Sunday 26 December 2010

Amateur and lovin' it

On our way back from a day out in New Zealand we spot a sign for wood turning. We turn into a residential house drive - next to the garage there's a sign pointing to an old small caravan, saying,  'IN HERE'. The quality of the chopping boards inside is very good, with a unique embedded paua shell technique - not as polished as the shops in Nelson, but with a good sense of the natural beauty of the wood, shell and other embedded stuff. A man pops in later, telling us not only the wood (we choose kauri and lawson cypress)but where, when and how he came across the wood.

Today's been the best day for shopping - earlier we stopped by at Gourd man's gallery - very personable, and able to explain where I'd been going wrong with my gourd growing and decorating. His passion for gourds, skill and experience in the various traditional and more experimental techniques for decorating is incredible, and we can't help leaving with a small gourd and a packet of seeds.

The chance encounter somewhere in New Zealand Abel Tasman National Park is a stark contrast to the prescriptive, albeit 'choiced out', LA Hollywood experience from earlier in our holiday.

For example, we went to Universal Studios - the studio tour was fantastic - we saw the Bates Motel (Psycho) and, of course, classic Jaws coming out of the water.  In the theme park there are any number of choices to make - whether you want to do 'Waterworld live performance' or 'Simpsons Virtual Rollercoaster' (both fantastic) or any number of inventive rides. Everything is carefully prepared for you - even the waiting in queues is carefully managed so you are constantly entertained.

Eventually though the highly professional spoon feeding of entertainment wears off and at the end of the day you have a nagging empty feeling. Whatever you've done, there's no feeling of discovery. Despite the many, and amazing choices on offer, you don't get the same sort of conversation I got with gourd man with a giant Bart Simpson.

It's true that we had a huge range of quality stuff on offer in LA, but that's not the same as finding it for yourself.  I know the majority of my present work will end in July, and I'm beginning to think about what I will do, how I might sell myself. I've been following bloggers like the excellent Helga Henry on how to run successful creative businesses and make money. I agree the two aren't exclusive, but you do need to set priorities.

I can see that researching my market will pay dividends. A better, more professional website would benefit my business. Also I don't separate my work much from my home - when or how I do it. In many ways I am not professional.  That's because I am an amateur - That is, the work I do is driven primarily by my passions. Money-making does come into it, but very much a secondary thing.  I can see my experiences and skills put me in a good position to have the luxury of choice. However, in the words of Prof. A. Dumbledore, 'It's our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our skills'.

MacDonald's started in California 1940.  Did they make a choice at some moment in time, sacrificing the quality and enjoyment of making food for a more saleable product? Is it really possible to continue 'lovin' it' or 'living the dream' if the dream, or what you're lovin' is about making money? I just hope there's a gap in the market for two gourd men.

Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

Monday 20 December 2010

High New Zealand Art and Culture

We're in Wellington Botanical Gardens on a beautiful hot summers afternoon. The bandstand's been taken over by a motley bunch who look like they've spent the night there.
On the stage is a big tattooed Maori bashing a cardboard box and a couple of plastic buckets. He stops. There's a polite pause, to be absolutely sure he's finished, and a warm cheer and clap from the audience. He's joined by a singer. After that there's an impromptu haka, then a couple of Japanese tourists step up and take a turn. I'd have stayed longer, only we've got a ferry to catch.

The night before we'd been on the front with a couple of thousand or so teenagers and their families watching Wellington xmas tree lights going on with a cover band blasting out Bon Jovi and other rock classics. School is out, but kids, and their parents, are a lot freer here and there's 'no worries' - maybe the mauritanga makes the difference.

Mauris were here only 600 years before the first European settlers. Some think they were too friendly, as their land was carved up and sold on. The Mauri culture is largely passed on through families by storytelling, song and dance. Although culture has changed and adapted through the centuries, Kiwi folk tradition doesn't appear to be sneered at in quite the same way folk is in the UK - can you imagine the English Rugby team donning bells for a quick Morris meet before a game?

Any folk tradition is by people for people, open to anyone, young or old, to bash out a tune, tell a story, carve some wood, whatever. I've heard people say, 'There's no culture in New Zealand'. As a foreigner coming in, it's true there's American, Asian, European, Polynesian, all sorts of foreign influences; But there is also something very Kiwi. Like the story of Kiwi flora and fauna, it's very inviting to new settlers, precious, unique and in need of some protection.

