Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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The final 55th day of the Big Shut Up? Not bloody likely.

Following the recent outcome of our Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding bid, we are disappointed to announce that our application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.

The Mighty Creatives team is incredibly proud of the work we have achieved over the past 10 years as the ACE Bridge organisation for the East Midlands. Since 2018 (to July 2022), this has included:

  • Generating £1.4 million in match funding for Partnership Investment – including an additional £4.5 million to develop programme beyond ACE funding such as Splash!, Kickstart, and Creative Mentoring.
  • Supporting the development of 9 Local Cultural Education Partnerships.
  • Delivering 19,357 Arts Awards.
  • Supporting 16.5% (363) school settings to embark on their Artsmark journey in 2022 and engaging 52% of schools (1172) in wider activity across all programmes.
  • Engaging 48 NPOs, 708 ‘other’ arts and cultural organisations, 48 Heritage sites and Libraries, and 1172 schools across Primary, Secondary, Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).
  • Delivering over 850 training, events and workshops to support our partners, and empowering 530 young people to move from Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) to in Education, Employment or Training (EET).
  • Engaging 2,402 children and young people in direct delivery, reaching a further 218,000 through our programme delivery and partnerships.

The Mighty Creatives would like to thank Arts Council England for their continued support over the past 10 years. We express our ongoing thanks and respect to our dedicated, knowledgeable, and ‘mighty’ staff team who work tirelessly and with devotion to make our vision a reality. 

Our deepest and wholehearted gratitude is sent to all the inspiring organisations, schools, funders, artists, consultants, freelancers, and fundraisers, across the region and beyond, who have worked with us to help transform the lives of so many children and young people. 

Of course, we would like to especially thank the region’s young people who remind us every day why our work matters.

The Mighty Creatives remains steadfast in our commitment to our vision and mission, and to supporting young people in need across the East Midlands region. Our focus for the future centres on continuing to deliver our work as a Bridge organisation until 31st March 2023, and our commitments to other funders, while making plans for the transition period that will follow. Since our Creative Mentoring  programme has confirmed funding from Children in Need, this service will continue to be provided. We are exploring new funding options to ensure the sustainability of this and all our other programmes in the long term.

Our dedicated Senior Leadership Team and Board of Trustees are currently exploring alternative options and funding opportunities to ensure the long-term sustainability of the charity – so that we can continue to make a difference to the lives of children and young people at the heart of our organisation.

If you would like to speak to us about how your organisation could work with us in the future, please email our CEO, Nick Owen, at nick@themightycreatives.com

(Press release from The Mighty Creatives, Friday 4 November)


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Day 54 of the 26 Day Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding tomorrow!

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our the Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection:  come expect a miracle

Ambling through the back streets of a market in Port of Spain, Trinidad, you come across a church – modestly rebranding itself as the Jesus Miracle Centre – with the claim that should you wish to visit it, you can ‘come expect a miracle’ no less.

Expecting a miracle is perhaps something we’ve gotten out of the habit in recent years, depending as we do on rational, positivistic ways of thinking that persuade us that without ‘x’ input, then ‘y’ output is impossible: that the imagination and dream land are concepts best left in the hinterlands of the Australian outback and that everything in this world is determinable and forecastable, if only we had enough clean data available at our disposal.

We don’t talk often enough about miracles and we’re certainly not encouraged to expect them – and perhaps we should. 

Expecting a daily miracle might just help us deal with the imminent threat of economic meltdown, global warming up and England being beaten by Germany on penalties in the Qatar 2022 World Cup.


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Day  53 of …  26 Day Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  Just 3 days to go before the Big Reveal!

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our the Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection:  new horizons, home and thanks to the 2.6 Cycling Challenge

The Covid-19 crisis has shone a beacon on people’s innate creativity throughout the crisis and one of the post Covid-19 challenges for many of us working in the cultural sector will be how to harness this community buzz and demonstrate how creativity has been a vital part of people’s resilience to the challenges they’ve faced.

Public Art though is still a bit of a conundrum for me.  Every now and then on my travels I encountered odd pieces of public art whose purpose was baffling and whose aesthetics were indisputably challenging. Another cliché but still as true: roadside flora doesn’t need a purpose but just look splendid.  Perhaps we should rethink art in a similar way: there’s no need for art to have an instrumental purpose, but just to be enjoyed, celebrated or castigated for what it is.

Day 26 of the Cycling Challenge finally arrived and Janice, Sally, Hania, Tom and Stash made my return home really joyful.  

