularly create and present work here. We get a circuit of touring theatre work and commercial shows that parachute in, and a community workshop or two built in (with some occasional deeper engagement) and I’m really grateful for these shows. I love sitting in the audience of my local theatre to see them and saying hello to teachers, friends etc in the foyer beforehand. But it’s not the same as the organic and regular community of practice that I had access to when I lived in Adelaide (and people complain about Adelaide not having enough!). There are many creative people in my regional community but we do not have the buildings and gathering places and hubs and programs and active foyers and connection points and investment to provoke, share and inspire. It’s hard to find each other and even harder to find the ways we can collaborate and learn from each other. And harder still to find those people who are further into their careers as mentors, guides and door-openers. Most of them leave or were never here to begin with.
I love my community fiercely, but that doesn’t change that I also often feel isolated and lonely here as a creative.
So that’s why my Fellowship includes and invests in an opportunity for me to say hello to interesting people who I admire and want to know more about through the mentor chats.
It’s also why Novel November is a project with and for and in my community – I want the work I do to be a shared place for others who feel the way I do. The people who feel a little lonely and a little weird and a little lost and a little frustrated but know in their heart that the regions are where they want to make and create and strive and live and dream and be.
I want my work to be place for us to find each other, and to scheme and dream and create together.
Sorry, that was all a bit rambly and longer than I meant it to be, but I did say this was about my behind the scenes thinking, so there you go!
Novel November Progress
Over the weekend of 30th & 31st October 2021, eight Riverland folk (including my 7yo daughter and me) + one Adelaide visitor spent 12 hours creating the bare bones of the world, including some world logic, some humanoid species, some creatures and some random characters. That process of world-building will be ongoing across the month and we’ve really only skimmed the surface but I absolutely ADORED it. It was SO fun to spend the weekend coming up with wild and wonderful ideas together and talking about the Riverland and what it is to us.
The world ingredients we ended on really do have something from everyone who attended the weekend, which is probably my favourite part about it.
The two days started with an Acknowledgment of Country and then moved into some relationship building through an introduction circle and completing these little personal “character sheets” (I put everyone in pairs and asked them to draw each other’s portrait in 60seconds):
These character sheets were inspired by the tabletop role-playing games I’ve played and attendance at conferences and networking events. They were a way to get to know a little about everyone who attended the world building weekend, and gave us prompts to help start conversations across the weekend. I’ve always found small talk *really* hard so having some topics identified by other people that they love to talk about is a handy thing for me.
From introductions I then talked through the overall structure of Novel November and my longterm vision and asked everyone to complete and sign a Workshop Participation Deed. I talked through each section of the Workshop Participation Deed in detail to help everyone understand it, but also to be transparent about my expectations and the shared agreements the project is founded on. The gist is that everyone who participates in Novel November is contributing to developing this shared fantasy world and key materials that flesh out that world. That shared world material will be made available soon under a Creative Commons licence (specifically – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)) to enable others to make and create within our shared world but to retain the potential for all of the workshop participants as shared copyright holders to potentially commercialise elements in the future. All participants, including me, also retain individual copyright to any materials they individually create during Novel November – so you can read and follow everything I write but you can’t take my stories, poems, etc and republish them anywhere without my permission. The world material on the other hand – which I am currently collating and putting into a readable format – will be made available as Creative Commons (under the specific licence mentioned above) meaning that you can adapt, remix and use that material to write and create your own things for non-commercial purposes.
Why is this important?
First and foremost because my projects are always a learning space and so it was an opportunity to teach everyone participating a bit more about copyright in general and some common licensing terms and also let them know about resources like Arts Law. The Workshop Participant Deed we are using for Novel November was purchased from Arts Law. I am not a lawyer and made it clear that my explanation of terms was not legal advice and that if anyone wanted to query anything with me, with Arts Law or with a lawyer that they should. I signed so many things early in my career that I did not understand and I know it takes lots of exposure to certain kinds of language and terms before they start to make sense. By introducing contracts and licensing agreements to others early in their creative journeys, I hope that I can help them build their literacy in this area and their confidence to ask questions in the future (where the producer/organiser may not always have their best interests in mind). Questions should always be welcome in my work.
