CEO Blog – w/c 20 Sept 2021

What's On Your Mind logo - text in different coloured boxes, designed to look like speech bubbles

Earlier this month we announced What’s On Your Mind, a new programme of digital short works that we are commissioning and broadcasting this autumn.

More details about the programme, which begins on Tues 12 Oct, will be released soon, but the purpose of this blogpost is to talk a little about what’s behind the project.

What’s On Your Mind is funded by a Project Grant of just under £50,000 from Arts Council England. There was some controversy, understandably, when the Project Grant fund was opened up to organisations like ARC that receive regular funding as a National Portfolio Organisation. I wanted to explain why we applied and what we are doing with the money.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve continued to employ as many artists and freelancers to deliver activity at ARC as possible, recognising the incredibly challenging situations most found themselves in. This included artists delivering creative learning activity, mainly online, as well as some small commissions and live streamed performance opportunities. This was possible due to our two successful applications to the Culture Recovery Fund.

When the Project Grant fund was opened up, we saw it as an opportunity to find additional ways of providing paid work for freelance artists whilst providing meaningful content for our audiences.

We are committed to transparency around our finances, so here is a breakdown of how the grant will be spent:

· 80% of the grant is for fees that will go directly to artists and freelancers

· 5% is for travel, accommodation and consultation materials

· 3% for access (to meet access requirements for artists involved)

· 12% is for recruitment and direct marketing costs

There is no contribution to ARC’s core costs – our staff time, technical and marketing support is drawn from core budgets.

The project will consist of a series of 14 digital artist commissions designed to reflect what is concerning our local communities in 2021. Led by a freelance Creative Director, the project has begun with a series of consultations with our communities leading to the development of 14 provocations. Each provocation will be shared with an artist – some approached directly, some will be selected via an open call launching later this month – who will be asked to create a short piece of work in response (max 15 mins) in any form, but it must be able to be shared digitally.

The resulting commissions will be broadcast twice-weekly from mid-October through to early December. We will also be carrying out some targeted engagement activities, using the works as an entry point for new audiences. A creative rapporteur will review all 14 works and create a legacy piece to summarise what’s on the minds of our communities.

However, What’s On Your Mind is much more than a scheme to provide work for artists and freelancers and create a digital programme. It’s playing a critical part in our strategic planning work, as we start to think about what ARC’s programme should look like post-pandemic.

There are a number of strategic aims behind the programme:

· To better understand the concerns of our communities, to ensure we remain relevant to them and can commission and support work going forward that reflects their needs and interests.

· To increase the number and range of artists that we are able to work with this year, with our commitment to the Creative Case sitting at the heart of the programme.

· To further push the boundaries of the forms we work with, embracing multidisciplinary work that may take different forms – we know perceptions of form can be a barrier to many of the communities we want to engage, and believe this shift can help unlock new audiences.

· To further develop our experience of digital commissioning, production and presentation, reaching new audiences and increasing access for those facing barriers to visiting ARC’s building.

· To explore a new way of listening and responding to our communities, where ARC does not become the filter, but enables the conversation to be held more directly held between artists and communities – the Creative Director role is key to this.

The Creative Director role feeds into our wider exploration of what artistic programming in a 21st arts centre should look like, and how we can give artists and communities a bigger stake in our organisation. It sits alongside our Artists of Change and Pizza and Pitches as another way of exploring this. It’s a brilliant opportunity for us to handover decision-making powers to a creative, and we are delighted to have Paula Clark in this role, supported by Humira Imtiaz as producer.

It’s also an experiment, and we’re committed to sharing the results – what works and what doesn’t work – with others, particularly organisations looking to find new ways of achieving the Creative People and Cultural Communities outcomes in the Arts Council’s Let’s Create strategy.

We hope you will join us for the series, which begins on Tues 12 Oct. You can keep up to date with the programme by joining our mailing list here or following us on social media.