Us outside Puke Ariki

Arthur and Jag play Moo Poo
Palms in the library
Fortunately, heritage is something I think Kiwis do very well. Photo is us outside Puke Ariki in New Plymouth - a combined museum, library heritage tourist info centre. In the library part (see photos) to scale model palms, moo poo game, where oil comes from display, and a few books.
Then there's Te Taupo in Wellington - a massive living museum packed with artefacts, small buildings, musical instruments you can play with/in. Even the smaller places we've been - Waitomo Caves have a museum including a video of the lifecycle of a glow worm, some mockup caves to explore, feelie boxes, Victorian front room, and school class photos from 1920s with all names, showing long history of integration and tolerance in NZ.

There's Art and Culture (high Art, high Culture). It's professional and exquisite. Then there's other cultural stuff. It's amateur and anyone can do it. In New Zealand, is there more value attached to experimenting creatively and culturally than to experiencing Creativity and Culture (High Art/Culture)?

I don't know, but only in New Zealand will Bon Jovi, a Haka and 'O little Town of Bethlehem' naturally follow each other in a gig, and all go down well.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Jago in NZ to FK

Hello FK, I hope that you are all OK and that the christmas play went well and you remembered everything.

We saw lights in the glow worm cave - the glowing lights were the glow worms! They ate flies by webs in the cave.

We goed on a volcano. It's a hill that sprays out lava - something that is very very very very hot. We got a stamp from the museum of a volcano. (In his own words)

Photo is us outside the excellent Museum/Library/info and tourist centre at New Plymouth.

Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

Arthur in New Plymouth

When we arrived in New Plymouth it was raining but when we got to the eco hostel it was beautiful because all the flowers were covered in raindrops.

At the hostel we met a little girl called Briah. At first she was she shy, but when we got to know her she became one of our friends. We played games with each other and she showed us one of her games called spider crawling up your back

Then we went up Mount Taranaki, which was a volcano and we went up lots of steps. I counted over one thousand! When we got to the top the view was superb but we could only see half of it because most of it was covered in clouds.

We didn't go to the very top of the volcano because that would have taken all day. At the top it was so cold there was snow. When it melted it made a waterfall called Dawson Falls which was 70 metres tall. We agreed that the water was freezing cold.

I found out volcanoes made land because when volcanoes spit out lava it moulds into rock which is what we know as land.

Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

Monday 13 December 2010

If it weren't for your gum boots

We're in New Zealand (try this link for gum boot song)!  Flight great and straight onto Waitomo caves youth hostel - big contrast with LA.  LA was great, but you've got to hold on tight to kids in the Metro (or anywhere else).  In Waitomo Arthur and Jago have made good friends with Pig 1 and Pig 2 (now Buttercup and Smiley) and straight into the new pool.  I suppose we should be worried about freak pig mauling incident, but somehow it seems easier, safer and more relaxed.

We visited the caves (second time we've visited caves this year).  Glow worms were amazing - children created a game 'glowworms and flies' chasing each other arround - amazing what they pick up, and what they do with it. The year before last we visited a 'coffin ship' in Ireland - Arthur and Jago spent the rest of the (long) journey playing an Irish famine/ desperate journey to America re-enactment.

Saturday 11 December 2010

Arthur's first blog

Hello everyone. I hope you are having a brilliant time at school because we're having a brilliant time on holiday.

We started our holiday in London, at British Airways airport and we went to the bag drop, walked through the security scan before we could get into the plane. On the plane there were the seats and the crew and first class and standard class and all the usual things, but in the seats there were identical remote control televisions.

When we got to LA (Los Angeles) we were very tired because in English time it was 11:00 at night but in LA time it was 4:00 in the afternoon, but we soon cheered up when we got to Roosevelt Hotel. The next day we managed to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and went on our long journey to a place called Griffith Observatory, which is basically a space museum and had a lot of fun there.

We woke up at 4:00 a.m. because of English time. I watched some telly and got ready for swimming. At first the pool was really cold, but it got better and I swam two lengths.

We then went on the bus to Santa Monica. It was quite hot so it was quite frustrating as the bus went slow.

In Santa Monica we went on the pier and we went on cool rides. The first was a solar powered ferris wheel, which means it was powered up by the sun. The next was the Sea Dragon, which was very, very scarey. You had to hold onto your tummies otherwise it felt like they would fall out.

Friday 10 December 2010

Jago's first blog

I hope you're having a good time at school. I've been swimming lots, and I've been on a plane.

On the plane the telly had Cbeebies on and I looked out of the window and saw everything tiny.

We went to the hotel with the swimming pool in Los Angeles (Hotel Roosevelt). We went to a place with all the stars and the globe in it (Griffith Observatory). We went by train (LA Metro) and we went on a long, long walk.

There was mountain lions and rattle snakes. We only saw tracks of them, but we did see a woodpecker and squirrel.

My favourite bit was my weight on Jupiter and earth and all of those. On Jupiter I was 100! On earth I wasn't heavy.