It’s also important to me that I am protecting the current and future rights of collaborators, especially young people. I don’t want to exploit people and I want people to get value from any collaboration or exchange with me. I want to be clear about how I’ll use things, what people can expect from me and how they can dispute any use now or in the future. This protects them and me. It’s not perfect or watertight – anyone who has had to dispute a contract will know that even very extensive legal contracts can fail to protect people and be misinterpreted – but it does mean we have something written down reflecting a shared understanding of what we are doing, why and what will happen to any content we create together. Of course I hope that we’ll never need to revisit those pieces of paper because our communication and relationships will be strong and nurturing, but it means if something does go wrong we are not relying on memory and we have a paper trail to guide us.
It’s also a useful tool to talk about that bigger vision I have with collaborators and what the steps are to get there, and what that would mean for everyone who participates in Novel November. Everyone who attends workshops and co-creates the world and key materials is a joint-copyright holder with me. If we further develop that shared material into other things in the future, any benefit should flow to all of us, not just me! At the same time, we want the world we are creating to be something others can play in as well, hence our use of Creative Commons for shared world materials.
We did spend quite a bit of time talking through all of this on Saturday morning. It was probably terribly boring for the younger ones, but a couple of the older ones said to me afterwards that they really valued my explanation and commitment to transparency and so I think the time was well-spent.
After all of that we got into some of the fun stuff!
This is a very rough version of what we did, in approximate order:
sharing a Riverland story (in pairs)
post-it-note brainstorm of “Riverland things”
discussion around how/what ways the Riverland is a different place for different people (backgrounds, ages, race etc)
we had a look at a map of the Riverland
everyone (except me) completed a 10-minute observation walk in the mainstreet of Barmera, and then shared things they noticed with the wider group
we played “object story” with a piece of fabric
we then took the concept of object story and applied it to all the Riverland material we’d discussed and documented to populate a wall of post-it-notes of ridiculous ideas and imagined things (example – people noticed roses during their walk in the main-street and this became post-it-notes about rose fairies and flower magic)
we started a questions and names wall
we discussed using the Riverland as a provocation/inspiration/place to bounce off as opposed to rewriting/overwriting the Riverland and why this distinction is important (I will talk about this in next week’s blog)
we talked about some common fantasy tropes and ways we might subvert them
we talked about some of the themes, ideas and issues that matter to us (for example in my work I want to include a wide variety of queer characters, characters from diverse races/backgrounds and physical appearances)
we started discussing some big world ideas from everything brainstormed so far, from this common ideas emerged around exploring/representing sustainability and the idea of literal living worlds on the backs of giant creatures.
we had some overnight downtime to rest and reflect (rest is resistance, rest is always part fo good process and practice)
we gathered again and went around the circle sharing reflections on the day before and any ideas/connections we’d made overnight
we revisited our ridiculous ideas wall and grouped like ideas with like on a new wall
the world/s started to take some shape and link together some of the foundation work from day one
we spent some time ideating specific features of our world and talking through logic gaps and questions
I put up this set of post-it-notes and asked everyone to self-identify an area they would like to delve into individually or in small groups:
everyone went away and worked on their chosen areas individually
we came back and shared our work and discussed contradictions, questions and ways to adapt conflicting ideas
we started to refine and document the world/s using post-it-notes on a blank wall and seeing what was important enough to keep and what still needed to be developed
we each had some time to ideate and contribute a character that we were happy to have belong to the shared world materials and be used by others
we gathered to reflect on the process overall and where to next
we closed the circle and the world building weekend by each sharing one word that described how we were feeling. Words shared included: empowered, inspired, “ooooft”, thoughtful and others I can’t remember (I should have written them all down at the time because now I’ve forgotten!)
