Last month I attended the Uncommon Ground event at The Lowry in Salford. Among other things, the speakers and fellow delegates were questioning our role and motives as arts practitioners and producers working in and around social engagement. Are we really ’engaging’ audiences and making an ‘impact’ – or are we more focused on data collection and making sure our numbers and evaluations are impressive.
Working across touring, artist development and community projects, this is a balance that I myself find can be difficult to strike. Trying to ensure we are having an impact, whilst trying to make enough of an impact to secure further funding. But which should be the driving force and at what time? Is it OK for a project to have an impact on just one person or is that seen as a waste of public funding? Can we realistically expect for our projects to have a long lasting impact on more than a few individuals and do they have to or is that not always the point?
Measuring impact and value is far more complex than how many people we ‘engaged’. It’s like dropping a stone in the middle of a lake. We see the initial small ripples but we don’t see how these grow over time and space, and we don’t see what’s happening underneath the water. Impact is the same. It’s not always instant and it’s not always linear. An experience today may not mean anything until a later experience causes a meaningful connection, and then an idea might spark.
So where does that leave us? Do we need to put pressure on the numbers and measuring the impact because that’s the way that funding can be valued? Or do we allow ourselves the space to try things that may start a ripple with impacts that we will never be able to see; but safe in the knowledge that we know art and culture is important and can be the basis for these thought provoking and life changing experiences.
For me, this was a real eye opener in to my own motivations when working on a project. At one time or another we’ve all most likely fallen in to the trap of focusing too closely on the demands of the funding that it takes focus away from the process itself. So how can we be honest to the cause every day in our practice?
One thing I am keen to look at is focusing more on the process than the output. Not setting and defining what the output will be or look like at the start, but instead creating an environment and space for the process to breath and naturally find it’s own outputs based on the direction and needs as they occur.
I’m keen to hear from anyone that naturally adopts this way of working or has set up a framework that was successful. As I prepare for a new challenge in the sector it feels like the perfect time to be trying new approaches and styles of leadership.
*Featured Image: Opening of the ‘Uncommon Ground’ event at The Lowry in March 2018*