Their celebrations made that final 100m stretch a real pleasure for the first time in 26 days and prevented me from hopping off the bike and ambling home up the hill unnoticed. When Day 26 was done and dusted a story of several numbers emerged:

Over 405km cycled…

Over 2170m climbed…

Over 46 hrs en route…

Over 75 ‘A-Ha’ moments of discovery…

I’m especially thankful to all my donors who helped make this campaign happen: The 2 Andys, Carl, Chris, the 3 Davids, Eleni, Emrys, Felicity, Janice, Jo, John, Jon, Jordan, Kevin, Kim, Laura, Lew, Marie, The 2 Martins, Nadine, Nick, Nigel, Pam, Paul, Raj, Rajesh, Rav, Roxie, Ryan, Sally, Tom and Vivek: thank you all so much.  And to all you anonymous donors: I couldn’t have done it without you too!

Thank you, Jon, for your advice on how to carry a bike. This was much needed at the 49 Steps of Sycamore Park in St Ann’s which clearly hadn’t had any human visitation since the Ice Age: and thanks to How We Roll for technical expertise on the Tiger Hazard-mobile.

My cycle challenge was part of the wider Mighty Creatives team challenge in which staff, trustees, friends and family all chipping into the team effort. Everything from running, cycling, walking the dog, working out, exercising, crocheting, learning German and lip-synching music theatre on TikTok: our team’s ingenuity knew no bounds!  All in all, we raised over £5,200 for children and young people in care (double our original target!)

If you’d like to know more how the funding has made a difference to their lives, please feel free to get in touch.

And if you’d like to lend a hand… or a couple of feet… just check out what we went on to do next…


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Day  52 .. …  26 Day Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  Just 4 days to go before the Big Reveal!

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our the Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection:  when in doubt, change the rules.

Like so much in life, I started with good intentions.

I’d planned (if that’s the right word) to throw a basketball hoop from a line, the regulation 15’ away from the hoop, 26 times and to time how long this took me.  And do this for 26 days with the intention to shorten that time on a daily basis. 

The first challenge was to find a basketball hoop and fortunately for me, our new neighbours had one stuck on the side of the kitchen wall, facing their driveway the width of which is about 18’.  They willingly agreed for me to use the hoop – probably because they’re away for much of the day and were probably privately relieved that they weren’t about to witness the bounce bounce pause thwack bounce bounce missed again dammit monologue that was to follow.

DayAttemptsNear MissesBasketsEffort (Baskets/ Attempt)Baskets/ Minute (BPM)FeelGood FactorTotal timeTotal ShotsTotal BasketsSuccess rate
1N/A08N/A0.308N/A268
21940157.73%0.577N/A5219423
31898721.06%0.07746.03%78383256.5%
419010773.68%0.26956.32%104573325.6%
5192105115.73%0.42354.69%130765435.6%
616710863.59%0.23164.67%156932495.3%
7174114148.05%0.53865.52%1821,106635.7%
9180108168.89%0.61560.00%2341,286634.9%
101661181810.84%0.69271.08%2601,452795.4%
111811212011.05%0.76966.85%2861,633975.9%
121761152413.64%0.92365.34%3121,8091176.5%
131791112413.41%0.92362.01%3381,9881417.1%
141761251910.80%0.73171.02%3642,1641607.4%
151671013219.16%1.23160.48%3902,3311928.2%
16147903523.81%1.34661.22%4162,4782279.2%
171541023724.03%1.42366.23%4422,63226410.0%
18170944828.24%1.84655.29%4682,80231211.1%
19167845432.34%2.07750.30%4942,96936612.3%
20157747044.59%2.69247.13%5203,12643613.9%
21163796640.49%2.53848.47%5463,28950215.3%
22178857441.57%2.84647.75%5723,46757616.6%

So, the first challenge was rapidly met and soon after the challenge of having independent verification was addressed too.  Our neighbour, Yvonne, volunteered to adjudicate the challenge and I gratefully accepted her offer. 

So, Day One dawned and all seemed straight forward enough.  I measure out a throw line 15’ from the hoop (informally known as the ‘Charity Stripe’ I’m reliably informed) with a measuring stick. Yvonne switches on her stopwatch. 

I remember the advice from Tahir about how to throw a basketball: BEEF, an acronym for “Balance” (yep, got that); Eyes on the target” (doddle); “Elbows at right angles”  (er… what?” “Follow Through” (of course, what else, it’s just like tennis. What could possibly go wrong?)