Monday morning I spent about two hours writing and then in the evening I sat down and wrote up some of the key world bits and sent them off to fantasy illustrator (and friend & collaborator) Sam Wannan who I have commissioned to respond to Novel November material with illustrations each week.
Yesterday I wrote for a couple of hours and shared a couple of social posts, including one of the illustrations Sam sent me at lunch time. Tomorrow I plan to spend some time on writing, reading, reflecting and planning for the weekend. Friday will be first mentor chat and some bigger picture planning/reflecting, with a half hour or so of writing.
This weekend will be a short story workshop and graphic narrative + branching narrative workshop. The structure of the workshop weekends for the rest of the month is a morning workshop facilitated by me focused on some skills sharing within a particular writing form, and then an afternoon of writing hangout. People can either work on their own projects in the afternoon or join me in writing within the Novel November world in that particular form. My reason for this is to enable opportunity for like-minded people to come together, invest in skills sharing/development, keep opening up the invitation to write and create in our shared fantasy world and make sure that I have some dedicated writing time focused on different forms.
I’m one of those greedy people that doesn’t want to specialise in just one writing/creative form – this is both a strength and a weakness, because the many strands of my practice inform and improve each other, but I’ll never quite achieve the kind of mastery and skill of specialising. I am 100% okay with this but it’s just something worth noting. Many people will tell you that you have to pick one thing (I’ve been told this many times) but the truth is you don’t have to. You do have to accept the trade-off and challenge of playing in many spaces though. All choices have pros and cons, but knowing ourselves and what brings us joy and challenge is the place to build from. I love writing short stories just as much as I love writing poems and just as much as I love writing plays and just as much as I love longform writing (etc).
If you want to follow along with my Novel November writing progress, a reminder that I am writing in this live google-doc so you can see every key stroke, deletion and word written as it occurs. This is because I personally love seeing process, so I feel it’s only fair that mine is open to you. We so often just see the hard-won, polished and finished versions of things and it can give us a skewed view of how much shit has to be written/created/developed/tried first! This first week I’m deliberately just writing little snapshots that keep exploring and unpacking the world a bit more. Next week will probably be more of the same, though I might start to revisit and further flesh out some ideas from this week. I expect (though could be wrong) that in weeks three and four, I will hone in on some pieces to start refining. By the end of the month I plan to have 1-2 pieces of writing that can be launching off points to further develop in 2022.
I’m hoping to have some of the world material and notes up by Sunday night for anyone who can’t attend workshops but would like to play in the world we are creating. In the meantime, here is a small detail from one of Sam’s illustrations:
You can see that our creature worlds are based on animals that live in Australia and I’ll probably talk to this in a bit more depth in a future blog, but please note that we will be deliberately stretching the features/aesthetic/logic of all the creature worlds to be more fantastical for a whole bunch of reasons but some key reasons being:
because we do not want to accidentally (or otherwise) suggest a connection to, or appropriate from, any First Nations Song Spirals (Dreaming, Tjukurpa, Creation Stories etc). That would be completely inappropriate and not at all in line with my values and the purpose/vision of this project. Of course everyone is influenced and inspired by many things, so if anyone following the project *does* notice content that has crept in without us realising and shouldn’t be there please let me know so that we can remove/adapt/address it and do our best to make sure the world we create is enriching, and not harmful, for our community. Not directly related but an important sidenote – this project is not a First Nations project and is not telling First Nations stories but I am always committed to including representation and ideas that help educate, inspire and break down negative stereotypes about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are less than 5% of the population in contemporary Australia. That means everyone has a role to play in ensuring more representation, however any story that deals with First Nations history, cultural knowledge or specific experiences should be led and told by First Nations people. Even the best intentioned people fuck up telling stories that don’t belong to them (true also of queer stories, disabled stories etc). My personal family history it not “fully white” (for lack of a better term) but I am white in appearance and have been raised culturally white, so it is not, and will never be, my place to tell/lead First Nations stories, irrespective of my lost/hidden ancestry.
because fantasy audiences want and expect fantastical creatures and we do want the world and stories we create to interest a broader audience than just those involved in the workshops/project/Riverland. Though we would love to weave in some nods to special Riverland things that help encourage people to take better care of our places, creatures and people.
we want to be informed and inspired and pay homage to the place we call home in the Riverland here and now, but without being constrained to what the Riverland is or isn’t. This project isn’t about rewriting the Riverland. It’s about imagining something entirely new, together.