The Highest European Standards

Another great day in LA, started off with search for a 'decent' cup of tea for Nikki.

We wondered over to 'coffee bean and tea leaf' - a californian coffeeshop chain. No trace of fairtrade - I've not seen the FT logo over here yet, and not yet confident enough to question shopkeepers on ethics, as I probably would in UK.

I have a lovely mocha latte on which the paper mug gives brief history of the company, and its claim to have always met 'the highest European standards' for its tea and coffee.

Now its true we English moan a lot about 'American' influence on our culture generally, and here was a proud claim to meet superior European standards. It's easy to feel at home in the US, with everyone so friendly (lost track of number of times strangers have made nice comments about our children) and so much shared culture - walking down hollywood boulevard all the names on the ground are as familiar in UK as in the US. Also like the UK, the stars are predominately white men.

While drinking my mocha, served by non-white shopkeepers, remembering the yellow school buses at Griffith Observatory, on public transport generally, and our visit to Santa Monica pier, with a distinctly Blackpool feel (albeit sunnier), outside the richest and most touristy spots of LA, it seems the population is mostly Mexican descent - something that had not occurred to me before visiting.

Just as in Europe, are the stars on the pavement in Hollywood, the stories of Hollywood dreams written in mosaic on the floor of the shopping mall, can these dreams be shared by the non-white cleaners?

Talking of which, hope I get to thank hotel cleaners who gave the kids some fun by placing our children's expanding collection of small soft toys in unusual locations around the beds.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Our first US burger chips and milkshake

We've made it to LA! We did have the only little children and 2 hours on ground before take off at Heathrow was tough. The air hostesses looked after us well, although a bit low on food for 12 hour flight.
Anyway, now comfy in upgraded kingsized beds watching TV and Arthur dancing off jetlag at 4 in morning. Planning walk in park to burn off monster burger and milkshake.

Arthur - 'I really like the palm trees, the swimming pool and the bright lights!' The olympic size swimming pool has Hockney 'squiggley lines'.

Jago says, 'It looks like a big city because it is a big city!' 'I like the swimming pool because it glows and is all squiggley.

Freya mostly likes squeezing into small gaps and shouting, 'I'm stuck!'

Nikki wants to go shopping, but we won't let her.

Sunday 5 December 2010

The Sarah Jane Archives

My first laptop! - Compaq LST128, top of the range
At the end of my 'O' levels, I symbolically ripped every sheet of notes, coursework, everything, and burned them. For one scary moment the flames licked the ceiling and I was reminded that by ripping them all up, I had increased the surface area exposed to air, therefore impressive flame (I always liked physics).

Fortunately, the pitifully low volume of fuel also meant the fire lasted less than a minute, and school was safe.

My 'A' level notes and first degree notes went much the same way, but by the early 1990s I had a green screen laptop the size of a small car, 'wordperfect' had made me legible, and I discovered Papyrus Bibliography system!  My computer may have had the RAM of a modern fridge, but for the first time I could catalogue my notes, list, add keywords, search by author, date, anything. For the first time my notes were useful for something other than fuel.

Sarah Jane's computer, Mr Smith
Sarah Jane (Dr Who spin off on cbbc) also has a computer the size of a small car, but with much better special effect add ons. This morning Luke (son of Bane, with near perfect memory recall) was using said computer, Mr Smith, to create his own backup of aliens encountered, and a new spin off series.

I've worked a lot with archives and appreciate their value to future generations. In our (Birmingham's) archives, I'm also aware how little 'primary' material there is written by young people in our archives (rather than 'secondary' i.e. About children, of which there is quite a lot). It's a tough one, but the pandora box opened by our new technologies, accessible, properly catalogued information recorded by young people (and other poorly represented groups and comunities) is an opportunity we need to take full advantage of.

Today on Radio 4 news following the Cumbrian floods (again) a victim was upset about loosing the most valuable thing to her - the photos and artwork of her children.  Our own children's work holds a special place for each of us, but how important is the artwork and voice of our children now, and what should we be doing to listen to, celebrate, document, and archive it for future (or even the same) generation?

Our own Creative Partnerships database does document and evaluate our work in schools extensively, and I hope will be put to good use when CP is no more in July. However, is this really going to hit our own (CP's) objectives to empower young people, providing open access to all? In Foucault's terms where does the knowledge and power reside?

Luke ended the programme with a pithy remark which sums up archives for me - 'I hope this is useful to you, Sarah Jane, or whoever you are, in the future , to save the world.'