What could go wrong was of course pretty much everything.  Balance isn’t helped by running after a stray ball and then running back to the charity stripe to try again without stopping. The eye on the target is all very well if you completely understand which target it is you’re meant to have your eyes on.  The board?  The back of the hoop? The front of the hoop? The little logo half way up the board? Placing your elbows at right angles is all very well if you don’t expect to hold the ball in a particularly meaningful way. Follow through leads to a constant arc of optimism turning to disappointment as the ball repeats its trajectory of bounce bounce pause thwack bounce bounce missed again dammit.

After 10 minutes Yvonne is clearly worried about whether or not she has an evening to look forward to.  I have some managed to throw 4 balls into the hoop over this time and managed at least ten times more ‘ah, nearly’ moments. It looks like we might both have to stay about another hour or two if I’m to achieve the deceptively bland target of 26 hoops before retiring gracefully with a gin and tonic to assess how long it took me to do it.

After 20 minutes the success rate isn’t much better.  A further 4 hoops and a slightly lower proportion of “ah, nearly” moments.  A much higher ratio of “WTF is going on?” moments.

It’s at this point that I decide to follow all the best professional sporting advice and to decide to change the rules of the game.  Instead of timing how long it will take to throw 26 balls into the hoop, I’ll see how many I can throw in 26 minutes.  That way, we can see an end in sight and can thankfully retire to the comfort of a gin and tonic knowing that we shall live to confront another day of BEEF. The following six minutes yielded no more moments of success other than a relief that we could both get back to having a life that evening.

So, the final score on day one is 8 hoops over 26 minutes.  It does at least count as a baseline and if and when I get to throwing 26 hoops within the new target of 26 minutes, I will take heart that there has at least been some element of progression: especially if I can achieve it over the next 26 days.

Sport can quickly make a fool of you in a very short space of time and I have a feeling that this won’t the last time I remember that particularly embarrassing lesson.

(You can find out more about the 2.6 Challenge for 2021 here.)


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Day  51 .. …  26  … Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our  Mighty (Un)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection:  Measuring the Arts. Again. And again. And again…

Many of us in the arts and creative industries have gotten used to measuring our work and talking about it in terms of value, value added, gross value added and all those signals which try to suggest that we’re doing more for the world than simply making great art.

We keep a keen eye on our financial outputs through annual accounts, box office returns, projections and bottom lines as if we’re talking about the arts as a golden goose which is going to keep laying us lots of lovely Faberge nest eggs for our future retirement.  

We use a whole systems of Heath Robinson-esque paraphernalia to measure personal growth, family change and social wellbeing if we’re using the arts instrumentally to affect people’s health, mindfulness and general absence of psychotic tendencies; and we’re in thrall to audience engagement tools which help us understand who came to an event, why they came, which bit of Beethoven’s 5th they most enjoyed, which bit they least enjoyed and whether they’re more likely to return if we just play them the best bits over and over and over again.

This fetish for measurement never stops and there’s always someone somewhere who wants to measure it again. And again. And again. In different ways, with different criteria, with different emphases and with different toolboxes. All in their own way to prove, beyond incontrovertible doubt that there is more to great art than just great art. That it has other benefits which are more measurable and definable, and that if we could only understand what they were, the arts world – our world, your world – everyone’s world would be a damn sight happier place.

The trouble is, this desire to measure everything within an inch of its life is having precious little effect on the political movers and shakers and critical opinion makers who will listen to what they want to listen to, irrespective of the evidence of all that measurement.

For example, the case for the economic importance of the arts has been made ad nauseum since the 1980s and yet it seems to have little influence on the key politicians and decision makers of anyone’s generation. Every 6 months or so it seems there’s another arts funding crisis which uses the same rhetoric as 5, 10 and 20 years ago. 

For all the measurement that’s been going on, and for all the cases that have been made that the arts are good for the nation’s bank balance, its mental health and its artistic sophistication, there’s been remarkably little effect on the politicians who instruct the bean counters to change their thinking to any great degree. 

The only study that seems to be missing is the one which measures the effect that measuring the arts has on the measurers.

Perhaps one day we’ll recognise the futility of the measurement paradigm and accept that great art is just that – great in its own right, impossible to quantify, pin down and stick in a butterfly cabinet.


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Day  50 .. …  ..  … Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our Mighty (Un)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection: Act4Change: what binds us?

People say to me that there’s no such thing as the East Midlands. That the region is a figment of some politicians’ imaginations, cooked up in the back streets of Westminster back in the day when politicians carved up several regional and national boundaries, along with their breakfast bacon and eggs, not only here but across the world.

