Using Niccolò Machiavelli as a training tool :)

My focus this month is empowering other volunteers at The Art House to take on more tasks.  As part of this process, it’s important not so much to tell people how to do each little task (I figured it out myself, they probably can too!) but to convey a sense of HOW we like to do things as a community and enabling them to learn what they need to.

Last night, we had ‘Shift Co-ordinator’ training for some of the crew, to help them be able to look after the cafe peeps and make sure all runs smoothly.  “Look after” is the operative phrase – so many management positions are seen as somehow higher up than everyone else, when in fact a good manager (or in this case, Co-ordinator) works FOR and WITH the crew, not above them.

To make it more fun and get the discussion going, we looked at Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, which were inspired by the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli and Sun Tzu.  Now, it may seem very bizarre to use this list to train a group in non-hierarchical working, but quite a few of them illustrate the ways in which individuals try to grab and hold onto power in a group.  When you’re trying to work ‘on the level’ it helps to play the opposite game, recognise the behaviours of those who are trying to gain power in a group and do something which counteracts it.

Non-hierarchical working is a constant challenge within an organisation and, I reckon, you never get it 100% right.  We’ve been participating in a study into non-hierarchical working, acting as a case study, and it’s been a really interesting process.

Our legal structure doesn’t really help us, as there are four directors, around 8 members, and everyone else.  We talked early on about being a Co-operative, but in my experience these rarely are as democratic as they are meant to be, there is still usually one individual, or small group, who run pretty much everything.

We thought it made sense to have a structure where extra responsibility was held, but when somebody was viewed as ‘the boss’ or tried to take a higher position

On paganism and privacy (and soup).

Last night Bik and I had a great evening with the couple who organise our local pagan camps, moots and rituals. Now, we know these folks fairly well and have had some great nights quaffing mead around a fire, we’ve been at rituals with them in snow, hail and bright sunshine. I’ve shared some deepest darkest stuff at the camp moonlodge…. all in all, this friendship’s got pretty deep.

Which is why, when the conversation turned to ritual planning for a certain day in July and my chum asked the question ‘so, what paths do you two follow?’ I realised – we’re in a pagan group together, but they’ve never asked us this, and we’ve never asked them. It’s not even come up, not once!
We’ve mainly just shared good times (and stone soup, lots of that!) together without having to have the ‘are we the same?’ conversation. Not until they’re having to plan a rather important ritual for us, which they’ve most awesomely agreed to do, has it become relevant. It’s not just them – we’ve never had the conversation with anyone at camp or at most of the pagan events I’ve been to. I’m pretty sure there are pagans of many paths, and non-pagans at camps, but everyone treats each other’s religious beliefs as the what they are – private – even in the context of a pagan group. It’s only discussed on a need to know basis, like when somebody needs to perform an important ritual for you (can you guess what it is yet?!).
I don’t know if it’s years of dealing with intolerance and hiding in the broom closet, or just because most of one’s spiritual practice is done alone, but most pagans I know… well.. they just don’t ever talk about what they actually believe in. Like, not even if they think there’s a God/dess or not, or life after death – all the things other religious paths take for granted when you join them. I remember in Church having to recite ‘The Creed’ in unison, just to affirm that yes, we all believed the same thing and belonged there.
It’s one of the things I like about my chosed path – the privacy to follow your beliefs and the ability, especially with the group I hang out with, to be accepted without having to be a certain way.
See, I reckon when you’re called upon to give voice to what you believe, you can get stuck there in the statement. It gets rather hard to change your mind… and I’m a lady who likes the freedom to change my mind when I need to. This spirituality malarky is tricky at the best of times, without having to stick to something I said about the nature of Gaia or the existence of the Fae ten years ago! I’m not up for pinning a label on myself when it comes to belief (or anything else for that matter).
Our chums said the same last night – they like to pick and mix the practice. We live in a global culture, so why not have a little bit of this, a little bit of that?
Others may think ‘purity’ of belief is important, but for me, I just don’t. I grew up in a seriously cosmopolitan place, I don’t really identify clearly with one culture, so why should my beliefs be limited in that way?
What I do think, though, is that privacy is a big part of learning to live with our differences as people. Not in a creepy US military ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ way, but simply by respecting that most of what another person does or thinks simply isn’t anything to do with us.

On Poems, Paper Planes and Playfulness

The other evening, at the regular 451 poetry event run by Apples and Snakes, I re-enforced what I always say about creativity and play.