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Don't worry, keep busy

It's been a tough time, and really hard to see organisations and friends grappling with changes.  Personally, I don't know what I'll be doing in seven months.  'The long term' has been something I have spent too much time worrying over, and I feel like I have lost sight of Nike wisdom, just do it!

Storytime with my four year old was coming to an end, but luckily Jago knows exactly how to play his old man.  'Can we have your favourite?' and what's that?  Jago told me it's, 'The Lion who wanted to Love'.  Always brings a tear to my eye when reading the last couple of pages when his Mum speaks in her humblest tone 'I was wrong, now I see love can bring us together...'

OK, very soppy, and Leo is a bit of a role model for loving and all that, following his instinct, which wasn't the same as most lions.  But for this blog, and for me right now, what is more important was that he just got on and did what he thought was best.

When everything seems so bleak, it's easy to fall into trap of  'self-preservation', following what you think will earn money, or please those around you.  Maybe in six months I'll be regretting lack of fore-thought.  Is it more important to do what you think is right?  Or am I just going to drift into poverty?  Who knows.  I deal with that tomorrow.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

CA peer network morning

Enclosed are your thoughts on 'people you'd like to meet' and 'people you think we should meet'.  Brioche bread is included to add context and continuity.  Food for thought.

Please do use your peer groups, or other CAs to suggest ideas, people to invite next time, support each other generally - I'm looking forward to seeing feedback regarding discussion that happened on tables, and will email out as quickly as possible

Thank you to everyone who gave me feedback (all positive so far!) on the way the morning ran.  I'd really appreciate more comments on the format, the debate, the lasagne, captain adorable, peer network groups, anything.  Also for May, ideas on how or what we do, based loosely on inviting some people in and talking to them gratefully appreciated.  If anyone wishes to co-facilitate, or just plain facilitate, please put yourselves forward.

Friday 19 November 2010

Bringing technology to a new generation

It's not often I feel like a youngster in a meeting - that's the way it is if you work mainly in education.  Recently though, I've had two different meetings.  In both I bet people were thinking 'he's gone all techie again'.  So what better to do than come home and blog about it?

First meeting was in an old people's home I worked in a long while back, mainly doing art and craft workshops, possibly most known there for unusual crafty christmas thingies - something I'd enjoy, but really wanted to discuss other possibilities.  I'd like to get to know the residents better, addressing more directly why 'thousands of older people feel isolated', document life stories with them using film, sound recordings, start to tempt some to using a laptop, connecting on the internet.  As we discussed possibilities it became clear the care team, all of which I respect a great deal, were probably, in plain Ewan Mcintosh language, proffesional IT illiterate.  It was one of the homes we documented stories in to become part of Birmingham Lives 2001.   Some stories are still on my website, in dusty corners.

Far more effective than me coming in, making willow stars and xmas wreaths, or bringing a flip camera and recording stories, has to be enabling the dedicated staff, get out the computers to provide training and support to staff to support those they care for?

Onto second meeting which was tonight - Fairtrade Association Birmingham is again an organisation I haven't been doing much with for a little while, but did a fair bit a while back.  Again, the talent of people around the table is incredible, all working very effectively in their areas of specialism.  It's greatest strength should be the broad range of different businesses, skills and experience.  However, communication has always been a problem.  With so many different people who rarely meet, it's a problem which at times is amplified when we have a limited time in which all of us want to say so much (maybe that's just me...)

A famously Tech Illiterate Politician - would this be news in UK?
Effective IT networking solutions and social media stuff ala Podnosh are great. I'm still learning, but can see potential in using these relatively new, simple tools, if only it was that simple.  Thing is, problem is unlikely to just be solved with IT.  Could be:

(a) technophobia
(b) poor communication, listening, speaking, using new stuff
(c) lack of time or interest in sharing
(d) lack of confidence in either what people think of what you do, or in taking on new roles or jobs in which you will not be 'expert'.

Can new tech fix age old problems?  No harm to try.

Monday 8 November 2010

Boys with long hair, girls with short hair, stop messing with our minds!

Last night we spent the evening with fine tooth comb, combing,combing.  Arthur has (or had) nits.  Arthur and Jago both had fashionable long hair, as does most of Arthur's natty (and nitty) friends.  We persuaded both to have hair cut, after much tears, and abortive attempt to comb long hair, both agreed to have me cut their hair - a job I've always done in family.

Today, however, I took Freya for her first haircut - I thought the hairdressers might be a nice treat for both of us.  First thing hairdresser said rubbed me up the wrong way - 'Is Daddy looking after you today?'

