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An ArtsProfessional article in partnership with Boosting Resilience banner

As the Boosting Resilience programme draws to a close, Evelyn Wilson outlines how the work, ideas and opportunities developed will be shared with the sector.

Photo of a doodle style drawing on a table of protestors chanting "creativity belongs to everyone".

As is invariably the case at the end of any programme, there is a period of reflection on what has taken place, how it differs from what was anticipated, and why it's changed from its inception. We also reflect on what is left behind: the legacy of what's taken place.  

Understanding and implementing the behaviours necessary to achieve resilience has perhaps never felt more important than it does now

Right now, those of us who established Boosting Resilience are doing just that – gathering materials and getting all our resources into shape. Back in the spring of 2017 our aim was to support organisations to make the most of their creative assets and intellectual property, but it was always our intention that the work, ideas and opportunities developed would be shared more widely with the arts and cultural sector.

Open learning programme

We developed our Open Learning Programme in response to needs and challenges articulated by the programme’s participants. Unsurprisingly participants expressed a strong desire for support in financial modelling, developing leadership capabilities and personal resilience. Amanda Brown from University of London's Cass Business School, led the programme, working strategically to bring together ‘arts-based learning and methodologies with cutting-edge business thinking’.

She says: “The programme was designed for individuals seeking to build their personal and organisational resilience to negotiate these uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. It offered a series of collaborative workshops and an online course to develop personal insights, explore new ideas and consolidate thinking through engaging in a hands-on learning experience.

“We acknowledged that the greatest expertise comes from participants themselves and focused on process-led approaches, rather than outcome or content-led, to help them find new ways of approaching their futures out of their pooled knowledge and capabilities. Supporting such an approach has had really interesting results, helping participants come to conclusions that work to their needs, while accommodating difference and diversity of thinking.”

On a workshop on practical accounting and finance for entrepreneurs, Aki Schilz, Director of The Literary Consultancy, wrote: “Why is it that in our sector, thriving, creative and commercially successful as it is, we are often afraid to tackle the nitty gritty of financial paperwork? As I see it, every member of the team should have a basic understanding of accounting because every member of the team should be engaged in the growth of the business. The ethos and message of a business, just like the financial paperwork, is a language, and if everyone sings from the same hymn sheet then that business can work like a well-oiled machine.”

Amerie Rose, Co-Artistic Director of Theatre Obscura, put forward a different perspective on the same workshop: “We all know that within our industry money is scarce and we survive because it is not the only kind of currency and energy we are trading in. If we could account for all the different sources of energy a business harnesses and distributes, that would transform any balance sheet into a gripping read.”

Beyond Resilience forum

In March we held a Beyond Resilience forum at Bluecoat in Liverpool as a means to share our work with the sector. Around 120 people came together for a super-intense day of workshops, panels, discussions, manifesto-making and graffiti-making.

It was an exercise in the co-design principles that have been at the heart of the programme. All the partners and the many participants worked together to produce activities on topics including mapping creative assets, intellectual property in practice, generating ideas for new projects, strategies for personal resilience, developing a theory of change and action learning sets taster sessions.

We explored resilience through poetry, creative journalling and the visual arts, as a springboard into sometimes (necessarily) challenging conversations about resilience. The artist Jade Montserrat, whose exhibition Instituting Care was showing at Bluecoat in March, led one such workshop asking us to reconsider how we understand resilience. She commented: “Resilience is privileged, implying that bouncing back into shape is possible. It is not. Let us look at the roots of trauma – individual and collective – and we will find that it is precisely the structures that hark resilience that require critique.”

The team deployed a range of visual methods, including journals for use throughout the day, graffiti-making, dream cards and visual prompt cards, to register people’s thoughts and ideas. Thanasis Spyriadis, who co-led the evaluation, said: “Faithful to the co-design approach that underpinned the whole programme, we asked our participants to suggest creative ways to evaluate their experience. Their suggestions helped us co-design a rich canvas of evaluation activities to capture feelings on the overall experience: lightbulb moments, learning points, new ideas and overall value of the forum.”

Publications and resources

The third way we will share our work is through publication. Films from the forum will be available shortly. These will add to work already online on Vimeo and Youtube from our three residentials, including talks from Mark Robinson, Director of Thinking Practice and formerly Arts Council England, and Patrick Towell of The Audience Agency and Golant Media Ventures.

We have an online resources facility that brings together many papers and publications on topics including intellectual property, creative assets and personal resilience. We have a growing body of articles and blogs on LinkedIn from the cohort and wider network.

We have also just launched the publication Reflections on Resilience and Creative Leadership to share insights, challenges, tools and reflections and to give voice to the many people involved in the programme. In her concluding remarks for the publication, Sara Jones, our principal investigator, reminds us: “Understanding and implementing the behaviours necessary to achieve resilience has perhaps never felt more important than it does now.”

Sara also stresses the importance of “maintaining that constant openness to reflection and learning that we believe is needed to survive and thrive in times of change”.

Resilience in the arts

Anecdotal feedback from our forum in Liverpool suggests that there is a need to take time to reflect and to be open to learning and discussion. It is a clear manifestation of the need for more mechanisms, encounters and opportunities to get to grips substantially, practically and critically with our thinking about resilience in the arts.

Making it happen is the challenge we need to address next. We feel it is urgent and will bring benefits to us as individuals and organisations. It will also enable us to think differently, reflect more deeply, deploy our resources more imaginatively and enact positive change more widely.

Evelyn Wilson is Co-Director of TCCE and Co-investigator of Boosting Resilience.

The article, contributed and sponsored by Boosting Resilience, is part of a series on making the arts and cultural sector more resilient.

A further Practical Accounting and Finance for Entrepreneurs workshop will be held at Cass Business School in London in November. Click here for details.

Boosting Resilience: Survival Skills for the new Normal is an executive learning programme as part of the Building Resilience Programme.

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Photo of Evelyn Wilson