Many of you will know that Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent have all been on the receiving end of British politicians who have tended to cause disruption, distress and dismay with their arbitrary carving up of regions and communities so that people are left confused and bewildered about where they live, who their neighbours are and who they belong to.

A few years ago I was riding a train one day back from the Taj Mahal to Delhi in India and found myself completely baffled about what was it that bound the people of India: a country with over 1.3 billion people, more than 2000 ethnic groups and with representatives from every major religion, who between them, utter all four major families of the world’s languages across its vast land mass.

What binds you all together? I asked of a fellow traveller who was sat next to me on that rickety rackety train which stumbled along at an average speed of no more than 10mph. What connects the man or woman in the south of this huge country to the man or woman in its north? His answer was swift, decisive and simple: cricket.

For him, cricket provided the solution to the challenges posed by geography, language and faith. Cricket bound his people to a common cause and in doing so, allowed the country to celebrate the achievements of its communities throughout the ages.

And that’s what we’re doing here tonight, albeit in a more modest way. With all of you who’ve travelled the journeys you have – and I don’t just mean the physical travel up or down the regional motorways or train lines – but the emotional and psychological challenges you will have faced during the time you worked with on your Act4Change project – all of you are here because you’ve been bound by the power of art and culture.

In your work on your Act4Change projects, you’ve demonstrated the power of storytelling, of radio, of photography, drama, music, art, fashion and literature. It’s these things which have brought you together tonight and bind you to a greater cause.

The power in your art means that not only have you achieved great things for you and your communities, but you are now empowered to make even greater social and cultural changes in your lives to come across the region which you are creating because of your inspiration and commitment.

We’re delighted to be celebrating those journeys with you and to celebrate the power of your achievements and your artistic ambition, endeavour and insights.

Tonight is about recognising that the power of the East Midlands – its identity and place in the world – is being made by you, its children and young people.

Keynote speech at the launch of The Mighty Creatives Act4Change event at Attenborough Arts Centre, 4 May 2017: projects designed to challenge young people to change their communities through the power of art and culture.

  • The programme exceeded planned targeted resulting in:
  • 878 children and young people participating in the programme
  • 267 of those participating directly influencing change in local communities
  • 385 children and young people gaining a better understanding of local communities
  • 18 events delivered by partners, sharing knowledge and exchanging models of practice
  • 272 children and young people with improved communication and leadership skills
  • 158 young people taking leadership roles as part of the programme
  • 154 qualifications achieved by children and young people
  • 105 organisations supporting young people led social action
  • 30 social action projects happening across the region
  • £30K invested in project awards to young people in their communities
  • 28 films, exhibitions, performances, songs, recordings, live radio, newsletters, social media, presentations and awards events produced and shared in local communities and regional network event


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Day  49 .. …  ..  … Big  …. ..: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection: Risk Change: culture, migration and 3 days in Maribor.

Day 1

I’ve never been a refugee or a migrant. Sure, I’ve travelled from city to city in the UK sometimes to find work, sometimes to relocate in order to work – but never with a gun to my head, my entire family trudging through mud beside me or as a result of persecution in a place I once considered my home.

But I’m here at Kibla in Maribor, Slovenia this week representing The Mighty Creatives along with partners from 9 other EU countries to examine the refugee experience, research how cultural activity can inform that experience and who knows in the long run, perhaps inform future international policy on how cultural practice can enhance meaningful relationships between the migrant and their host community.

We’re doing this through a programme called Risk Change: a 4 year programme supported by Creative Europe Co-operation funding.   Organisations from 10 partner countries in the EU aim to  interact with different audiences, using a range of cultural methodologies to build connectivity  between new coming migrants and settled inhabitants of multicultural communities across Europe.

It’s a tall order at the moment given what’s happening across the continent and the U.K. especially given our recent Brexit ‘decision’.

We’ve no idea what to expect this week. Of course, we have the paperwork and the schedules and all the requisites to ensure a constructive collaboration. But until we look at each other in the eyes and hear how we breathe and talk together, the documentation is just text.  It’s the subtext that’s going to count this week: the verbal, nonverbal and physical communications which are going to tell us whether or not we’re on a long productive road with our colleagues at our sides or on our backs.

Day 2

We kicked off our kick off meeting yesterday with an introduction to the research that all 10 partners need to do as the first stage of the project. There’s quite a bit of it too: a shed load of desk based research covering national policy and initiatives on migration; 60 participant interviews per partner and countless reports, ‘call-outs’ and actions. 