One of the independent projects I have on the go this year is producing a regional tour of a gorgeous little play by Australian writer Jessica Bellamy.
This project came about through a desire of mine to share the beautiful story of Sprout with some of the community I love, at the same time as investing in South Australian emerging talent. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of the 2015 Kirk Robson Award earlier this year and decided that I wanted to use the award to reinvest in my communities and in arts experiences for others – especially emerging artists and audiences. Some of the Kirk Robson Award has gone towards the beginning of a new multi-year project in Berri (Manifold Portrait) and the rest towards bringing Sprout to life in some of the communities I know and love.
I approached emerging Adelaide director Hannah Fallowfield to direct the play after seeing some of the work she was doing last year through my involvement with Urban Myth. I was really impressed and interested in the ‘artistic eye’ and passion she brings to things and wanted to foster further directing opportunities for her. I also had a feeling that she’d love Sprout as much as I did.
Anyway – you can read the full story over on our Pozible campaign and if you feel taken, drop us $2 towards the project and score yourself a fun reward of your choice!
So last month the Paper Ensemble team packed up the car and headed off on the 15 hour drive to Newcastle for 4 days.
Paper Ensemble is made up of 4 young and emerging artists (in various disciplines) from the Riverland in South Australia and we were taking a new project called Sing Me Your Sorrow to the Crack Theatre Festival.
Sing Me Your Sorrow is a participatory installation/space exploration. Inspired by the PostSecret community and The Obliteration Room by artist Yayoi Kusama and the need we all have to share our hurts with someone who will listen.
Sing Me Your Sorrow invites the audience to write/draw their story of sorrow into the space our artistic team claims. Over the course of an afternoon/day/month, the artistic team then responds to those stories with a series of short films and a unique song of sorrow. We took Sing Me Your Sorrow to Crack Theatre Festival (as part of This Is Not Art) to test the concept and define the boundaries before pitching Sing Me Your Sorrow across regional South Australia in 2014/2015.
You can read more about the impetus behind the work on ‘Inside Crack’ with a lovely article written by Cass Ramsay here.
The heart of the project is asking people to share their stories and then responding back to those stories musically and through film/photography. Fabulous young musician Jess Weidenhofer and I worked together on crafting a musical response which we presented in a casual share back on the Saturday of Crack alongside photographic response from Nic Tubb and Brianna Obst. We’re still in the process of capturing the footage and collating the digital responses from the weekend to share online but in the meantime, we bring you ‘Ode to Kevin’.
The Ode to Kevin was created on Sunday night at the conclusion of Crack before our team fell into bed for the 15 hour drive home. During the Sing Me Your Sorrow installation someone had written ‘Kevin is awesome’ on the table and we thought this was a fitting way to finish the weekend.
We had a fabulous time and learned a lot about ourselves as artists and the future of the project, which we are keen to develop for presentation across regional SA. If you’d like to support future presentation get in touch paperensemble AT gmail DOT com, we’d love to hear from you. We’re looking for spaces, local support to engage audiences, financial support to pay artists, accommodation and installation materials.
You can also see some photos from the project on the Paper Ensemble facebook here.
Our panel was facilitated by the gentle Chris Brain, who was both a member of the Watershed Steering Committee and Implementation Committee. We were kicked off by Chris asking “What under-used resource would you like to see young and emerging theatre artists connect with better?”
