BLOG – sharing some stuff I learnt (slowly) as an artistic director. My personal favourite is thing four.
Thing one (posted in Oct 2018) –
It’s time for me to bugger off and let someone else have a go at running this fantastic, optimistic and creative organisation.
I’m heading off to grow children and vegetables. Until they start school. (The children.)
I have a fantasy that I will write something about creativity & change in quiet moments. My amazing partner seems to be able to look after children and achieve more incredible things at the same time.
In reality, I expect to be total shit at this. I suspect writing something will always come second to cyclical, fetishistic tidying, being knackered and watching box-sets I have missed over last 15 years. (Update: the reality is that I am not even managing the box-sets!)
Anticipating this upcoming domestic/professional fail, over the remaining 7 months of working in Battersea, I will share bits of my learning as artistic director – the whole thing has been a bit of a scratch!
It’s an odd job as artistic director, especially when you’re not an artist. I have spent lots of time (most of the time) worrying about the expectations other people have of me – or experiencing their projections of my identity through the job title.
Gradually, I have built confidence to just be myself in the job.
So in an effort to demystify the artistic director role – and the chief executive role – and pass stuff forward to a younger generation of better artistic directors in Battersea and beyond – I thought I’d try and pass some things on.
So – thing one – is an easy one to start with today.
Don’t take credit for things you didn’t actually do.
I’m starting with this one today – because it’s easy when artistic directors leave organisations for the Board of those organisations – and even the staff – to refer to the achievements of the artistic director.
The reality is that other staff did all this stuff. Let alone the artists or partners or members of the community or volunteers (like trustees) who actually created and made stuff happen.
Today, for example, on BAC’s statement about searching for a new AD, there is a bunch of stuff that other people have led.
I thought, for the record, I would make a note of who actually did all that stuff – to make the point – see bottom of this blog.
And of course the list I have put together below is not even a real representation of all the artists, freelancers, theatre technicians, marketeers, account managers, duty managers etc. who actually made all this stuff happen.
I think creativity thrives on accountability rather than hierarchy.
Everyone contributes stuff from their perspective – ideas emerge and get stronger because people see things and do things from their perspective.
One of the things I think we need to get much better at – in cultural organisations – is to spend less time talking about the artistic director as if they are the person who make things happen.
It’s just not real.
It makes the artistic director feel weird. And it’s just not true.
An artistic director’s job is to help other people make things happen.
I think if we recognised the creativity of the collective – rather than over-egging the contribution of one leader – then our organisations might achieve a lot more.
When an organisation has a big ego, it’s also generally less good at collaborating.
I say this as someone who knows that when my ego has got in the way, over the past decade or so, then everything fucks up.
When we recognise that leadership comes from every person – not from a small collection of people – we’re likely to create more productive cultural organisations.
Thing two to follow in coming weeks…
– agreement of a 125 year lease on Battersea’s former Town Hall – Nick Starr our previous Chair led this negotiation with Eddie Lister at the council, who had faith, and they cracked this one together working with David Micklem and Rosie Hunter and loads of people from the Battersea and Council teams to prepare the lease
– the restoration of the building in partnership with Haworth Tompkins – obviously Steve Tompkins has created lots of the design, but so has Toby Johnson, Joanna Sutherland, Imogen Long, Martin Lydon and lots of other members of the Haworth Tompkins team, and from the Battersea team there have been so many key who have developed and delivered ideas including Greg Piggot, Richard Couldrey, Tref Davies, Scott MacColl, Georgina Parker, Thea Jones, loads more staff, Punchdrunk, Gary Campbell and Jeannine Inglis-Hall, Kirsty Harris, and literally hundreds of other artists who have transformed the building, space by space
– a £26mill investment – this money has been raised by people with good ideas like Tim Burley, Kane Moore, Celine Gagnon, Jo Hunter, Sarah Golding, with Rebecca Holt leading BAC’s relationship with Aviva with incredible skill and savvy, David Baker from Aviva ensuring we were able to get a payout to restore the Grand Hall and Lower Hall, and members of our Board like Bruce Thompson and a very skilled group of practitioners guiding us through, along with trustees who have helped raise more funds
– commissioning/co-producing with artists – this one refers to lots of artists who have been successful out of BAC – it’s worth noting how these artists were invited to BAC and worked with at BAC – such as 1927 who Lynette Moran first noticed in an Apples and Snakes night and then Shelley Hastings closely with for a number of years; Nic Green – Shelley Hastings and Richard Dufty; Taylor Mac – Shelley Hastings; Punchdrunk – Laura McDermott, now at Attenborough Centre, produced Masque of Red Death; Polarbear –Richard Dufty, Sarah Golding and Rosie Scudder; Kate Tempest – Sophie Bradey produced Brand New Ancients; Inua Ellams – Richard Dufty and of course before she left to set-up Fuel, Kate McGrath; Paper Cinema – Liz Moreton, Richard Dufty and Rosie Scudder; Little Bulb – Liz Moreton and Richard Dufty; Kneehigh – Shelley Hastings and Sophie Bradey; Dead Centre and Chris Thorpe/Rachel Chavkin – Shelley Hastings; Amy Leon and Bryony Kimmings – Bethany Haynes; Touretteshero – Sophie Bradey introduced them to BAC and worked with them before she became a freelance producer.
