Ideas and Reports from IETM Satellite Wales

A quick and slightly belated report from my visit to the IETM small meeting in North Wales 13th - 16th Sept 2018.

"if you want to fast - go alone
if you want to go far - go together"
African Proverb

Firstly, the IETM crowd we’re very interested in Edgeryders, what we do, how we do it and where. They fast tracked me into the session, even though the application window had closed weeks before.

The satellite version of these meeting is a much smaller cohort of members, and in this instance probably had a disproportionate number of ‘local’ artists and performance makers. Partly due to the location in Wales (which is often under served by international arts meetings) and also because of the theme of the conference: Fields of Vision - Other voices, rural places, global stories.
Wales is probably one of the most rural regions in Northern Europe, with only 6 cities (3 within 40mins drive each other on the southern coast, 1 on the mid west coast and 2 in the north - the smallest city St Davids has a population of only 1.800 people!) This says more about the crazy way that cities are designated in the UK than anything else.
The whole group of us filled a coach on one day as we were taken through the Snowdonia National Park to nearby University town of Bangor where a large multi discipline arts venue has recently opened, funded by the University and public/private investment money.

The focus of the event was around case studies and discussions led by artists and cultural managers with direct experience of working in rural settings. There was a lot of talk about site-specific practice, working outside of the confines of traditional theatre environments. The modern artist must work to inspire people, wherever they are, not just by bringing them to cultural centres.
This idea resonated deeply with me as i thought about the Edgeryders displaced connections that grow through digital platforms. Over the next few years there will be a drive from cultural organisations across the globe to finally understand the place for the digital realm in the live arts field. Trying to be out there ahead of that curve is a benefit, but there will be a lot of experiments and a lot of failures before anyone finds the real synergy between these 2 platforms (online/live)

We heard a lot from an artist and cultural manager called Henk Keizer from Culture Forum Denmark (former board member of IETM and part of the Leeuwerden 2018 ECoC and Elefsis 2021 ECoC bid) His heart is obviously very much in the rural artistic practice and he suggested that the artists who want to connect with the bg issues of the world are largely working outside of the cities. He presented a number of case studies of projects that engaged with remote an rural communities, often looking at major issues around the future of communications, responses to tragedy in communities, the difficulties of farming and food. His view is very much that rural areas are now the front line for transformations of our societies, given that they are tied so intrinsically into our food/nature/ecosystems.

There was a clear idea that the objective of the arts in rural settings is not to bring ‘culture’ to the area, but instead to uncover and pay tribute to the culture that already exists in those place. People want to be seen and heard first and foremost, therefore the job of the artist in these settings is to be a journalist first. Being sincere is more substantial than being polite.

There was also the beginning of a discussion about cross-sectoral and cross-borders working throughout the EU as a way around the politics of national arts funding bodies and as a way towards a better Federated arts practice. Understanding the role of networks and communications between citizens in Europe to develop artistic responses to problems.

We also had a great case study presentation from Heba El Cheikh from Mahatat, based in Egypt. They produce community driven artistic responses to local issues moving between 3 smaller cities in Egypt. A lot of the work that she does reminded me immediately of @HadeerGhareeb work in Morocco with Toys from Trash. Heba mentioned that she is heading to Morocco in the next few months, so if Hadeer is still there then you should definitely meet up! I only got to speak to her for 15 mins right at the end of the conference, but i did pick up some copies of her Face to Face toolkits and her contact card

I also met with Annie Roy from ATSA, a Quebecois performing arts company who specialise in work that is all about social changemeking, and who are very well established internationally. We’re already talking with them about them pitching in with our Culture Squad application for the RebelVillage project in Stockholm 2019.
Alongside this we talked about their next large scale project which is all about data and data science, and about how little people know about the data that is available on them. I mentioned that there would be a perfect fit into our community if she were looking for experts in that particular field.
As a result of these conversations i and @natalia_skoczylas are working out if we can go to Clermont Ferrand in 2 weeks time to see their art in action (paid for by the Cultural Attache for Quebec) This is a dry run for an ECoC bid for 2028 from Clermont Ferrand, so another chance for us to start a few conversations about Edgeryders ECoC work.

On the final day i met very briefly with Tunde Adefioye, who is a City Dramaturge based in Brussels. I have no idea what a City Dramaturge does, but it sounded wonderful and immediately i thought of @anique.yael, @matteo_uguzzoni and @noemi. Particularly around the Cities of Play project. If anyone who is in Brussels would like to meet up with him for coffee and find out more about what he does/see if there’s more Edgeryders overlap then let me know. I will upload his contact details to our database.