Obvious one. Working with people with a disability. People are worried about saying and doing the wrong thing so they just avoid it. Diversity strengthens our practice. – Michelle Ryan
I want to reaffirm what Michelle said. Diversity enriches the process. Diversity in every way (deliberately). It’s a huge resource. Also, be open to the possibility of people you meet being a collaborator in the future. – Baba Israel
Faith in yourself. It’s really broad and you won’t get a lot out of it initially. – Kirsty Hillhouse
Kirsty touched on how this faith in yourself means something to those who fund you (or invest in you in other ways). Everyone is looking for people with bright ideas – not necessarily with capacity or skill yet, there is a willingness to support and grow from the ideas. Make the most of that and don’t wait until you’re a proven product. Asking inspires people, they want to be part of your awesomeness.
I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I reiterated what the previous panelists had said and touched on the power of our networks with each other and the industry – in particular harnessing the power of tools like social media.
Being a regional artist, I can’t practically pop to and from events to make networks or collect flyers to see what’s on as regularly as I’d like. But what I can do is follow companies/individuals within the industry through their social media profiles and through this have real time access to a wide range of announcements and insights into the industry and work happening across the country (and internationally). I can research and open up a dialogue with companies and people that excite me so that my travel to urban areas can be targeted and well utilized. I can overcome *some* of the isolation I feel through the connections I maintain. Social media has been a fantastic resource for me and has led to offers of paid work and other opportunity’s that I otherwise would not have accessed. Definitely a resource I would encourage other artists from all walks of life to tap into.
David was lucky last and rather than picking just one thing, he reaffirmed everything everyone else had said and shared the following list:
Using the internet. Accessing opportunities. Heaps of websites. Google opps for young artists. Research.
Travel. Being out of your space and seeing other work.
Older artists. Mentors. Asking questions. People whose work you like.
DIY. Don’t wait for the offer. Ger in there. The benefit is you start making the mistakes early.
Mistakes. They are a resource. Make them early.
Seeing more/other work. It’s easy to become a bit insular. See everything you can. Sometimes thing you hate really inspire you to be productive.
Playing out of your depth. You SHOULD feel scared, and like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. You shouldn’t feel like that every day of course, that’s no good for you. But if it’s been more than a year or two since you felt terrified, go and do it now. Bite off more than you think you can handle.
Find inspiration from outside your field.
Networking and collaborating. Provoke people around you to be creative. Even if it’s something small and stupid.
Talk with funding bodies. Ask questions. They are waiting to talk to you.
I love David. 🙂
The floor was then open to questions. This is where it just got ridiculously tricky to write everything down as I was listening and responding to questions and the other panelists and just couldn’t manage to type at the same type. So sadly I can’t give you a run down of the Q and A in detail.
Many of the questions (though not all) were asked by what I’d consider ‘youth participants’ or ‘aspiring artists’ rather than young/emerging artists. What I mean by this is people actively engaging with the arts through youth theatre and school who in the future want to consider or pursue an arts career but aren’t actually participating in the industry themselves (at present).
I found this a little frustrating, not because they weren’t valid questions, but because the vision for the summit was to be a space for young and emerging artists either completely in or well on their way to transitioning into professional practice. These questions (and the people asking them) were coming from a completely different place, and a place that is valid and important but wasn’t (from the steering committee perspective) a place that was designed to be addressed as part of Watershed. It meant that we were using time (both in this panel and Watershed as a whole) to answer questions that would have been best answered in some cases by Google searches and by attending workshops at school and with their youth theatre company.
Young people engaged with youth theatre, school and other arts as participants is a really important conversation. And one as a result of my personal practise that I am incredibly passionate about, but it is a different conversation to that of young and emerging artists as professional practitioners in the wider industry. Sadly so many people/companies just lump it all in together if you’re under 30 (or 26) which I find really ridiculous. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you want to make work with or for other young people. And just because you love engaging with the arts through youth theatre and school doesn’t mean you’ll move into professional practice.
This issue of specificity was a concern to me across the spectrum of Watershed but I have gone a little off topic from the Abundance Panel, so I will aim to visit this structural issue in a separate blog and take the time to really tease out why it was an issue and why myself and other Steering Committee members felt unsatisfied in certain areas.