They ran a little competition to write a poem in the break. It’s a new form of poetry invented by Mr Compere, Rob Casey (see his blog about it here). The rule is, write a poem where each word starts with the letter at the end of the previous word. This kind of ‘restricted’ creation is a powerful tool to push your creative process out of your usual patterns and I’ve used it a lot – from dancing with one foot ‘rooted’ to the ground, to painting with just one colour.
Anyhoo, there I was, the pressure was on (OK not really!) to write a poem in 20 minutes after a rather large glass of wine. I sweated (OK not really!) and eventually crumpled up my paper in disgust, announcing that chain poetry would never catch on.
Picking up another piece of paper, I made a paper aeroplane. As soon as the brain had disengaged from trying to force a poem, VOILA! A poem just popped on out. I wrote one word on each side of the plane, making it a performance poem (Matt, who is a real poet, said it was a CONCRETE poem!).
So, to cut a long story short, I was victorious, home I came with a prize under my arm and a swagger in my step. Awesomeness abounded.
The lesson here is really quite simple – inspiration comes when you chill the heck out, and start to play.
Here is the prizewinning poem. Oh and yes, it was just a little in-the-break competition, but there were some pretty awesome poets in that room, so I’m rather blinkin’ chuffed.

On the Cultural Quarter – from The Art House blog

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

SeaCity, the cultural quarter and ‘Can’t we all just be positive about this’…. a (fairly short and chilled out) rant.

OK, so we are a positive kinda place. We like to promote stuff we like, we like to say ‘YES’ and ‘WHOOP’ a lot. We like to encourage, believe in the best possibilities and trust in people’s intentions.

You may say we are dreamers……we hope we’re not the only ones…..

Sometimes, I think Southampton may be ‘The Whingey City’, especially when you get a bunch of us creative types in a room on the subject of ‘the Cultural Quarter’. Thing is, I’m starting to feel that the negativity just really ain’t getting us terribly far.

Last week, the new SeaCity Museum opened just a block away from us. A very different sort of place to ours, of course, starting with the £15M price tag. It’s all part of a long-planned creation of a ‘Cultural Quarter’ in our neck of the woods, which will eventually embrace many of the current venues (City Art Gallery, Mayflower, the new SeaCity Museum, the Guildhall and Guildhall Square, the new Millais Gallery opposite us – and perhaps somewhat less officially as we’re independent venues, not allied to the council: The Art House and our neighbours over the square, The Cellar. There are also plans, quite a way along now, for an Arts Complex on the old Tyrell and Green site, which will house (we hope) John Hansard Gallery, theatre spaces and City Eye – not to mention programming by Art Asia and the Nuffield Theatre.

OK, so this plan is taking a bloomin’ long time – it’s positively glacial in it’s progress and that’s no lie. Yes indeed, it’s costing a lot of dosh to make happen and public dosh is in short supply. Fair enough, we often think fondly of the Gantry and wonder why it’s been such a long wait…………. and still waiting………… for an Arts Centre in a city our size. Yup, we were as annoyed as many people were when Art Asia lost their dedicated space in the complex – and we said so, and spread the petition (whoop, there it is again!).

Thing is, we LIKE culture and heritage…. ’tis our purpose, our passion, our raison d’etre if you will! Whilst we’re not going to go nodding our heads at every scheme the council come up with, we have to speak out and give praise where praise is due.

We’ve had a little gander at SeaCity and, we’re just going to come out and say this – it’s pretty darn impressive. It works well as an interactive, world class museum space which tells the story not just of Titanic (though it does that, very well) but the whole of the city’s Maritime history. So, when we shout about it on facebook, it’s not because they’ve paid us to (they haven’t) or just because it’ll do us good to bring people into the area (of course it will – but it also has it’s own in house cafe!), but because we took a look and we liked what we saw, and wanted you to get there and enjoy it (if history is your thing).

Seeing SeaCity turn out so nicely, well, it’s made us feel a tad optimistic about the other plans. We dare to hope it’s a sign of things to come. This makes us feel a little thrill of happiness, right here in our hearts. It does.

We also know quite a few of the people involved with Art at the Heart, a project to get the ball rolling on the cultural quarter, which has already organised some spiffing events. They are good folks, they care about art, they work their socks off and – most importantly – they’ve delivered some quality arts events to our neighbourhood. So yes, we say nice stuff about them too – cos we mean it!

Thing is, it’s a pretty tall order to bring together the cultural life of a city. We could sit here and point fingers at the mistakes made along the way, or we could cheer the successes and hope for more of them. We think Southampton deserves a better cultural scene, or at least a more cohesive one – we don’t really see why we can’t be as cool as Brighton or Bristol (without the high property prices). We reckon if we ALL pull together as a city and (dare we say it?) be positive about what’s happening, things may get pretty darn exciting around these parts as the next few years go by. We also reckon it’s a foregone conclusion that if we continue to complain in chorus about how it’s all so dreadful, things will pretty much stay as they are.

Oh – and we don’t think it’s the “council’s job” to make things arty, we think it’s something the whole community needs to rise up and make happen. Or we may get another shopping centre. Just sayin’, is all.

There’s already a lot going on, a huge amount has been achieved to date and it’s looking good for the future. We like to shout about the good stuff – who’s with us?!