The penultimate note is about structures and support mechanisms.
Firstly, from a structural point of view it was very old fashioned. a lot of sitting in rows and listening to case studies. A lot of passive and not much active. Acknowledging that on a number of occasions i could sense there was an desire for something a bit more active and non-hierarchical. In the one session where we got to work together i took a leaf from @thomas_goorden at LOTE5 and i took the lead facilitator for the whole festival for a 20 minute walk through the woods to talk about artistic practices. It was the best part of the meeting. There is much that we could bring to the network.
Secondly, something we could learn. Because the event was in Wales there were live translators available for all of the sessions. This allowed panel members and members of the audience to speak in Welsh (an official language of the country) and everyone present to still have English translation. This required a translator, headsets and short wave transmitter set up.
Certainly something we could consider for some of our events going forwards, especially in Brussels, allowiing us to operate in Euro English, but to have French or similar translations for other participants. We may be able to access funding locally to integrate this into future large scale events. It would also be worthwhile thinking about having a permanent system like this in any future Reef spaces. Then only the translator would be needed for events. Perhaps one for @alberto and @mariacoenen when they are considering future spaces.

Finally, there are 2 more IETM meetings before the end of the year. IETM Munich in early November and IETM Caravan Palestine in late November. I am in discussion to attend the Munich plenary with @natalia_skoczylas so we can have even more conversations. I expect there to be around 300 delegates at that session, so the more people on the ground for that session the wider a net we can spread. Additional delegates from Edgeryders will cost Euro50 each if we book before 12:00 CET Friday 28th Septmeber, or 100Euro after that. If there are a small group of us we can share an Airbnb in Munich. If anyone is interested let me know asap and i’ll book it in.

For the Palestine Caravan i have an extra day to apply, but it is by application only. They are specifically looking for organisations that are interested in developing links in that region. Edgeryders fits becasue we are still looking at MENA activity and how we can grow our presence there. I wondered if @hazem, @HadeerGhareeb or @zmorda wanted to go along with their MENA development opportunities hats on? I’m very keen to go myself, but there is an overlap with the UNDP Istanbul EconSciFi dates, so i may have to join later. IETM have told me to apply anyway on behalf of Edgeryders with a caveat that it may be me or another representative going. I will start to write the application on Friday, so if anyone is interested then let me know.

If anyone wants to read the official commisioned article about the satellite event it is online here:
https://www.ietm.org/en/themes/temperament-and-innovation-the-performing-arts-in-a-devolved-wales

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Thanks @alex_levene, interesting as always. However, there is one thing nagging at me. I am not sure how to put it out there, it’s been a long day and I struggle to find the words, but: you don’t seem particularly excited. And, going through your post, I can hardly blame you: rural art, at a time when it seems most of the action – both bad and good – is in cities; “lots of sitting in rows”; the, uh, dressing code; even the multilingualism, that is wonderful to behold in so many contexts, looks to me fairly passive-aggressive in Wales. Did those guys really think that the translators would do a better job of conveying their thinking to you, or the folks from Denmark, France and Egypt, than they could have done themselves? Did they really prefer to listen to your words through a professional translator? Far from me the thought of disrespecting the suffering of the Welsh under English domination (I even used to play in a London-Welsh punk-folk band with Welsh and English lyrics), but do I really want to be working with an elephant of that size and stink in the room? Do you? (well, you personally probably do, you are English and can relate to this particular elephant. But you get my point.)

Would you say this is a scene where we can find strong, funny, resilient, sarcastic idealists to do cool stuff with?

(I read the official commissioned article, and it left me shaking my head. “Freelance professionals and independent companies in operation who have to go cap-in-hand to ACW on a project-by-project basis”, “the performing arts for non-Portfolio organisations has been moving for some time in the direction of box-ticking for Arts Council priorities”, “This nationality question is not a nationalist one, but rather a question about why Wales does not have the structures in place to develop young Welsh talent into people who can fill these positions?”. Does not sound so healthy and thriving to me.)