– merger with Wandsworth Museum and the creation of the new BAC Moving Museum with new national programmes such as Creative Museums – this was led by Rebecca Holt, Sarah Golding and Bethany Haynes, including Sue Walker who worked at Wandsworth Museum and Michelle Welbourn, and lots of trustees for both organisations, like Michael Day, our chair, working out how to make it work, and supported by Lucy Parker
– the Scratch Hub as a home for the creative industries – led by Liz Moreton, designed and created Gary Campbell and Jeannine Inglis-Hall, now led by Maddie Wilson and her team
– Create Course – created by Maddie Wilson, Lara Taylor, Marina Sacco and Meg Peterson
– Agents of Creative Change – created by Lara Taylor, Liz Moreton and Meg Peterson
– Local Roots programme – led by Miriam Sherwood, Maddie Wilson and Liz Moreton
– Homegrown – been led by Liz Moreton, with amazing team members and freelancers like Lara Taylor, Fiona Sowole, Bethany Haynes and Tobi Kyeremateng
– BAC Beatbox Academy – whose director is Conrad Murray and who have been supported by Liz Moreton, Lara Taylor, Fiona Sowole
– The Agency – which has been led by Liz Moreton, Roisin Feeny, Catherine Nicholson
– Family Saturdays – which have been led by Sophie Bradey, Reena Kalsi, Sarah Golding and many others
– The Bee’s Knees – which has been hosted by Elaine Jordan, and led by Sarah Golding, and Sophie Bradey, Jessie Wylde and Leanda Linton
– Collaborative Touring Network – has been led by Katie Roberts, Katie Duffy, Rosie Scudder, Katie Croft, Nassy Konan and Christie Hill and all the partners around the country
– A Nation’s Theatre with the Guardian – which was led by Maddie Wilson and Richard Dufty and lots of members of the wider team especially Layla El-Deeb
– Co-Creating Change network – which has been led by Liz Moreton, working with Maddie Wilson and Miriam Sherwood
– the Up Next project with Bush Theatre and Artistic Directors of the Future which has been shaped and led by Reena Kalsi, Rebecca Holt, Rosie Scudder, Lara Taylor and Fiona Sowole.
– the Relaxed Venue project a partnership with Touretteshero which has been led and supported by Shelley Hastings, Michelle Welbourn, Ralph Thompson and others
-The establishment of an Artists Sounding Board representing the interests of artists in the governance of BAC – Richard Dufty, Rosie Spiegelhalter and Charlotte Turton
– One-on-One festivals – which have been curated by Richard Dufty, Bethany Haynes with lots of members of the producing team
– The Good Neighbour – which was led by Sarah Golding and Bethany Haynes and Richard Dufty
– London Stories festivals – led by Richard Dufty with the help of Ralph Thompson
– growing the organisation’s commercial income streams – which have been led by Andrew Bishop, Tanith Lindon and Rebecca Holt and many others
– reorganising its organisational structure to create a less hierarchical and more diverse model of project working – this idea was led by Sarah Preece, now Exec Director at Mountview, who had the idea, scratched it and saw it through, and continues, championed by Rebecca Holt the staffing team and Joanne Irvine – and working to renew how we communicate with the world and creating a cohesive visual language, our website and branding – have been led by Emma Power, Katie Elston, Layla El-Deeb and lots of team members, and Jake Tilson and many other artists and makers
..and as I said earlier – all the teams that that lead, every day, on delivering all the aspects of our programme, too many to mention individually here –our BO, Front of House , Welcome, production and technical teams, events, catering and volunteers.