Yes, I am.  I share all the childcare and housework (yes, I hoover, change nappies, and can even operate a washing machine), not that I need to tell you.  Is it still that rare that 'Daddy' looking after the kids is noteworthy?  It's something some concerned strangers feel the need to ask my children, as if 'Mummy' must surely be hiding behind a tree, a benign presence nearby.  It's as if they're thinking, 'poor child - you need saving. This man is probably one of those perverts you read about'.  Is it any surprise us male child carers aren't so visible on the High Streets or in the Playgroups?

Boy or Girl?  Who cares? Pass the olives, Dad.
Anyway, back to the hairdressers.  She (yes she was a woman, and with short hair) thought that Freya shouldn't have too much hair cut off, otherwise she'd look like a boy.  I pointed out that Freya uses her hair as a handkerchief, napkin and it gets in her eyes and mouth.  I didn't mention Arthur's nits, and sadly her brothers, formerly with beautiful shoulder-length blonde hair, were not there.

 'Have you tried tying it back?'

Yes.  We have a bag of 100 hair ties we are working way through at rate of three or four a day, to no effect.

 'Are you sure?'

Should I phone a friend?  Was she still waiting for Mummy to come through the door to rescue her?  Yes I was sure.

'I won't do a fringe.'

Please make sure the hair is short enough so it doesn't go in her eyes. That's why she needs a haircut.

After painful few minutes, Freya having hair cut on my knee, she didn't do a bad cut (see picture), but I reckon we'll be back with bowl and scissors in the bathroom next time.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

The (not so) secret life of a creative agent

  • Creative Agent or Captain Adorable?
Adapted from handout from Anna Craft from Exeter Uni, from Heard (1990, p.25)

In the workshop we were asked to read a script and ask  - What evidence is there of possibility thinking?

What did you do at school?

This is a new school for me.  The first thing I did was to listen to the priorities of senior teaching staff.

Yes, but then what did you do?

I found out about the creative work already happening in the school, and what partners they already work with.  We thought about an area of focus for work over the coming year, who should participate and how.  We began thinking about what kind of people could support and develop work in their school.  Also how best to tender for creative practitioners.  We framed an enquiry question that could be understood by all.

Yes, but what else have you done?

We set up initial workshop(s) to explore what the students/pupils thought.  The workshops could include an opportunity for young people to show me priorities in their school and record them in an appropriate way - perhaps some kind of tour, or Voxpop, recorded with Flip camcorders can be good for this.  We introduced the enquiry question.  We invited a short list of creative practitioners, representatives of organisations, or additional teaching staff/community agencies to meet and discuss the enquiry with students.

We set up a series of activities to develop conversations around the enquiry question, consider a framework for the project.

And then did you do anything?

By taking part in activities, or sometimes leading activities to discuss our enquiry, I had some kind of meaningful conversation with all the students/pupils taking part.

But did you do anything today?

I ate lunch in the staff room, or maybe in the main canteen.  By being in the school people are starting to recognise me and I feel more at home here.

And then what did you do?

I made sure I had recorded comments from all the people I had spoken to, and made sure there was time at the end of the day for all to reflect with our team.  I arranged another meeting for creative practitioners we have chosen to work with and teaching staff to timetable the project, budget it, and provide more detail for our project plan, based on previous discussion and the initial workshops.

So did you do anything?

When I got home I made sure I emailed photos/film footage, notes, from the day, trying to keep them brief (and usually failing).  I made sure I thanked everyone and identified key achievements of the day.

So did you do anything today?

By about midnight I had just about managed to sort out the paperwork, sent off a draft copy to school coordinator, 'cos I knew you'd say...


Friday 22 October 2010

What's Black History got to do with us?

I've been supporting workshops in a primary school in Birmingham in a community labelled, 'majority white, working class'.  It's a great school I've worked in for a couple of years now, and I was really pleased, following a staff training inset in which the entire teaching staff of the school visited Birmingham Archives, the school set up hour long black history workshops with every class from Nursery to Year 6.

'Black history remains one of those subject areas parents, children and staff can feel uncomfortable with.  We wanted to make sure the workshops were relevant to everyone in the school, and something which addressed the question, 'What's Black History got to do with us?'

So what did we do?  First of all we asked everyone to bring in a family photo beforehand.  Then at workshop we started looking at where everyone came from - walk to other side of room if you don't come from Birmingham, if your parents don't, if your grandparents don't - eventually you start with all on one side, end with most on the other.  Then map pin where your family come from - end up with map covered in pins.  This activity was a favourite with a few children (judging from feedback).  We had three maps - for Birmingham, UK and the world - It may be that some of the pins didn't match exactly where their families came from (there was an interesting one in middle of the Atlantic) but was great to start discusssion.