The list goes on and on and on and on….

It occurred to me mid-session that we could really add some value to the process by introducing colleagues to the methodologies involved in arts based educational research (ABER), a form of ethnographic research which involves using arts based processes as the means of undertaking research (not just communicating its results).

I was involved in a lot of ABER practice some years ago when I ran the Special Interest Group for the British Educational Research Association (or the ABER SIG for BERA as it was called in those acronym crazed days): so I drew on some of that work and presented it to colleagues.  If you’re interested in the field, the following practitioners are as a good a place to start as any:

  • ABBS, P. (2003). Against the Flow. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • BAGLEY, C. (2008). ‘Educational ethnography as performance art: towards a sensuous
  • feeling and knowing’, Qualitative Research, 8, 1, 53–72.
  • EISNER, E. (1993). ‘Forms of understanding and the future of educational research’,
  • Educational Researcher, 22, 7, 5–11.
  • LEITCH, R. (2006). ‘Limitations of language: developing arts-based creative narrative in stories of teachers’ identities’, Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 12, 5, 549–69.
  • SAUNDERS, L. (2003). ‘On flying, writing poetry and doing educational research.’ British Educational Research Journal, 29, 2, 175–187.

Day 3

“I’ve never been a refugee or a migrant…” or so I thought at the start of this week. Yesterday we covered a lot of ground about the concept of who ‘counts’ as a migrant and why they ‘count’.

Fortunately, we were spared conversations about definitions of migrants which much like definitions of ‘creativity’ are interminable, exhausting and inconclusive. This is because someone at UNESCO had the good sense to conjure up some definitions of what counted as international migration which all the partners were happy enough to go along with. In summary, these were:

  1. Temporary labour migrants: also known as guest workers or overseas contract workers: people who migrate for a limited period of time in order to take up employment and send money home;
  • Highly skilled and business migrants: people with qualifications as managers, executives, professionals, technicians or similar, who move within the internal labour markets of trans-national corporations and international organisations, or who seek employment through international labour markets for scarce skills;
  • Irregular migrants or undocumented / illegal migrants: people who enter a country, usually in search of employment, without the necessary documents and permits;
  •  Forced migration: in a broader sense, this includes not only refugees and asylum seekers but also people forced to move due to external factors, such as environmental catastrophes or development projects. This form of migration has similar characteristics to displacement;
  • Family members: or family reunion / family reunification migrants: people sharing family ties joining people who have already entered an immigration country under one of the above mentioned categories;
  • Return migrants: people who return to their countries of origin after a period in another country.

The guys at UNESCO also make the useful point that:

“Migration is not a single act of crossing a border, but rather a lifelong process that affects all aspects of the lives of those involved.”

So in hindsight (always my best friend, Mr Hindsight), perhaps I am a migrant after all… perhaps we all are, one way or another… Something to consider over the weekend as I migrate from Maribor to Ljubljana and take on the role of being another form of transient: the tourist.

More on how Rick Change developed in the East Midlands here.


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…  48 .. …  ..  … Big  …. ..: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their funding applications on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection: Wakey Wakey!  The Four Awakenings of Public Sector Change

The avuncular British entertainer, Billy Cotton, used to exhort his audiences at the start of his 1960s TV programmes with the clarion catch phrase call, Wakey Wakey! before whipping through an hour of traditional English light entertainment reminiscent of the old British dance band days of the 1920s and 30s.

His orchestra was one of the few which survived that era and made it to the modern world of the television whilst generating a fond nostalgia for the olden days of social certainties, moral rectitude and people knowing their place in the world.

His call to wake up was poignant. The era he had grown up in was way in the past, and he may well have been urging himself to wake up as much as he was exhorting his audience. But he kept awake and alert and successfully made the transition from old time English band leader and entertainer to nationally recognised radio and television star.

Strange though it may seem, there’s a lot of learning to be had from a fading English big band leader when it comes to understanding public sector change. That learning can help you be on top of the changes you’re going through, rather than being squashed by them.

There are three things to wake up to about change in the public sector, the first of which is eloquently hinted at in Yeats’ poem of 1924, The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…

“The centre cannot hold…” has been particularly true in the UK these days where financial pressures and huge shifts in what is expected of the public sector means that organisations are having to reinvent themselves – sometime willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming into the market place – in partnership with organisations from other sectors such as the voluntary, social enterprise and private sectors.