Thing two (posted in December 2018)
Thing two relates to when I started as artistic director of battersea arts centre in 2004.
But it also relates to anyone who has ever wanted to be good at something.
I used to measure my own failure using the same ruler that was used to measure the success of the previous artistic director.
In other words, in all the ways he was good, I was crap.
It took me a couple of years of being crap and miserable to understand that I needed to change the bloody ruler!
I needed to stop being an inferior version of someone else and start being me.
Looking back this sounds so obvious. But at the time I couldn’t see it.
As a result, I remember doing a lot of hiding. I got to know all the toilets around the building really well.
(And yes, this might well have been one of the motivations behind undertaking a capital project. Shy people deserve clean toilets to hang out in.)
As time went on, it got more serious.
Within a year, after a bad set of reviews for a show, I found myself lying on a bed in an A&E department, in a London hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor.
It is stressful trying to be someone else every day.
I think a turning point was when BAC’s Chair at the time, Nick Starr, pulled me aside after a Board meeting. I thought I might get fired. It was almost a relief.
“David” he said “you know, you really don’t have to be so sensible all the time.”
It was revelatory.
I was so desperately trying to be something I wasn’t that I was tying myself up in knots.
The person who appointed me, BAC’s Chair, had just told me to chill the fuck out!
It helped me to unwind a bit – and gradually I started to be me.
More than a decade later – over the last month – I have lost count of the number of people who have said to me “big shoes to fill”.
They are referring to the challenge for the next artistic director of battersea arts centre.
While this is intended as a complement – my honest response is “absolute bollocks”.
The first thing the new artistic director of BAC should do is throw away any vestige of my shoes (I only have one pair anyway, so I am taking them with me) and focus on their own approach.
My advice to anyone is to lead in your way.
Because when you spend time trying to be someone or something else – you stop developing – you stop growing – and you waste energy.
By 2006 I had started to learn to be myself in the job.
Reassuringly – when I started being me – things went from bad to worse…
Around Christmas 2006 we received a letter from the local council saying we had to meet a £375k demand with three months’ notice or we were out. Season’s greetings!
But the difference was that when this latest disaster happened, I didn’t try to manage it by attempting to be someone else.
The only way to cope in life is to be you.
In “thing three” I will write up some of the car-crashes – from funding disasters – to changing the programme model – to the fire in the Grand Hall – because some of most important learning happens when things go wrong.
Thing three (posted in April 2019)
I said I’d write a blog about things that have gone wrong.
I’ve only got a few days left as artistic director – and I haven’t done it yet. [Another learning point – don’t promise things you might not have time for.]
So with the clock ticking I’ll just pick a couple of proper clangers. It’s probably for the best, this blog could otherwise have become a sad litany of personal disasters – I’ll just focus on some of the bigger challenges…
Getting the programme model wrong
Back in 2005 – and then again in 2010 – we had ideas to change the programme model. Looking back, these were high-concept, top-down approaches.
In 2005 we decided to focus BAC’s work on supporting the development of producers.
In 2010 we focused on BAC’s role as a development theatre by only supporting new work by artists through scratch.
Both models were an attempt to focus on what we were funded to do.
In some ways both ideas were simply trying to admit that we did not have enough money to run an 80 room arts building – and therefore publicly state a more manageable focus.
Both ideas turned out to be disastrous.
The 2005 model didn’t get too far.
I can still remember the horror on several staff member’s faces – who were not producers – when we told them we were going to focus the organisation’s energies on the role of individual producers.
How to divide a staff team.
Fortunately we killed off the idea before it took hold. I’d hate to think how it would have gone down with artists. Or indeed audiences. ‘Yes, that’s right, the venue now exists exclusively to support producers.’ Hmm.
The 2010 idea did get off the ground.
We changed the budgets and our approach to programming. We only had artists in residence who were focussing on the development of new work through scratch.
We planned three moments each year when we would share the best of this work – and anything that did not fit in to these public moments was welcome to find an alternative home.
We had no visiting or touring work in the building – we became a pure development house.
Within 6 months we were in financial difficulties. Footfall to the building had crashed. The creative ferment of the organisation suffered because there were less great ideas touring in to the building from outside London. And we were losing contact with our community.
Conceptually I think the idea came from a good place – and other organisations have brilliantly made versions of this kind of idea work.
But it didn’t fit well with having a massive public building. Most importantly it didn’t remember that a crucial thing we do – that we have been doing for 120 years – is to provide a home for our community.