Then onto Vanley Burke, photographer.  Yes, he's black, and yes he's famous, but unlike Mary Seacole, he's alive, and he's from Birmingham, so a little easier to relate to.  Also much of his (prolific) photography is about documenting the community he lived in (which happened to be Handsworth).  He recorded the black community he was a part of through his photographs, and he has also donated large chunks of his photographic collection to Birmingham Archives & Heritage.

So having looked at the photos, next step, re-enactment of the photos to really start to empathise and get some understanding of the photos - as one yr2  put it - 'you feel like your in the photo'.  Great way to start discussion.

It was pretty hectic, and couldn't cover in too much depth in one hour with 30 children, but from comments looked like we engaged everyone, and made it mean something to them.  All children feedback was positive:

'We could learn about what are the same or similar to Birmingham [to other places]'

'We could do some more what we did today.'

'[We could] lurn about Weoly Casle'

'[We could] visit the libraries in other areas.'

And from the teacher comments:

'Some children commented, 'Why are all the faces black?'  The question was handled very well.'

'We would like to push it more - we need to make sure there is good follow up work.'

We had interesting break time conversations with children about where our families came from, and what questions we wanted to ask them.  All very positive, and from Izzy, workshop leader:

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Tuesday 12 October 2010

When is spam spam?

Not ham, or spam
Just come back from inspiring switchboard event at Mac - a new currency - multiplatform storytelling & social capital.

As I am one of millions of amateurs in the field of digital technology, I feel in a position to express an opinion just about as good as anybody else, and post it our to anyone I know, and some others.  Is it spam?  It could be.

For me, Chris Unitt made interesting comment on networking - Natalie Carlish might be able to tweet and get £3,500 of lighting for a day for free: Chris's Gran could probably use her network to find a nice piece of antique bric-a-brac.  The quality (all our networks have qualities) of our networks determine a lot about what we can do.

Could this be beginning to sound like Helga Henry's 'dark side'? - just another old boys network?

Is this where technology, in the hands of individuals and organisations like Switchboard, Nick Booth from Podnosh, Dave HartNikki Getgood, all present and presenting at this event, can make a difference?

Getting back to spam, no one likes it  - I don't think anyone intentionally sends it.  I want people to read something I send and find it interesting, fun, supportive, and most important, useful.  If you are trying to reach out to new people, recognising when you are sending spam is hard.

Send spam, expect spammy digital network.  The question worded differently by various people, how do you turn your network into gold (money, power, influence, social change, whatever you're looking for)?  Seems the answer today was hard work, effective collaboration and a lot of luck - anyone know any short cuts?

Sunday 10 October 2010

The Big Lebowski and the Big Society

Sometimes everything you see seems connected.  Anyway, we watched the fantastic 'The Big Lebowski'  on LOVEfilm this weekend.

Jeff Lebowski, The Dude, the main man, is a 'bum', a slacker, living on Venice Beach, LA.  Vain, lazy and poor, yet somehow manages to be morally superior to the range of stinking rich characters who attempt to use him for their own ends.  Strangely enough, despite their less than wonderful character traits, the Dude and his bowling friends (the undeserving poor?) end up helping out all the others (the undeserving rich?), except the nihilists.  Film ends where it began, with friends still poor, still bowling.

Great film.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Bright Space beyond creative partnerships

My workshed is coming on a pace now.  I've already spent a fair bit of time on it, and temptation is, in present economic climate, to spend a lot more time in there, head down and get on with work, while all the cuts hit.  Bright Space, the organisation I've worked with a fair bit, which 'promotes brighter futures for young people through arts and culture' is one of countless organisations in Birmingham under threat at the moment.

More than a decade ago, I started an organisation with a few friends, 'Birmingham Lives' - celebrating the lives of older people in Birmingham. At it's zenith, in 2003, I think we had a dozen members, including our cat, Poppy. I can't remember how many meetings we had - it wasn't many. Me and Poppy were the most regular attendees, but the existence of an 'organisation' opened up opportunities for funding, and, for a time, we did quite well.

The end of the Millennium was a good time for oral history based intergenerational projects. Carl Chinn opened our first exhibition, and shortly after began his own, much bigger, Birmingham Lives Archives. Chris Upton, academic, local historian and writer for Birmingham Post was fantastic in supporting our modest contribution to local history, and the more important work of valuing the lives of young and old in Birmingham, but as time went on, funding became harder to come by and people started to move on.

My first experience of Creative Partnerships in Birmingham, to become Bright Space in 2008, was an invite to Marie's house, the then creative director, for xmas meal 2004 with Nikki.  I remember having a long chat with Katy Aquaye-Tonge, and it was then I decided I'd start looking out for opportunities to work with CP.  In 2005 I worked with the Quinzone 'Associate CP' Cluster (Qunizone Action Zone is another org likely to disappear soon) and Birmingham archives on two projects - the Ballad of Baskerville with John H-D and 'Playground games' with Worlds End Infants, Graham Langley and John H-D.