The Second Awakening concerns the question of organisational identity. One critical consequence of the centre falling apart is that organisational identity also comes under severe pressure, and in some cases, crisis. Organisations are no longer able to conceive of themselves in the same way and if they are to survive that pressure and fend off the crisis, and for their reinvention to be effective, they will require a fundamental change in organisational culture.

The Third Awakening results from an acknowledgement that organisational culture change comes about through changes in how we think about, and act upon, our understanding of what it is to work in partnership.

The Art of Falling Apart

Yeats isn’t alone with his observation of the centre falling apart. Goethe took the argument one stage further when he warned that political centralisation would lead to the destruction of all culture. In his conversation with Johann Peter Eckermann in 1828 he wrote:

“To be sure, the state has been compared to a living body with many parts, and a state’s capital thus might be compared to the heart, which supports the life and well being of its near and distant parts. If the parts are very far from the heart, however, the flow of life will become weaker and weaker…”

And more recently, the historian and philosopher Terry Eagleton in 2001 positively urged the benefits of the centre collapsing whilst noting some of the collateral damage that this entailed:

These days, centrality is distinctly uncool. The centre has been marginalised, and marginality, like Bohemian Manchester or Cornish fishing villages, is the place to be. With so many groups muscling in on them, from sexual and ethnic minorities to dog-on-a-rope anarchists, the margins have grown so crowded that there is now standing room only. Indeed, they have bulged to spread over most of the page. Like elitism, marginality isn’t possible if too many people want to do it. It is an uncomfortable place, yet, oddly, it is where a lot of people want to be. In this sense it is a bit like Bangkok or the Aran islands.

So, if the centre cannot hold despite our best intentions, it may be best to wake up to the fact, embrace its possibilities and wake up to the new identity our organisation is going to find itself with. 

The falling apart of the centre means that whilst our organisations might have been sleeping caterpillars in recent years, there every possibility that they can emerge into the sunlight as bright new butterflies ready to face the challenges ahead.

From pupae to butterfly: changing organisational culture

Organisational culture is a complex phenomenon. Nilofer Merchant in the Harvard Business Review described culture as: “all that invisible stuff that glues organizations together… norms of purpose, values, approach — the stuff that’s hard to codify, hard to evaluate, and certainly hard to measure and therefore manage…”

She suggests there are three important questions to ask ourselves which tell us about the culture of an organisation:

Do We Trust Each Other?

Disagreements Mean What? and

Who Cares About the Baby?

She suggests that in an organisation with poor levels of trust, every team member “simply surrounds an issue much like a team of kids surrounds the ball. They then travel en masse, afraid to move away from the proverbial “ball.” In this culture, no one owns a position on the field. When they are huddling, what they are signalling is that they don’t know how to trust one another to do their unique part. They don’t know how to “let go” to and with others, thus risking their ability to scale results.

Her question about how organisations deal with disagreements indicate how dissent and diversity can be handled within the culture of an organisation: “When teams don’t know how to handle disagreement, molehill issues can become do-or-die mountains, or, conversely, passive-aggressiveness insinuates itself as a mechanism to avoid overt disagreements at all costs.”

The question of Who Cares About the Baby? might not seem appropriate for any organisation other than a large hospital but she describes a scenario which many of us may recognise:

“A team that is part of a 50,000+ organisation recently described an issue where one team does their best right up to a hand-off milestone, then relinquishes any part of the project’s ultimate success. They described their discomfort with this using a baby analogy. “Will you take care of my [baby] the same way I would, knowing our shared goal is to [get this kid to a good college]. When the “baby” or in this case, business performance isn’t co-owned by everyone, things can easily fall through the cracks.”

It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it

Merchant argues that it’s how we get things done which drives performance, not what gets done and that it’s organisational culture – the set of habits that gives people permission to cooperate by assumption rather than by negotiation – which is critical to success.

But there’s one difficult outcome of this acknowledgement of the power of culture which Merchant amongst many others recognise: culture will trump strategy, every time.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture will look at your well crafted business plan, chew it up and spit it out before you’ve had time to say “mission drift.” Merchant makes the cautionary observation:

“The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner. The “how” matters in how we get performance.”

Culture change through partnership

The Third Awakening that Billy Cotton might have advised were he still alive with his Big Band, is that if an organisation’s culture is to change and, critically, to stick, it’s imperative to bring in new thinking, new ideas, new blood and new cultural practices into the work place. In the UK, this has involved new partnership building between the public, private and social sectors although this is not without its difficulties as Diamond points out:

“Change agents in the way they bring together different (and sometimes competing) interest

groups (means) regeneration partnerships are, therefore, often the sites of unresolved

interest.”