What both these ideas have in common – is the way that they were implemented in Battersea – they were “top down” and they both came from an ideological place.
Over the years, I have learned that the best changes to our organisation have evolved democratically. They have usually been much more pragmatic – and are almost always based on people’s lived experience.
The Grand Hall fire
In 2015 our capital redevelopment of the building was nearly complete. We were enjoying some of our biggest audiences with work across the whole of the building all year round. We had launched programmes like The Agency which were helping us to think differently about our whole purpose as an arts organisation. Things felt good.
And then the fire happened.
This was the biggest challenge I dealt with in all my time in Battersea.
It was made much easier because of the incredible support we received for which we will be ever grateful – and relieved.
The thing I want to focus on here is dealing with a major incident like that – dealing with something massive that goes wrong.
Since 2015 I have been invited to engage with disaster planning conferences. This is because our response to the fire was perceived to be well managed by the people who organise disaster planning conferences.
Did you even know that disaster planning conferences existed? I didn’t.
People requested to review our Disaster Recovery Plan – the plan which had seen us through the aftermath of the fire – step by step.
Of course the reality was that we did not have a plan. I felt bad talking to disaster planning people and telling them that we didn’t have a plan. Worse still saying it out loud at disaster planning conferences. It didn’t feel respectful of what I began to realise was a whole industry of disaster planners. But it was true.
We didn’t have a document or a plan that told us what to do. But what I think we did have by 2015 was a team culture which used scratch to tackle all sorts of day-to-day challenges.
A brilliant Executive Director called Sarah Preece had encouraged us to test out a new model of project working – this was back in 2010/11. It was an organisational framework which placed scratch at the heart of everything we do.
By 2015 we were quite good at flexibly creating new projects and approaches to respond to new ideas or new challenges.
When the fire happened, we set up a “Phoenix Project team” with people from across the organisation. It sat alongside all the other project teams.
Just like with any other project, we sought to be as open as we possibly could about everything we knew at each moment of a quickly evolving situation. We also sought to be honest about the things that we didn’t know and that we were still working on.
If disaster planning people thought our response to the fire was successful, it was because we adopted a scratch approach. Just like we do with everything else.
Dealing with things that go wrong is at the heart of the scratch process – and when it came to the aftermath of the fire – loads and loads of things kept going wrong.
Using our scratch process proved to be a really useful way of inviting everyone to be involved in the process and publically evaluating everything as we went along.
Of course, the biggest reason why we were able to respond to the disaster in the way that we did was because of the incredible support of everyone – from thousands of members of the public – to our design team and contractors – to our insurers and loss adjusters – to politicians and our local community – to journalists to artists – everyone responded in the most incredible way.
Without their support – the outcome would have been very different.
And maybe the scratch process made it a little easier for people to engage. Because rather than behave in a corporate manner and pretend we knew what we were doing – we treated each hour and each day as part of a creative process to get back on our feet.
Thing four (posted in April 2019)
Last night I dreamed about Dominic Cavendish – this is about the hierarchies in our heads
Over the past few months I have been experiencing a lot of dreams about my time at Battersea Arts Centre. It’s like my brain is sorting through a filing cabinet marked Battersea.
And just in case I’ve been feeling any more confident towards the end of my time in Battersea, my dreams have been exploring all my worst vulnerabilities.
I had a dream about Dominic Cavendish – the theatre critic from The Telegraph. In this particular dream I was literally chasing Dominic across London to try and get him to come to Battersea Arts Centre.
Think low-budget Bourne Identity. But rather than saving the world – I was trying to get a review for an artist.
Everywhere I went Lyn Gardner kept popping up; telling me not to worry.
Later in the dream it became clear that Dominic had unexpectedly been to Battersea and had actually reviewed the show. I heard it had been posted on the front of the building in massive neon letters.
I doubled-back to Battersea. I could see in the distance that it had six stars showing but only stars one, two and four were illuminated.
Was this a reflection of his response to the show? Or was something wrong with the building again?
As I stared at the neon, someone whispered in my ear that there were subliminal messages in the text of Dominic’s review.
I returned to central London – pursuing him again through the streets of London – on a quest for meaning.
Lyn continued to pop up in different guises: having lunch with Donald Hutera; working in a box office; each time she offered soothing advice.
In essence she was telling me to chill the fuck out.
Then my 1 year old son woke me up for his breakfast and I never found out what Dominic’s review actually meant.