Since then I had the best training experience ever with Vivien Hampson to become a creative agent, working under a number of talented creative directors - Rob Elkington, Lesley Green and now Deborah Kermode.  Being part of the 'family', supporting each other, we deliver some really exciting work with young people, sharing our experiences to make for a better future.  Working for Bright Space has been a life changing experience, for me personally, developing my practice and influencing the lives of other creative practitioners, teachers, and of course, young people.  We have, right now, one of the most extensive networks of teachers, creative practitioners, and others interested in working creatively with young people in the West Midlands.   We are highly experienced in delivery of a range of diverse creative activities.  We are best positioned to champion creativity in our region.

It would be easy to go our own ways, keep our heads down, get on with things - afterall, we all need to earn a living.  But if we don't get out there, promote the work we (Bright Space and all the other endangered creatives) are doing, stick together, share experiences, develop our community, what are we saying about the future for young people?

Sunday 26 September 2010

Don't let the bankers get you down

I've just received a letter from Birmingham City Council announcing a doubling of allotment costs to £40 a year.  We will carry on, and in the grand scheme of cuts and so on, will largely go unnoticed.  Costs haven't doubled in the year since the last rise.  I guess, if anyone was bothered, the right wing press would have broke news days before like, 'Winging middle-class allotment holders don't dig over plots', or 'Lousy layabouts need to pay more'.  But what about encouraging healthy living? People on low incomes encouraged to feed themselves cheaply?

A little earlier I had a chat with a Tory relative about pensions, public sector cuts, so on, and got the 'Well you've got to realise there's a pot of only so much money, and we can't keep paying out more than there is' argument.  Thing is, if there's only a small pot, why is it the bankers always seem to get first dibs?  If you think it's complicated and hard to understand, it really isn't - try here.

It's a recession - recession hits everyone?  So how come sales in luxury goods are up? (try googling luxury goods boom)  Why is there a worldwide boom in yacht sales and luxury cars?  It's pretty clear those with bags of money are picking up the bargains, and those with a little less money are squeezing those with less, and so on (the trickle down effect), so those who are poorest, with least are paying the most.  And what is the government doing?  Protecting the most vulnerable?  Nope.  Cutting services and raising taxes for the poorest, while at the same time cutting taxes for the richest.

If it make's you mad too, try Tony Benn's Coalition of Restistance, try listening to Divine Comedy 'Complete Banker'.  It's not going to end allotment cost hikes, but maybe we should try to protect those who most need it.
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Saturday 11 September 2010

Pompidou's lady in a black dress

Only one day in Paris - Arthur wants to go up the Eiffel Tower, Jago wants to go on a boat, Freya wants to do steps, Nikki wants to go to an art gallery. I'm not sure, but Pompidou Centre seems like a good place to start.

Starting from the top. working way down, we spend the next three hours there.  Escalators popular, films great, giant moving beanbag is it art?  Too much for any 18 month old, and have to admit I wanted to jump on it too.  The thing that most entertains children was a series of silent movie type films where lady in burqa does unlikely things, like water skiing, ice skating, sunbathing.  Reminds me of Heard and not Seen.

I ask Arthur what it is and why it's funny.  'It's a woman in a black dress being funny'.  It's not like he hasn't see a burqa before and, thanks to his primary, his knowledge of religion is better than mine including why muslim women wear burqas.  Jago adds, 'She's so funny when she picks up the fruit' [one of which is a phone]  Why it is a little uncomfortable for me and Nikki to watch?  They just sit there and watch the three screens looping the ludicrous lady in a black dress.

On the first floor there is the children's area.  Kawamata has been making a cardboard city with children.  Actually the cities made for 'Faces and Places' project with Taryn Coxall run by Birmingham Archives and Heritage were superior in both quality and apparently depth of experience.  Sadly, as no Kawamata, children can't add their own building.  So lots of scissors and carboard, can't make anything.   Shame adults can't have a go too.

For families Pompidou was definitely an improvement on Eugene Boudin in Honfleur.  We were being followed there by security to ensure no loudness or other distractions for art experience of all.  Even in the enlightened Pompidou, you've got to ask why do art galleries find families so hard?

Friday 10 September 2010

Net works or networks in Frankley

In 2007, we had just completed training as the first cohort of Creative Agents at Bright Space.  Holly Hill Church School had funding to prepare for their Change application and for us to trial our new creative agent roles - I took more the role of the creative agent at Reaside, and Juliet Raynsford was more the creative agent at Holly Hill, although both of us shared roles.