With regards the multilingualism, i think that in this context there is a reverse effect at play in Wales. There were Welsh speakers in the room who were angry that there wasn’t MORE Welsh speaking happening on all of the panels. They weren’t concerned with being mistranslated by the professional, they were concerned with not being able to speak Welsh in Wales. I imagine this can be a frustration for other language speakers who are forced to work in Euro English, but in a country that within our lifetimes has had to legislate to ensure that the language didn’t die out completely, it is understandable that they want to hold on to that. I remember back at OpenVillage Festival we had a number of French speakers in the room, but we had no official mechanism for dealing with translation. This meant it was incumbent on a few French/English speakers to do the translation on their behalf. But if you’re translating then you’re not completely engaged in what is happening in the room. I merely thought that by offering a professional element to this it could free all participants up to fully engage. Yes it’s awkward, but its also much more inclusive.
I’m a little confused by the bit about ‘dress code’, because there wasn’t one at all.

I think i completely disagree with you about the idea that ‘rural arts’ is unexciting, and that we’re better off looking at the cities. Perhaps i failed to communicate much of the content and the challenges wrapped up in working within the non-urban setting. I was trying to precis some of the content and the connections that i made while i was there, rather than a full account of the whole festival.

The full argument, (which working within this setting i can follow) is that it is much harder to engage audiences and artists within rural settings because the normal mechanisms of the urban environment don’t work. Rather than imposing high art, or the idea of ‘what is worthy’ as decided by people in urban centres the work must be built from the ground up. Exploring the stories that affect the people who live in those areas, and how it is often the rural locations that share the global issues rather than the cities. Rural areas are generally the ones who will feel the brunt of global warming, migration, economic depression and the winds of political change much more strongly than the cities, which all deal with their problems in the same way. But (to use an example from one of the case studies) all pig farmers across Northern Europe were affected the same way by the Financial crash and the growth of the Chinese market for grain. Grain prices went up to feed pigs, but meat prices remained low. This affected everyone, from the small independent to the large conglomerate. And ultimately there were people on the ground doing those jobs who never felt like they were being listened to by anyone.

I think it will also be interesting in the coming ramp up to POPREBEL to consider the fact that the areas across Europe overwhelmingly drawn to populist narratives are rural areas, which means that we may be seeing a large influx of views and input from those communities. To dismiss the rural viewpoint, and to point instead to the power, prestige and importance of the cities is to court the same disaster that has brought us to where we are now with populism. That is the cry of the populist after all, “they aren’t listening to you, you don’t matter”.

With regards the official article and the scene in Wales/UK around funding, 2 notes.
1 - this is just a drop in to this particular area. The next sessions will be in Germany and Palestine. What we will learn there will be palpably different to what we can learn of the arts scene in the UK.
2 - if this were to turn into a conversation about why arts and cultural funding in the UK is horrendously unhealthy and incredibly difficult it would be a whole other article, one that i imagine few people on the platform would have little relish in reading. But it is what it is, and given the numerous factors in play there’s nothing that can be done to wholesale refresh that system whilst the entire country is simultaneously having a nervous breakdown and a catatonic episode. What else is left for us in the arts? Most of us do what we do because we cannot conceive of doing anything else. We bend and break and twist the rules we have been given to make them work, but ultimately right now if you want funding you have to play ball.
This is austerity economics, coupled with conservative small state idealism, coupled with a drive to discredit and bankrupt local authorities (usually in service to party political ends) The idea was that there would be a corresponding rise in philanthropic giving to fill the gap (similar to the US arts funding system) but guess what, that still hasn’t happened. And given the UK is basically Europe’s offshore money laundering arm (and heading further in that direction) i don’t see there being a sudden spike in philanthropy any time soon.

To answer your main question though, [quote=“alberto, post:2, topic:9066”]
is a scene where we can find strong, funny, resilient, sarcastic idealists to do cool stuff with?
[/quote]
Absolutely. The majority of people at the conference would fall into those categories. Perhaps their idealism is differently aligned, but ultimately they want to make work that investigates the human condition. That challenges, inspires and entertains. They want to speak for the disenfranchised, they want to challenge the comfortable and they want people to go back to their homes feeling a little bit better about their lives.

It will be interesting to see the difference between this one and the Munich session which will be much bigger. I also hope that there will be more than 1 of us there so that there is a chance for 2 reports to come out. Perhaps that will better encapsulate the experience.