Before moving on though, I do just want to make it very clear that the issues I’m talking about are not in any way a criticism of the very hard work of the Implementation Committee. They delivered the content they decided upon very well, it just happened to be content that didn’t necessarily answer the required questions for a National Theatre Summit for Young and Emerging Artists (as opposed to a National Youth Theatre Summit). I’ll delve into this properly when I get to that other blog.
Going back to the panel, there was some great discussion in response to audience questions and I was super impressed (and super intimidated) by the responses of the other panelists. What really stood out to me is the repeated motif of ‘Just ask. Just do. Just start.’
I was also struck by how the fact of being on the panel, somehow made people assume I was further in my own career than I actually am. It’s an interesting observation in terms of how the frame we put around someone shapes how we perceive and engage with them.
I am still figuring out who I am, both as a person and as an artist and I ALWAYS will be, because I see myself as ongoing project and I have a deep hunger to learn, learn, learn. I want to be better each day than I was the day before.
I have NO idea what I’m doing.
At least that’s how it often feels.
Until I remember that my journey is mine and mine alone. I bring my life experiences and professional experiences and the unique combination of the two. I’m not finished. I’m not an expert.
Dan once went to the local music shop to buy a CD for his wife and accidentally bought the whole shop while he was there. It didn’t work out, but that’s the point. Life is about trying and failing and trying again (as Samuel Beckett said).
The keynote actually begins with Dan’s own real life roots and a photograph of the house he grew up in (and his father still lives in), in Worthing, UK. Dan shares his first experience of reclaiming spaces and invigorating community spirit with the plot of land near the house. The plot of land was fenced off (by council?) and quickly became a dumping ground and blight on the block. Dan rang the council to ask them to clean it up and was told – “No, we don’t know who the items there belong to or where they came from (and therefore who’s responsibility it is)”. So Dan said “Can I clean it up?” – “Oh no, we don’t know who the items belong to, you might be stealing.” Face palm. Giggles all round from our listening conference gaggle.
Dan – “Fuck that, I’m going to do it anyway,” so he did and others in the neighbourhood saw him cleaning up and lent a hand.
This is where I start to get an inkling that Dan is about to join my #professionalcrush list as a top #troublemaker and the rest of his keynote does not disappoint.
Dan’s keynote covered off on a range of the fab and super inspiring projects he has both deliberately and accidentally initiated, the most relevant to Creating Spaces being the Empty Shops Network and #wewillgather, although I was interested in all of his work. I was also secretly thrilled that yet again, my new professional crush is from a theatre/performing arts background (as were the Gap Filler duo).
Dan’s sharing was framed by this quote from 60s activist Peter Coyote:
A man’s vision is his responsibility. If you have an idea, make it happen; find the brothers and sisters; find the resources and do it. Your personal autonomy and power expose the shallowness of endless theorising and debate. Visions become real by being acted out, and once real serve as endless inspiration and free food for the public imagination.
The Empty Shops network is essentially a similar idea to that of Renew Newcastle, helping people to reduce, reuse and recycle empty shops and other spaces in towns and cities across the UK. The Empty Shops website follows what the Bank of Ideas calls a copyleft policy by providing a wide range of resources on their website free to use.
Since 2008, Empty Shops is a national network of people using empty shops. In the UK approximately 15% of shops are empty and it’s mostly due to supermarkets that sell everything.
“Thanks for sending us Westfield, that’s worked out really well.” Dan Thompson
There is also a very strong online economy with approximately 10% of purchases completed on line.
Empty Shops inspired a range of mini projects such as We Are Bedford. Bedford had 100% vacancy in the high street (traditional main street). The We Are Bedford project took on all the shops and ran a festival. There is now 100% occupancy. Like Renew, Empty Shops projects operate on the idea that bringing the shops to life will bring people back to these centres and subsequently attract commercial tenants (or transition creative projects into creative tenants).