My dream represented a whole load of weird hierarchical shit that I create around reviews, press and an anxiety to please.
I have never been much good at the press thing as an artistic director. I have always felt illegitimate in trying (and usually failing) to have conversations with critics and people whose job it is to write a running commentary about culture.
With the exception of a few people like Lyn, Susannah Clapp and Maddy Costa, who have the gift of making you feel legitimate, with anyone else, I just hear voices in my head shouting “YOU’RE TALKING SHIT – THEY DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANYTHING YOU’RE SAYING – YOU’RE NOT A REAL ARTISTIC DIRECTOR ANYWAY”.
It’s quite distracting.
This is one of the hierarchies in my head that can, if I am not careful, manage my life.
Does everyone have them?
I am reminded of Bryony Kimming’s I Am A Phoenix, Bitch in which she tells us about the middle-aged, swaggering male TV executive in her head who provides a running commentary on her work.
These hierarchies often gnaw away at our confidence – suggesting to us what we can or can’t do.
Perhaps we should all have a group workshop or something – and have a concerted go at telling them to fuck right off.
We all suffer from them don’t we? Have you got one? If so, what’s yours?
Occasionally, when I have the hierarchy in my head under control, and I am talking to a journalist, I sense that they are also listening to an internal narrative.
“STOP TALKING TO THIS DICK, HE’S NOT MAKING ANY SENSE. IF YOU DON’T FIND A PROPER ARTIST TO WRITE ABOUT YOUR WRITING CAREER IS FUCKED.”
Try listening to Radio 4’s Saturday Review and tell me that there isn’t a producer somewhere with a voice shouting inside their head.
“YOU’VE GOT TO MAKE IT PROPER – PROPER ART – PROPER INTELLECTUAL DISCUSSION – NO COMMUNITY SHIT – ARTY ART – COME ON, GET IT TOGETHER.”Who’s the hierarchy in their head?
Dominic and I – so I am going to call mine Dominic – have had to learn to live together.
But I think it’s important that we also to learn to ignore these hierarchical influencers.
Because if we do not then – just as the dad says in Strictly Ballroom – we “live our lives in fear”.
Fear of what Dominic will say.
Fear of not living up to Dominic’s standards.
Fear of Dominic’s friends – who all agree with Dominic.
But as well as our own mental health – I think there is also a more nuanced reason why we need to win this battle.
Something which is not about ourselves. But about everyone else.
I think the hierarchies in our heads can often reduce the world around us to a series of binary opposites.
By their very nature, hierarchies, encourage us to place one thing above another. Creating a more linear and binary world.
This might seem like a tangent – but stick with me…
Try observing the debate about the Arts Council’s evolving 10 year strategy.
It’s been interesting to see the way that a number of cultural commentators have jumped on the idea of “relevance” – and placed it in direct opposition to “excellence” or “quality”.
Perhaps this is an example of the hierarchies in their heads encouraging them to think that one thing is more important, or better, or must be prioritised, over another.
Whilst our psychology might seek to reduce things to good and bad, to most and least important, to value one thing above another, the world around us operates in a different way.
Complex systems and ecologies rely on multiple things all being important at the same time.
I think the hierarchies in our heads can encourage us to miss this important fact.
So when it comes to human created things (like cultural policy!) we seek to create all kinds of unhelpful hierarchies when actually, what we really need to do, is to nurture a complex ecology.
Please can we embrace complexity? Could we stop reducing culture to series of binary opposites? Excellence or relevance? Elitism or populism? Artists or audiences? Can we stop asking questions like what comes 1st? And could we all get better at thinking how we support an ecology? https://t.co/c8ebSV2W1B— David Jubb (@davidjubb) April 15, 2019
We need to get better at embracing complexity.
And getting better at ignoring the hierarchies in our heads is a step towards achieving that.
A good first step is to break down more of the hierarchies outside our heads – in the real world.
I remember when I stopped introducing myself as “artistic director of BAC” and started to introduce myself by saying that “I work at BAC”, I found I actually had better conversations with members of the Battersea community and often with artists too.
An artist actually apologised to me the other day in case they had been weird around me over the years. (They had not.) They explained that they often find themselves being weird around artistic directors.
Ironic – and crazy – when I have always felt like an imposter artistic director.
If we all work together to break down the hierarchies in the real world it will help us all to get better at breaking down the ones in our own heads.
Let’s work together to embrace creative complexity.