Conversation starter: aligning expectations with reality
Each month, the Culture Collective network have a ‘Cuppa’ – a conversation prompted by a conversation starter or provocation, often from one of our projects or artists. In this blog, we’re sharing the conversation starter offered by Laura Johnston-Scott, Project Coordinator at Arts in Moray, at the August 2021 Cuppa. It offers an insight into the development of Arts in Moray, and ends with a conversation starter which may offer useful food for thought for your own work or projects.
Arts in Moray collective comprises four local organisations: Dance North Scotland, Moray Arts Development Engagement (M:ADE), Moray Way Association (MWA) and Wildbird. They are working together as part of the Culture Café network. A Culture Café brings together people who work in the arts who are interested in networking, sharing ideas, developing partnerships and peer support. Working under the Rhizome Theory, that means the overall project is grounded in fairness, transparency, agency, equity and collaboration.
Overall the collective aims to host at least 8 residencies and one small one we are calling a pre-residency to explore and inform the wording and approach to one of the future open calls.
As you can already tell there are many layers within this collective – four existing organisations working as a collective under the umbrella of Culture Café, that has its own manifesto, as well as within the wider national Culture Collective network, and under the Rhizome Theory.
Getting to grips with all this initially was a little bit of a challenge for me, but I think the biggest thing that helped me was remembering this is all a pilot, a new way of trying to do things. It is exploring a theory and is in some ways an experiment. And remembering that has released a little bit of the pressure to ‘get it right’ (because you can’t do something right when it’s an experiment) and allowed questions to arise without feeling I was going to be rocking the boat.
The thing about testing a theory is that not all of the theory always works. We can find limitations – we can start to see where real life tells us something different to the theory, the point of testing being the opportunity to see where it does (or doesn’t) work. It’s a fairly responsive way of working, very fluid and open.
If I was to describe the foundation of our way of working so far for me, it would be open and honest communication. I think taking away and breaking down some of the structures of power (and in that some of the assumed privileges) that exist in more hierarchical ways of working, allows everyone to feel less intimidated by different people/roles, and generally just speak up more.
Because, let’s be honest, you can be the nicest person alive, but there is an imbalance of power, consciously or not, when roles have a hierarchy that can limit folks’ ability/confidence to openly talk and discuss thoughts, provocations and questions.
For me personally this new way of working really allows for a lot of transparency, but also means that generally everyone is ready to listen, to hear different points of view, to explore solutions that are appropriate, if not for everyone, for the majority, to find compromises, and to try new ways of doing things.
Nevertheless, having said all this, and how I do feel really positively about this way of working, there are questions and thoughts that have arisen from this, I suppose you can call, “creative chaos of collective working”.
Side note – I use the word chaos because I see chaos as yes, working in a non hierarchical way often feel may a little more chaotic, it’s a cultural shift and there needs to be some adjustment. Things take longer, it’s a slower process, but chaos often leads to something new and unexpected. I think embracing chaos as a positive is what helps us deal with the unknowns and the possibilities of how things might be; it’s where and how we learn, explore and find meaning.
Anyway – some of the questions that have arisen for me are very much around expectations versus reality whilst exploring a new workplace culture/non-hierarchical environment.
See, I think collaborative working is easy when teams are small, but when the team begins to expand, and there are so many stakeholders, so many layers, so many different angles, I think that there are a lot of different beliefs and assumptions that may exist within those spaces that we are not even aware of.
I am conscious, as someone that is here to try and represent or advocate for the variety of voices in all these layers we are working within: the stakeholders, the artist, the organisations and the communities – that there will be assumptions, perceptions and expectations – our own and others – that have an impact on the work and relationships within that. Ultimately I think we need to ensure we create an alignment between our expectations and our reality as much as possible. But how do we do this?
So with this in mind, my question to you is: