But what will they do?!

This blog was written by Emma Jayne Park, facilitator for the Scottish CROWD residency with artists Alex McCabe and Stefanie Schwimmbeck. Writing is inspired by conversations that came up as part of the lab but has been written subjectively, from their own perspective as a community dance artist and facilitator. The hope is for any blog content to further the conversations that were started during the residency instead of pretending to share any concrete outcomes. In hindsight Emma may not agree with what they have written – this is fine too!

Space to develop a practice is crucial, both to the quality of our work as community dance artists and to our collective sanity as an industry.  Having no time to reflect, refine and refuel is a sure route to burn out, and with burn out often comes the departure of those who have developed their craft over years – many have often done this quietly as they foreground the communities they work with and exist between – from the sector.
However, the practicalities of these spaces for reflection are far easier to define than the process of developing a practice.  In preparation for CROWD, I asked several friends who work in artist development what they might expect to happen over four weeks dedicated to ‘developing a practice’ – none of them could answer clearly or simply.  
All were clear that the artists had to drive this (phew!) but in some ways they all also anticipated that all artists would have an ordered, reflective praxis for understanding what they need. This unnerved me a little – in my experience as an artist the time to develop a practice is reserved for a few (I discuss this more in another blog) which is why these spaces are so crucial but also why they might be overwhelming.
 We are working most of the time.
 We see the opportunity to develop and feel a pull towards it.
 We apply with language that we think might entice a panel.
 We are surprised when successful.
 We are working all the time and don’t have time to mull it over.
 We are grateful so will meet the expectations set.
 We take care of the practicalities.
 We arrive – and what next?
How can the work of development be truly responsive and emergent, particularly in the context of community dance practice? Because how is it possible to develop a community dance practice without being in and with community?
It is easy to imagine that we know what we need before we arrive somewhere, and therefore that we can commit to opportunities as a frame for our time. Yet, when you often make things work on less time that is required, how do you know what you need from time without boundaries?
The empty schedule can look like a chasm, and as we plot our desires (and the desires of others) into it, it can quickly become full. So full that we return to the rhythm of not having enough time or not feeling spaciousness in the time that we have made.
And then before we know it, these desires we voiced when we didn’t have time have created an agenda for the week. What do we do if this is not the agenda that best serves us? And when in negotiation with another – a new collaborator whom we haven’t met – how do we renegotiate the time, so it offers the meaningful experience that we now desire, dreamt up together?

Is it ethical to organise at the last minute with communities?
Is it ethical to schedule a workshop without the full context of those artists who are developing together?

There doesn’t feel like there is an easy answer to this.
If anything, we simply have to make a choice and hope we can learn from them.
The beauty of Crowd is in that the choices of the first fortnight can be balanced with the choices of the second fortnight. The process has time to swing between extremes – if that is what is needed – and then find an equilibrium. We can hope that this process is beneficial for the artists participating, so next time (hopefully there is a next time) they can articulate what they need with more clarity and assuredness.

However, there are considerations that can be made as these schedules emerge in advance of the residency beginning.  Some questions that arose in Scotland are:

  • Even if the artists have agreed the schedule, did they have meaningful time to reflect on what this would mean in terms of their time?
  • How much space is required to land together, know each other, and develop complimentary intentions?
  • How much contingency time is required for arrival and how do we create permission around this?
  • How do we know what pace we wish to work at in advance of meeting each other?
  • What pressures on our time result in a feeling of pace that the artists are trying to avoid?
  • Is the pressure of a deadline helpful to nudge the practice along? What kind of nudging do the artists want? Do the artists have agency to change this as the process unfolds?
  • What is the time and energy cost of the scheduled events? Will the artists feel pressure to prepare, or feel comfortable opening the space to visitors as it is?
  • How much time do seemingly small interventions take up (a quick hello perhaps)? How do they impact the focus and energy of the artists working?
  • How much space is required for things to emerge?
  • Where is the space for pause and rest, as it is required?
  • What do people consider a waste of time? Is there judgement in this and how can a long process be facilitated to relax any judgement that exists?
  • Do the artists prefer to work with structured time or flexible time? If the latter, how can events respond to this instead of feeling like an interruption to the flow?
  • How can time commitments be optional? What does a schedule of invitations look like, without ever having to accept any of them? How could you be able to change your mind last minute?
  • What kind of time nourishes the artists participating? If there are multiple events taking place, would they be better scheduled in one chaotic day, or spread through the week? Which option offers the most freedom for the artists who are developing their practice?
  • What events become an energy drain for those involved, therefore taking up more time that they appear to on paper?
  • What events are nourishing and create the illusion of more time?
  • What other requirements do people have on their time and have they communicated them clearly during the planning stages? Does this include commitments beyond work? What do people need to feel fully satisfied as people, not just artists?
  • What is the contingency for when time has been misjudged? Can visitors stay longer when the conversation is nourishing? What might be needed to enable this? More tea and biscuits?
  • How can our relationship with time stay calm, fluid and responsive?

On some days, time felt spacious and generous – surprising as it passed at the pace we needed it to.  On other days it ran away – as time does. And in amongst all of this, there was both space to develop and feel agency, and moments of feeling that this agency was not available.

I would argue that the process is not dissimilar to the process of facilitating community projects. The deadlines and outcomes (with a pre-set agenda being a form of outcome) don’t always leave space to respond. And this is not a bad thing, necessarily, but a complicated question that Alex and Stefanie discussed at length. Where is the space to begin, respond and then decide what feels right? Where the time is best spent?

Even in a project as spacious as Crowd the patterns of behaviour that dictate the sector can creep into the room. There is no judgement in this, it simply is true that everything is a microcosm of the world we live in, unless we shape it otherwise. It is for all stakeholders (artists, facilitators, funders and any community members interested in artists development!) to discuss if this is what Crowd is hoping for and negotiate different ways of working to see what difference they make.

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