So, if we accept that cultural change is inevitable, given the forging of new organisational identity following the falling apart of the centre, what framework might we need to steer us through the process of partnership building?

The Fourth Awakening – or Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse if you’re feeling particularly threatened by organisational change – is that the following principles are essential to partnership building: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Knowledge.

Liberté: partnerships works best when both partners enter that partnership voluntarily and are not coerced into an arrangement that suits one partner better than the other. Liberté involves both commitment and compromise: accepting the need to be both focused on and committed to strategy whilst being flexible about tactics and delivery.

Egalité: partners need to respect language differences and appreciate that their way of knowing the world and acting upon it is not the only way of living the good life. Other partners will speak differently, use different metaphors and will not have the same language constraints: the value of the partnership is in appreciating those differences in language and not railroading over them.  A GSOH – a Good Sense of Humour – is essential here. It takes time to understand each other and there will be misunderstandings along the way. The task is to accept these moments in good grace and not storm out of the room in high dudgeon as if your mother has just been insulted.

Fraternité: partners need to accept that your organisational weight is not the be all and end-all. It’s not just your history that makes you a partner: you have to bring on-going skills, knowledge and wisdom to this process not just a superior histori-cultural capital. A decent partnership isn’t a forced marriage where you bring your ugly self and explain it away with the large financial contribution you’re bringing to justify your place at the table. Fraternité embraces the principles of dialogue as opposed to monologue. Partners need to talk with each other, not at each other.

Knowledge Partnership building can be like a completing a jigsaw puzzle without having the benefit of having the box top with the completed picture in front of you. But you can lessen your organisational anxiety if you know where you are in the building process which roughly follows the following pattern:

  1. Scoping: involves identifying personnel, ideas, facts, figures, whims, daydreams, ‘what-ifs’, impossible scenarios, dull ideas, bright ideas, snatches of speech, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday and not so every day life.
  2.  Planning: identifying where are the connections between your collections, what they lead to, what links suggest themselves and summoning up the new world your partnership will generate.
  3.  Building: involves combining the components into infrastructure and not being afraid to jettison structures that don’t fit (they may belong to another project which you are unaware of at this point in time) or changing the infrastructure itself. “Killing your darlings” is a phrase you might hear here a lot. It involves focusing on the form and content of your partnership; being sure that everything in it has a purpose, a role and a function.
  4.  Delivering: the eventual rolling out the work of the partnership in order to achieve the aims and objectives you have set yourselves.
  5. Evaluating: asking yourself has the partnership delivered? And if so, how? and if not, why not? And then back to the drawing board to revisit and revise.

A final caveat

Partnership building can be a highly satisfying process which enables organisations to deliver far more together than they could ever achieve alone. It’s essential to driving effective public sector change. This can be attractive to a range of potential partners, some of whom aren’t necessarily driven by the same values as yourselves: so ensure that your partners have something at stake when they come to your table, or they may just end up taking the table away.

(Keynote speech given at the Oman Competitiveness Forum, 29th – 30th October 2014 at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat)


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…  47 .. …  ..  … …  …. ..: Reimaginings

So, although Arts Council England were supposed to have announced the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on Wednesday 26 October, this was delayed yesterday with a decision due ‘in the coming days’. The better news today is that they confirmed today that all applicants will receive a decision on Friday 4 November.

So, our re-imaginings can continue a little bit longer.

Today’s reflection: गम से फखर तक का आखिरी सफर: hearing the student voice in Jalandhar, India

Educational reform informed by creativity and cultural education is a global phenomenon. China, Singapore and Korea are some of the world’s major nations which are looking to creative and cultural methodologies to provide them with a new approach to teaching and learning and in recent months, we have developed a strong relationship with the Ivy Education Group in India who share our vision of transforming children and young people’s lives through creativity and cultural education.

This relationship led me to being invited to visit 6 Ivy Education Schools in the Jalandhar area of the Punjab, in order to establish exchanges between our organisations, teachers, students and universities across the Midlands.

This was an exciting prospect at the turn of the year but about two weeks before I arrived in Jalandhar, tension in the area escalated rapidly after a convoy of army vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a suicide bomber in the Pulwama district of Kashmir on 14 February: St. Valentines Day.

The attack resulted in the deaths of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and the attacker: the responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed.  Kashmir is fiercely contested by India and Pakistan and three wars have been fought since Britain partitioned the country in 1947. The importance of cultural and creative education became more charged than I had expected when I was planning my visit at the turn of the year.

