Labels, Labels, Labels – thoughts from our CEO on creativity

Labels, labels, labels – something I have struggled with most of my life: a daughter, a wife, never a student, a stage manager, an entrepreneur, a producer, another wife, a mother, a patient, a different kind of daughter and usually… the boss! Lots of these are pretty lonely and unforgiving roles and I guess as a result, for years I have struggled with my self-identity beyond these labels. Maybe because none of them have felt chosen and maybe because they have all felt too limiting and I hope I am a much more multi-faceted person than any of them allow.

So, what is a Creative Producer and is this what I am? And would applying to be part of a 3-year programme which defines a group of people be helpful to me at this point in my life?

After years of shying away from any complements relating to my creativity – feeling much more comfortable to recognise measurable and provable skills – around my 50th birthday I decided to start accepting people’s definition of me as a creative, inspiring, even pioneering person.  I resolved to try and explore this definition more so that I could ‘grow into’ it and maybe start to realise my full potential. So my first venture was to apply for a ‘creative lab’ in Rio – that experience and the follow-on project started to help me see what others saw in my work. (read more about Rio Visivel in our previous blog)

But still, applying for the Creative Producers International programme run by Watershed in Bristol, I had no belief that I would be selected to join this insanely talented and diverse group of 15 people (Neither did I have a real understanding of what they meant by a Creative Producer).

Even though I didn’t have to travel across any time zones to arrive, it still felt like part of a huge and continual personal journey to leave my demanding role at We Make Places, my dog and my family for three weeks in Bristol to live and work with a bunch of strangers.  I felt pretty anxious about it all on lots of levels. Anxiety pretty quickly dispelled though, as I met my wonderful flat mate Michelle, the Watershed team and the rest of the CPI cohort. How the Watershed team had filtered down over 500 applications to choose this cohort of 15 who, in spite of their diversity of background, age, experience, motivations etc all worked together generously and courageously is beyond me and one of the greatest triumphs of the programme to date – I am sure there will be many more, but there would be none without this first act of bravery and creativity!

So what did we get up to over our first 3 weeks of a 3 year journey? I’m not going to give you a breakdown of the immense and demanding timetable, just a few of my highlight moments;

The inspiring Creative Technologist David Haylock from the Watershed Pervasive Media Studio (our base for 3 weeks) introduced us to some weird and wonderful technology in a way that really supported and diminished my own tech-anxiety.  So much so that I am already looking at ways to incorporate some of the new processes into our work at We Make Places and ‘just for kicks’ over the Christmas break I created my own ecommerce site for my contemporary jewellery range Factory Floor Jewels and didn’t break the internet! THANKS DAVID

More tech fears were faced when working with Fred Deakin and the Watershed CPI team Pete and Jo, who have helped us use various tech tools to continue our group relationship and collaboration using What’s App, Slack and Fuze. We have such a rich repository of knowledge between us all and now we can share it and support each other on our collective and personal journeys – something which I personally find to be an immensely reassuring presence. One of my favourite Christmas gatherings this year was the CPI online Christmas party!

A major element of the residential was the CPI cohort’s contribution to the Making the City Playable conference. In groups of two or three we created a series of playful interventions in places within the city, which the delegates travelled to on foot from the main event at Watershed. I worked with Dublin based artist and curator Michelle Browne to create a participatory conversation workshop called Permission to Speed which we ran in the scene dock of the Bristol Old Vic theatre. We chose a format that related to both our styles of work – a cross between World Cafe and Speed Dating – and we invited participants to discuss who gives or takes away permission in our cities and what would the city say if it had a voice. This was a joyous event which the participants loved and it has fed in to my next piece of work as part of my CPI involvement through a development bursary – more about that soon!

Permission to Speed

There were so many learning points for me personally, but a turning point was towards the end when Clora Romo from Laboratorio para la Ciudad (Laboratory for the City) in Mexico City – a new experimental office for civic innovation and urban creativity – spoke about the formation of the lab and how it came about. This re-awoke my frustrations with our own cities here and made me reflect on what the original vision of We Make Places was and what the purpose of We Make Places is. When we started off we were a lot more provocative, a lot more probing and a lot more insistent on raising challenges to the city as a municipality. Recently, perhaps understandably, I have become bogged down in running an organisation, I spent a long time raising the social investment for our Urban Workbench programme and then time implementing the start of the project so it could deliver on it’s brief and repay the social investment. Whilst Urban Workbench is REALLY exciting and very much within the remit of our mission, with a tiny staff resource this has meant we have gone a little bit below the radar with our social media and in terms of our public reaction to situations within the city and response to citizenship and participation in the city.

I love my city, I’m just not sure all the voices that need to be heard are heard and I believe that a happier, more inclusive and more sustainable city could emerge through greater participation. The clue is in our name – We MAKE Places – we don’t just think about them or talk about them, we are not a think-tank, we are provocateurs and encourage citizens and creatives to be so too. A lab thinks – but it also DOES, so I think my biggest take away from the first part of my journey with Creative Producers International is that as CEO of We Make Places I will be ensuring we are creating more visibly in the city and collaborating with our citizens and with others in the cohort and our many other international partners to ensure voices are heard and as a result our city becomes more joyful, inclusive and sustainable as a place to live, work and socialise.

So, YES I probably am a Creative Producer, or at least happy to be called one until someone comes up with another label….. someone who holds the vision who hears the music in the noise and who uses creative processes and cultural activities to bring about change in cities.
I will remember the Bristol residency for the laughing, crying, hugging, sharing, dancing and learning that took place and celebrate not just the skill of the team who put the programme together but the creativity and bravery of the cohort/new friends who ensured that some of the best bits happened at the edge and in the cracks. This is just the start!

It was hard work, exhausting, mentally and emotionally challenging, but it was a great, great group of people, who I feel will be continually supportive of each other over the next 3 years. Whilst we may not always agree on everything; we don’t all come from the same backgrounds, we have different views on things which are cultivated from our different experiences etc, there is a very deep commitment to respecting each others differences and learning from them. This is very unique and important and all power to the Watershed team for choosing that cohort and bringing us together, nurturing us along the way. And for listening to us as we rebelled against or challenged the programme structure or content, the skill shown by the project team is immense and I look forward to working with them over the next 3 years.

And this part of the lab made me realise that I love the questioning of things, and that and it’s our remit at We Make Places.  I realised I could use my part in the CPI residency to reawaken that and so with their support, I’ve just begun work on a new ‘Manifesto for Public Space’.  I will be creating a process which I believe could be replicated elsewhere and create some sort of toolkit that could be used by other cities in the future.  I intend to work with young people, creatives, citizens, other partners, to create public space provocations and open up conversations about what people feel should be the criteria for the use of public space and the design of public space in the city.

It’s quite pertinent at the moment, Liverpool, like many cities is very overdeveloped, it’s being kind of held to ransom by what I would say is poor quality development.  In some locations development is too dense and lots of our public space is becoming semi-private space and so that’s quite an interesting debate and conversation. I understand that financially some will say that’s how it has to be, but I hope that if we can create a manifesto that’s written by quite a wide reaching community then perhaps it can be taken on board by private sector developers who are creating space that is semi-public within their projects.

I look forward to the next round of our work together in CPI which will be online as we work together to develop content for a conference in Tokyo later this year. And I look forward to continuing conversations and collaborations with various members of the cohort and there’s going to some very exciting stuff that comes from that!

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