Dan also called for the room (and those playing at home) to get involved with Empty Shop Day on the fourth of May (Star Wars Day!) by posting photos of empty shops on the flickr page.
Although not directly related to Renew, #riotcleanup has a strong philosophical link (with a lot in common again with Gap Filler) and is an interesting story in and of itself.
England actually has a long history of riot and revolt. Dan listed off quite an impressive list of riots and rebellions. Minus the very real blood, death and destruction, on one level the abstract idea of standing up absolutely and completely for what you believe in feels quite inspiring.
As many would know London was overtaken by a number of huge riots in 2011, which started in response to a young man who was shot by police. Dan is a prolific twitter user and logging on, his feed was flooded with people talking about barricading their doors and many fleeing because the violence was so bad.
This was a very different kind of riot, it wasn’t targeted at barons or lords in the vein of England’s tradition of rioting. This was violence that largely damaged every day people. People that run shops aren’t rich and often everything they have is tied into those premises.
In response to the violence and damage, Dan tweeted – Tomorrow we need to work out how to help the independent retailers. Dan thought he could rustle up 50 people to help those local shops to clean up. He asked people on twitter to take a dustpan and broom and go and help their local clean up. 12,000 people volunteered on the first day and #riotcleanup was born.
The most interesting thing about this ‘project’ is that no one was actually in charge, it wasn’t an organisation or a formal project with anyone telling you what to do. It was an idea and a movement started almost accidentally. People asked Dan “Can you organise something in Hackney?” and Dan would reply “Yes, YOU can, what time will you be there?”. They’d say 10 o’clock and so Dan would tweet #riotcleanup Hackney 10 o’clock and then 300 people would turn up in Hackney at 10 o’clock and manage themselves and each other.
#wewillgather is a similar principle that’s followed on from #riotcleanup to encourage people to organise small scale coming together and fixing/clean up in their communities in a more general sense. It’s about using social media to get people together to do a job that needs doing.
“People want to do things, but they needed someone to give them permission,” Dan Thompson
Rather than place making, Dan’s ethos is about ‘place shaking’. Place making is a formal and structured process. Place shaking is instead, informal, agile, frugal and about making networks. Place shaking begins place making.
As Dan spoke, the hairs on my arms stood up as I felt like he was putting a language to something embedded in my idea of community and care. Thanks Dan!
Named as one of GQ’s 100 most influential men in Britain last year, Dan comes across as humble, authentic, endearing and the best kind of doer and left the keynote with these rules:
Everything starts with a conversation
Explore, get lost, and find out what makes a place interesting ( find the little details off the beaten track).
Reclaim spaces for public use
Create collaborations and friendly networks, not organisations
Test, prototype and try it together
and invited each of us to be the trim tab on a rudder. The smallest tilt can turn us all in a new direction. And his tip for maintaining energy? Lots of jelly sweets.
The opening keynote from Marcus Westbury (Founder of Renew Newcastle and all around trouble maker/over achiever) and the first two panel sessions today covered very similar themes so I’m actually going to lump them into the one blog post so I can actually get some sleep tonight and hopefully not just make it by the skin of my teeth tomorrow after sleeping through my alarm (true story).
So, how do make a city work for people who have ideas but no money?
Renew Newcastle and it’s spin offs including umbrella Renew Australia (Newcastle came first) are essentially permanent structures for enabling temporary things. Operating on the idea that initiative and experimentation (not just capital) are the key to revitalisation, Renew projects broker an agreement with creative projects and land owners to occupy what would be otherwise empty real estate. Occupation is of a temporary nature with the view to projects testing their ideas and activating the space to encourage commercial tenants (including the projects themselves if they discover they are viable). On the surface, it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. However there are of course barriers, the largest of which seems to be as always, fear (sigh). The morning’s sessions touched on addressing these issues and working proactively with owners and other stakeholders to address the reality that things can and do fail – and that failure can even be a desirable part of the process.
