Arts leaders involved in a new two-year programme for organisations seeking to create significant change gathered together for the first time recently. Richard Watts discusses the aims of the programme.

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Dawn Langley

The Change Creation programme was created for three connected reasons: to make real practical change easier for cultural organisations to achieve; to enable cultural leaders to learn and share their experience more effectively; and to build a new blended learning network to serve as a model for sustainable leadership and organisation development.

Making it work

To make it work, we put co-design, quality and ambition at the core. Every organisation accepted on the programme proposed a testing and dynamic change that would build their resilience. We then co-designed a tailored curriculum and built a way of working driven by their needs.

Everyone is busy, and when your day job includes creating significant changes across the organisation, the drive for practical support is even more important

What has resulted is a blended programme that includes free access to experts on tap, (including a researcher-in-residence) and a dynamic and powerful virtual learning and collaboration space (built around Google Docs, Zoom, Slack, Facebook Live, YouTube and email). The physical programme takes the form of 34 free intensive days of learning, thinking and working together, delivered across the country and run by sector leaders and other experts. These events allow the cohort to build relationships, understanding and trust, and provide a focus on everyone helping each other deliver their change.

Early feedback

The cohort came together for the first time in Liverpool this September. Karen Eslea, Head of Learning and Visitor Experience at Turner Contemporary, is one of the cohort and here’s what she said:

“I feel privileged to be part of a group of arts leaders, all thinking about how to do things differently to make their organisations, their communities and society better. So far, I have been struck by the experience and passion of everyone involved. We come from organisations large and small, and across artforms. We all care deeply about what we are doing, whether that is championing diversity, supporting children’s leadership, putting the arts at the heart of the environmental agenda, connecting people to rural libraries or finding ways to sustain our amazing cultural offer through museums, theatres, libraries, opera houses and galleries.

“Great attention has been given to every detail – personally this has made me feel valued already, and creates a sense of generosity and collaboration. We have only just started, but are already on track to make amazing change across the country.”

Jonathan Harper, CEO of Paraorchestra and Friends, said: “As someone running a small organisation that is growing rapidly, it is hard to find the time to step off the treadmill and really think properly about all the big stuff – vision and values – as well as the detail of how to get from A to B. The programme has already been of huge value to me and to my growth as a leader, not least because of the sharing of advice and solutions from other participants taking part.”

Practical support

Everyone is busy, and when your day job includes creating significant changes across the organisation, the drive for practical support is even more important. The Change Creation programme is about discovering processes, tools and networks that will help to imagine and implement a bigger and more incredible future.

The changes organisations are creating range from refining delivery models, shifting culture and moving into larger spaces, to reimagining the role of arts in communities and generating new blended income models. For example, Northampton Theatres Trust has announced ambitious plans to develop a Free School and expand its cinema operations. To deliver both projects, it will need to radically reshape its business model. The programme will provide structure to its planning, with expert guidance on hand to ensure that the planned expansion is a success, providing long-term sustainability and increasing the trust’s impact and relevance locally.

We are also making selected presenter videos, tools and advice available for free to everyone in the sector so that the organisations that expressed an interest in the programme (over 200 of them), and are creating change alone, can get their hands on support even though they are not formally part of the programme.

A shared experience

The cohort itself is not hermetically sealed – everyone is committed to sharing their learning. Each of the 28 organisations will be delivering three ‘learning dissemination days’ throughout the programme, amounting to 84 day-long events free for anyone in the sector to attend so that they can get hands on practical advice from the horse’s mouth.

The programme has only just started. It’s been inspiring to witness the generosity of spirit exhibited when leaders come together, united by a shared set of social goals and challenged by audacious change challenges. Everyone left feeling braver, less alone and with a shared sense of energy.

Richard Watts is Director of Change Creation.
www.changecreation.org
www.peoplemakeitwork.com

Change Creation is funded by Arts Council England and designed, produced and delivered by People Make It Work, where Richard Watts is founder and CEO.

Organisations involved in Change Creation: Arnolfini, BALTIC, Barking and Dagenham Library Pen to Print (inc. Spread the Word), Diverse City, Fitzwilliam Museum, Future Everything, Graeae Theatre, Heart of Glass (inc. Studio Morrison), Heritage Open days (inc. National Trust), Historic Royal Palaces, Hull Truck Theatre, Inpress, Intoart, Julie’s Bicycle, Libraries Unlimited, Magic Me, National Children’s Orchestras, Paraorchestra and Friends, Peckham Platform, Royal and Derngate Theatre, Royal Opera House, Serious, Site Gallery, Sheffield Theatres Trust (inc. Ramps on the Moon), Talawa Theatre Company, Tara Arts, Transform Festival and Turner Contemporary.

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