Delivering training to creative businesses across Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean has taught Visiting Arts the value of forming relationships face-to-face, says Sophia Victoria.

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Chili Hawes of October Gallery with a participant in Guam
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Norman N Taruc

Over the past three years, Visiting Arts – which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year – has been providing training and opportunities across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific through the Culture Works Connections programme, to increase markets for the work of artists and creative businesses and support them in becoming more sustainable.

It was the face-to-face activities where the programme really became something meaningful

Our project partners – the Ministry of Community development, Culture and the Arts, Trinidad and Tobago, the Africa Centre in Capetown, South Africa, and the Pacific Islands Culture and Arts Foundation in Suva, Fiji – have been instrumental in shaping the programme, providing local knowledge and maintaining momentum after the workshops with the help of their contact points.

Regional needs anaysis

Together we ran a needs analysis to understand the cultural infrastructure of the partner regions, as well as current challenges and requirements of the target group. We identified three main areas to offer support: business skills, cultural leadership and networks, and mobility. These were addressed through tailored workshops, mentoring sessions and public events, set up in a way that responded best to the regional differences.

I was fortunate enough to be leading the training in Guam where we successfully trialled a new support format during the Festival of Pacific Arts (a gathering of artists and organisations from 26 countries held every four years). Unlike in the Caribbean, where social media is a primary route for engagement, internet access can be difficult in areas of the Pacific and much deeper networking and exchange happens in person.

Expanding a Pacific Arts Alliance initiative alongside the Pacific Community and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, we set up a professional space to network, share knowledge, engage in training and seek advice from technical experts. Workshops and drop-in surgeries were offered with a flexible schedule, and delegates could also propose and lead additional activities. The space was recognised as being an essential element for the festival’s future.

Participant-centred approach

The workshops were designed to allow participants to reflect on their current practice and explore how to access markets at home and abroad, develop business plans, successfully use digital tools and networks and pursue collaborative practice. As well as inviting international experts to deliver training, we also brought in local case studies and found that participants were empowered not only by individual development but by recognising where they sit in the context of their local and national culture, and what makes that unique.

What was really key to the success of the programme was the participant-centred approach, including collaborative exercises for the group to tackle big ideas and projects together. We started with each individual’s motivations and aspirations, working outwards to their own networks, to new partnerships and finally to international business development.

It was also important to build a network for the participants, not just on a local level but between the regions, and look at how they could benefit each other and provide peer support through their skill sets and individual experience.

International connections

Participants are connected to a marketplace of over 18,500 other creatives and organisations through the online initiative World Cultures Connect. It allows them to promote their work and services, discover opportunities, gain insights into international working and access resources on topics such as mobility, funding, visas, shipping and social media.

However, from the outset we acknowledged that the online platform could only thrive through a strong network on the ground, and it was the face-to-face activities where the programme really became something meaningful.

To culminate the programme, we invited ten participants to visit the Edinburgh Festivals for a week where they were able to put the skills they learned into practice to make international connections, promote the cultural offerings of their arts communities and share the knowledge and skills they had gained.

They participated in an exchange workshop with Scottish peers and spoke alongside influential festival directors at our annual International Producers Breakfast. This has been running since 1995 to facilitate networking and collaboration between 200 producers and touring companies attending the festivals.

It is difficult to quantify the full impact of the programme, but for us the success is presented in the stories and personal growth. Our hope is that the participants will continue to be a voice for the arts communities in their regions and feel empowered to impart the knowledge and resources gained.

Sophia Victoria is Head of Programmes and Development at Visiting Arts.
visitingarts.org.uk
Tw: @visitingarts

Read the Culture Works Connections report and watch the video here.

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