Juliet’s specialism matched Reaside’s drama interest, becoming an enquiry on ‘How can drama change the world?’. At Holly Hill they were interested in developing and supporting the wider school community with no fixed media. This became ‘What makes School?

At Holly Hill, we started working with the school council. Previous council minutes were dominated by school dinners, which seemed like a natural starting point. Inspired partly by the work of Stan’s Cafe in a local primary, we started to ‘make school’ out of school dinner. We explored archives, made our own bricks from clay in the playground, experimented with cakes and other materials before creating an art installation made entirely from bits and pieces brought in or found in the school.

There were difficulties, and although a number of creative partnership projects had run at Holly Hill previously, this appeared to be the first attempt at a ‘whole school’ creative project. The groundwork had been done for our ‘Change Programme’ and although over the next year we worked mainly outdoors, our area of focus did not change. We were interested in promoting creativity across the whole school, to support and develop more general social skills, and look to the wider school, Frankley and Birmingham communities.

In those early tendering, real paper database days, I contacted a few people we thought would be good, and introduced them to the staff on a staff training day. Everyone liked each other, and itching to get going with the work, we arranged a visit to the wonderful Bishops Wood Forest School Centre with staff, parents and children, in what was to be a fabulous start to avery productive year, working with Sarah Jenkinson, Gillian Twaite, Marcella Erskine & Nick Williams. The real find of the year turned out to be on the doorstep - 100 yds away was the ancient Balaam Wood, previously unknown to most of the staff, and apparently never before ventured into with children.

The end of the year came suddenly, and so ended the funding from Creative Partnerships.  There was no opportunity to continue with CP. The project had been a wonderful creative adventure for all involved, but where was the embedding of practice? How could we continue? Caroline Proctor found additional funding to carry on. Initially the nursery and music specialist teacher employed Marcella to continue weekly music workshops and related CPD. Then in Spring funding and time was found to work on ‘Our Community’ - a project I had suggested, and was invited to come back as creative practitioner to deliver.

For ‘Our Community’ I had grand plans of involving parents, community leaders, local organisations, everyone in school in a project working mainly outside school, supported by digital media. I don’t think I’d properly considered we would be working with a tenth of a change school budget, or indeed that although I felt digital and social media would really help, I don’t think anyone else did.

For initial research I googled Frankley, and found ‘Frankley Travelodge’ top of the list, followed by houses for sale, more ‘Travelodge’ references, ‘Frankleytalk’ - a local schools podcasting site set up with previous CP funding, the parish council site, a local businesses site claiming ‘Frankley is much more than just a motorway service station’, and Frankley Library site.

Initially I contacted Podnosh, responsible for Frankleytalk, thinking this could be the start of
something interesting. Over the course of the month or so I was inputting to the site, I watch it steadily move from tenth to first on the ‘Frankley Birmingham’ google-o-meter. Looking back I
should have taken more notice that Frankleytalk had ceased to be used for nearly two years,
and that the low number of visits to any Frankley websites meant that my usage of ‘Frankleytalk’
was probably the sole reason for its rise in popularity. This, my first experiment in blogging, was useful to me, but probably not to anyone else in Frankley.

I had, however, made contact with a number of different community partners, and the
workshops included visits to Frankley Library, Frankley City Learning Centre, and several visits
back to Balaam Wood supported by the Park Ranger service, Adam Bates from OPAL, Nick
Williams and the wonderful Friends of Balaam Wood. For me it was great to see connections
made in the previous year being developed. Teaching staff regularly use Balaam Wood
creatively for a range of different curricula areas and year groups. The Library were renewing
links with teaching staff and children, and the City Of Learning Centre developed further
work with Holly Hill after our visit. We had, of course, other outcomes, including the creation
of ‘Steve the Colourmaker’ - a giant collaborative chalk silhouette artwork outside the school
(see chalk images above), and created a lovely home for Steve and cutouts of all the chalk monsters made from silhouettes in Balaam Wood. We also had a lot of fun and achieved a number of learning objectives too.

Maybe digital networking hasn’t worked here, but the contacts and networks made through Holly
Hill’s Change Year have made a big difference and continue. Although Creative Partnership's funding ceased over a year ago now, a creative philosophy and practice continues at Holly Hill. The hard work of staff, parents and children at Holly Hill, together with their community will maintain outstanding creative practice.
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Tuesday 7 September 2010

CA networking day

As promised, below is how we grouped our schools.  We were not all there, many schools and conversations not started and complexities of grouping schools, it is an incomplete picture - more of snapshot.

Great to see you all and catch up a bit, and here's hoping you had good summer holidays.  Looking forward to seeing you all soon.

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