My work always starts from the interests, ideas, needs of project participants. I usually try to work co-operatively, bringing everyone into the decision making, taking all contributions into account. My thinking was that if I worked hierarchically, participants wouldn’t have a sense of ownership of the project. What often happened though was a lack of direction.
Over the past six months, I have reflected on what was successful and unsuccessful, had discussions with participants from past projects and as a result planned a new programme of participatory projects. I held focus groups to share the ideas and approach for this new programme. By doing this as presentations, I turned around my usual approach. Through this I found hierarchical and co-operative are not opposite approaches; presenting a clear idea then enables people to choose to get involved so at times working hierarchically may support co-operation at other stages.
Through this process, I have now written a three year plan with a clear vision and rationale. I plan to use this to encourage further participation in projects with people with disabilities, artists and arts organisations. From the Cultural Leadership Reader, the article that resonated most with me was about Connective Leaders: building “a sense of purpose across organisational boundaries, perceived connections between diverse people, ideas and institutions.”
I feel my role as a leader is to articulate a sense of purpose, I would also add to the idea that it’s important to build in check points to ensure the purpose is mutually held; that it reflects the interests off all involved. Articulating a broad purpose is not the same as controlling all details, the broadness can allows for contributions, for their to be changes and areas of uncertainty. I have been using the Disney model to separate planning; the vision, planning and evaluation; and found this useful for me and also for participants to know what is being asked. During a focus group, one participant made a comment, which reassured me about my approach:
“Having a destination creates an archway to look through but as with all creative processes you don’t know how to get there, discussion shapes it. Being involved in the process with the artist gives a sense of ownership and pride; you feel you’ve created it together.”
I also realised that I’m often trying to fix things when actually the work can set up situations that hint at alternatives without providing solutions. Reflecting on past projects, I found that work successfully improved access for disabled people, not when advocating for specific changes but when projects brought people together. This provided opportunities to share and discuss new experiences.
Part of my leadership is my conviction that art releases the imagination; helps us consider alternative perspectives. What those will be and what will happen next, you can’t know so you set up contexts and let things happen. I don’t need to fix, control, document, but briefly bring people together in specific contexts and enjoy the surprises.
Working on the group project has been really useful to share our practise and ask questions of each other. Again, it’s not about fixing, or advising, it’s been about supporting each other to reflect and come to new understandings. I’ve learnt this is a really valuable process and hope there are ways to continue beyond this project. There has been a lot of sensibility; we made a plan but treated it flexibly by checking what we each needed at the time. Reflection was aided by the context we had chosen, a wood burning stove, big pots of soup and country walks.
The question I was asked was “How to put art at the centre rather than access?” In response I’ve written a short statement that I hope succinctly explains my approach. As this approach includes working closely with participants, I’ve also collected and presented quotes about experiences. The statement and reflections on projects have informed a project blog which presents the new programme and an archive of previous work.
A question I asked Anna was, “What are the connections between all the things you do – and how do you make them work for you?” I realised that the question I asked was relevant to me as I’ve stopped drawing which used to be really important for me. I’m now using the project to motivate me to pick this up again as a reflective tool.