In Marcus’ opening keynote he touched on the growing popularity of DIY and the spike in home based creative businesses and use of online tools such as etsy. It’s worth noting that 70% of Australian etsy sales are to international buyers. Marcus also managed to slip in that he started the This Is Not Art (TINA) festival, as if we weren’t impressed enough.
The keynote also covered off on some of Newcastle’s history to provide deeper context, although the experience of shopping malls killing the main street and the decline of past industry is something I think almost anyone from a regional place in Australia can relate to.
For those who need a good cry, you can also visit ‘Deadmalls’ which Marcus described as ‘ruin porn’ of shopping centres that are empty or never finished. I had a peek and the content is US, but still worth a wander.
(note: Dan Thompson in his key note also referred to ‘ruin porn’ and mentioned Detroit as the pinnacle. You can google further info but it really is devastating. Libraries and schools have been completely abandoned – intact and including all their books!)
Invest in hope.
Some of my take away thoughts from the keynote:
Creation is growing much faster than consumption.
Demands for places of creativity, creation and interaction are growing but are not well served.
Create a dynamic of starting things – not of preserving them. There is power in doing.
If you tell people to come back with their idea – you just failed initiative (my note – this is where I think existing funding models fail creative projects)
It’s about software of the place not the hardware
The transformative process, rather than the art or the capital
Risk doesn’t exist in a vacuum, don’t believe the people who try and tell you it does. Risk should be measured against the actual likelihood
A sense of things happening can be self perpetuating (in the same way a sense of nothing happening creates a negative feedback loop)
The first panel of the day was then very much a follow on and digging down into all of these things with Tim Horton (Architect and other super impressive things like this) and Marcus again. Tim kicked things off by running through the work and findings of the Integrated Design Commission set up in 2010, including handing out the report summary. Which I will read and then comment on like the good girl I am. The key information to take away according to Tim though is the idea of a 10:1 return on investment, which is pretty darn impressive especially when you compare that to dollar figures invested in the range of events brought to places like Adelaide.
Tim also gave a nod the Adelaide Thinkers in Residence Program, which I am a rather fan of. I was lucky enough to work with previous Thinker in Residence Dr Genevieve Bell as part of an Office for Youth Action Team exploring ICT use in connecting regional communities – read our report here and Genevieve’s report here if you’re interested, you can see the min clip we shared when we presented the report by clicking the ‘Riverland’ tab at the top of this blog.
All of these conversations are about more than just how we activate space though, they’re about how do cities (or regional areas) transition to what they were to what they are? This is something I’m particularly interested in when thinking about the Riverland, we so often here the nostalgia and catch cries of ‘the place is dying/a hole’ etc, but the comparisons we’re using to the functions of these places in the 80’s and 90’s just aren’t relevant. Places are different now (across the nation) and traditional retail in particular is undergoing a HUGE shift.
So where does that leave us?
Grappling with the idea of trying. Of failing. Of risking. Of possibly tipping me over the edge into being a professional trouble maker. Thanks guys.
I was particularly interested in some of the points Marcus and Tim made in regards to how the creative enterprises which have been part of the Renew movement don’t neatly fit into business development paradigms or the arts. Which naturally led me to think about Fifth Quarter and how I’m shaping my creative/business future. For those outside South Australia, Fifth Quarter is a new initiative supporting emerging South Australian Artists to develop sustainable arts business and step off the funding treadmill. It’s only just launched this year and I’ve been invited on the journey as an inaugural participant with the disjointed mess of things I’m doing. Fifth Quarter is so new, that even those running it and funding it don’t really know what it is or how it will function but that’s part of what’s exciting and the outcomes may well feed into this discussion around business/arts and where creative enterprise fits.
Online, the barriers to entry are low. When you step into the ‘real’ world, the barriers to entry become a cliff – Marcus Westbury.
I’ve just realised I was wrong. I can’t fit everything from 3 sessions into one blog and it’s already 12.45am. I will return to untangle some of the mess I’ve made tomorrow……(including photos to save you from these ugly blocks of text). Hang tight.