July 15, 2015

It’s been a little while since I was in beautiful Sligo at the Theatre Forum Annual ConferenceQuestion Everything (with Kindness). I felt a bit of an imposter as I was only able to attend the second day but for the brief time I was there I met some lovely people, listened and learnt loads, as well as speaking and co-ordinating two short walks. Following the walks I promised to write a short blog to pull together some of the thoughts that had emerged from the conversations as we ambled.

The walks down the picturesque river Garavogue were a chance to stretch our legs, breath the air, chat one on one with someone we didn’t know and generally mull, ponder and chew over what had been said or not said over the last day or so. What became clear was that walking was good physically and mentally (and there are studies that prove it); a number of people mentioned it gave them ‘time to breath’ and allowed different conversations to flow. Each group gathered at different points to reflect on things. Words and phrases used included: collaboration, fear, not rushing, quiet leadership, gentle enthusiasm, time is the biggest challenge, language, keep truthful, ask hard questions to ourselves, action not nice words, no boundaries, don’t make a decision sitting down, respect and insight.

Out of the fruitful discussions (that could have gone on much longer), seven possible actions emerged:

1. More talking across boundaries – the need to remove fear and build respect between different parts of the arts sector – i.e. amateur and professional, artists and venue managers, local authorities and communities…
2. Not once a year – linked to the point above, how to continue these non-adversarial conversations begun at the conference through the year
3. Online kindness – the digital world can be unfair and unkind, how can we connect with each other more kindly and generously, equitably between small and big
4. Theatre / Drama in the curriculum – the need to embed the theatre in the heart of the curriculum (not an add on)
5. Engage politicians with cake – the importance of face to face meetings, connecting with each other’s humanity (what are they interested in personally), learning from the referendum
6. Arts constitution / Bill of Rights – an Ireland-wide proclamation tied into next year’s anniversary and placing the power of arts and culture at the heart of who we are
7. Power of quiet leadership – recognising different models of leadership, not necessarily the biggest voices.

I found the walks a bit special. I wasn’t sure how they would go but for a brief time we were together I felt connected to a group of people I hadn’t met before. What emerged for me from the conversations was the importance of those human, personal connections. We are more than just our work or our label/title, and we need to find time and opportunities to share what we have in common.
Tom Andrews

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