This is very true. And you are right, this sort of stuff does give rural areas more centrality, though in some cases for the wrong reasons. [quote=“alex_levene, post:3, topic:9066”]
What else is left for us in the arts? Most of us do what we do because we cannot conceive of doing anything else. We bend and break and twist the rules we have been given to make them work, but ultimately right now if you want funding you have to play ball.
[/quote]

I remember @nadia going over to Transmediale 2014 with a talk called No show: how art could be helping save the world – but currently isn’t. We were there in the heroic phase of the unMonastery: the power of art when it got in sync with these broader social and economic dynamics was staring at us in the face. Nadia’s argument to the art world was more or less this:

Art is relevant when it allies itself with some societal forces. These forces can be for conservation or for progress or change. You can make fantastic art in both directions, by the way: Michelangelo and Bach both chose conservation, as they put themselves in the service of the powers that be, and helped celebrate their might and leadership. Other great artists chose change, like the Italian futurists or Beethoven, choosing to engage with Napoleon (then sweeping Europe on the wave of revolutionary ideas) with the Heroic Symphony. Change is happening right now, at the edges of society. Where are you guys?

I guess our idea at the time was that artists should be in the unMonastery with us. Or doing science, or technology, or finance. Perhaps funded by research grants, or hedge funds, instead of art institutions. We might even be able to help a bit! They should be working with the movers and shakers, some of which will be rebels. I am not sure if this even makes sense – it appeals to me, but what do I know? To the extent that it does, it explains my lack of enthusiasm for rural dynamics. But that is personal, and totally irrelevant to ER’s trajectory. What matters to me is that

What matters is that you feel you are on the right track. I encourage you to listen to your instinct and passion, and follow suit if you are enthusiastic about doing so, and only then.

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Good summary @alex_levene! Again, very sorry we did not meet in Edinburgh when you were not here. Just to let you know that I was one of the founders of IETM and know well many of the ‘old stagers’ who were in wales (including Henk Keizer, whom I have worked with on several projects). I also am very familiar with the work of Heba El Cheikh and Mahatat based on Cairo. She is really a ‘star’ who is working under very difficult circumstances. Most of the tools she has used are available on the Mahatat website. The themes explored at the IETM Wales event seem to echo with what I hear everywhere (site-specific practice, citizen involvement, impact of digitalisation and digital arts practice, etc). I’m not really sure if EdgeRyders are 'ahead of the curve, but I would be interested to hear who you have identified on the platform that is engaged with current themes. As I am sure you know, there are certainly other groups and platforms who are working on such things (e.g. In Situ network for site specific engagement, Ars Electronica in the digital arts world, etc.)
From long experience, I urge caution with involvement in the European Capital of Culture bandwagon. You probably know I was the Director of two of the ECoCs, Chair of the ECoC jury and wrote a study of ECoCs for the EU. I worked closely as an advisor to Leeuwarden 2018, Matera 2019 and Galway 2020. Edgeryders did not have a particularily ‘happy’ experience with any of these @alberto @noemi can tell more.
Needless to say, I am willing to get involved in sharing my experience, or even getting involved in a specific project. So far, in looking at the platform, I have not identified any proposals. @anique.yael has helpfully identified Racines and a potential collaborator in projects involving cultural cities, for example, with the work of @Azdem, which I could contribute to in different ways.
@alex_levene you might want to convene an open live call to explore potential ideas with anyone in EdgeRyders interested. Let me know if I can be of help.

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Hi @bob, agree with you on the cities front. What I don’t like is the position of a consultant.

In Rijeka and at the conference we’re going in Timisoara with @alex_levene, and respectively @natalia_skoczylas we will pitch this idea of Rebel Village (proposal sent to Nordisk Kulturfond, a Nordic Europe focused funder), which is essentially community art with technology added. An online and offline camp for artists to work with social activists in local community spaces, followed by a festival and showcase. Since Hugi is now involved in setting up an Edgeryders presence in a community event / art workshop venue in Stockholm, we’d like to do it first there and see how it goes, but also see if other cities or partners are interested in this format of online building of essentially a community art show with an activist flavor and real discussions.

If we approach the work as creators with full execution mandate, it might be better not just for us, but also for these cities… they have their consultants already.

So beyond this, Bob, do you think IETM is a good fit for Edgeryders new collaborations? I would really like your opinion. It seems like their events programs are built way before members register and there is little space in the format to host new conversations… Would you recommend another approach, more generative for us?

I think a call is due with everyone interested in this kind of work. That would help tie things together, so second your proposal Bob.