In the short time I was there, I presented the work of The Mighty Creatives to over 1,200 students, parents and teachers and was humbled by the welcome everyone showed me and the interest they expressed in the work we do across the Midlands.

One overwhelming memory was a poem written by a young student, Simran Bhardwaj, from Cambridge International School in Phagwara. As part of the school’s welcome, she read out her tribute poem, गम  से  फखर  तक  का  आखिरी  सफर (The Last Trip from Gam to Fakhar.)

Shown below in Hindi and its English translation, she mourns how a day dedicated to love became a day of tragedy through the eyes of a dying soldier.  Her performance reminded me that whilst newspaper reports and academic papers explain something of our history, it takes the word of the poet and the voices of children to provide a deeper insight into our humanity and the struggles in which we find ourselves.

There are no solutions to the region’s conflicts in Simran’s poetry and no objective analysis of the historical factors which have led to the current situation: just the clear, direct and plaintive voice of a young child whose past and future lives have been, and will be,  informed by that regional conflict.

गम  से  फखर  तक  का  आखिरी  सफर

मज़िल थी बड़ी दूर जनाब,

पर हमें में भी कम नहीं थे देश सेवा के जज़्बात…..

बाँध कफन सिर्फ़ पर और हाथों में लिए बंदूक,

घाटी की हसीन वादियों से निकल रहे थे हम……..

कभी घाटी की ख़ूबसूरती को निहारते,

तो कभी बीते हुए वक़्त से अपने परिवार की यादों को……

पर हुआ ही ना एहसास हमें कि वक़्त बदल रहा है अपनी करवट,

दिल में मेरे मची थी एक अजीब सी हरकत…….

मंज़िल की दूरी जैसे-जैसे हो रही थी कम,

वैसे ही हमारे क़ाफ़िले से जा टकराए यहाँ हमारी मौत का वो आख़िरी बम…….

एक झटके में टूटी हमारी साँसों की डोरी,

फिर भी जारी थी हमारी ज़िंदगी और मौत से एक आख़िरी सीनाज़ोरी……

चाहकर भी चल ना सका बस हमारा,

आख़िर टूट ही गया जो देश से था वादा हमारा……..

ए ख़ुदा काश़ तु बख़श देता कुछ मोहलत इन कम्बख्त साँसों को,

तो इतना बता जाता कि……

ग़म ये नहीं की शहादत नसीब हुई,

पर ग़म और शिकायत तो उसके तरीक़े से है…….

ग़म ये नहीं की शहादत नसीब हुई,

पर ग़म इस बात का है कि आख़िरी बार माँ भारती की सेवा न कर सका……..

ग़म ये नहीं कि मेरी हम सफ़र का साथ छूट गया,

पर ग़म इस बात का है कि उसका मंगलसूत्र उतर गया……..

ग़म ये नहीं कि मोहब्बत के दिन फ़ना मैं हो गया,

पर ग़म ये है कि अपनी हम सफ़र से किये वो वादे मैं अधूरे छोड़ गया……

ग़म ये नहीं कि मेरे बच्चों के ऊपर से बाप का साया छिन गया,

पर ग़म ये है कि अपनी ही औलाद को पहली नज़र भी ना देख सका………

ग़म ये नहीं कि मेरे माँ-बाप के बुढ़ापे की लाठी छिन गयी,

पर ग़म ये है कि जिन बाँहों में बचपन बीता आज उन्हीं बाँहों को सुनी छोड़ आया हूँ, तड़पता छोड़ आया हूँ………

सुना है खुदा आख़िरी वक़्त पर इन्सान झूठ नहीं बोलता,

तो आज अपने इस आख़िरी वक़्त में मैं भी अपना एक आख़िरी सच बता जाता हूँ,

कि मुझे ग़म से ज़्यादा फ़ख्र है……

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि मैं एक हिंदुस्तानी सपूत हूँ …..

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि माँ भारती ने मुझे चुना है अपनी सेवा के लिए……

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि मोहब्बत के दिन अपने मुल्क से मोहब्बत मैं निभा सका…..

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि मेरे प्राणों की आहुति मेरे देश के लिए थी…….

फख़्र है इस बात का कि आख़िरी वक़्त में भी मेरे तन पर सेना की वर्दी थी और मेरी आँखें फख़्र से ऊपर थी…….

फख़्र है इस बात का कि सोने चाँदी के बदले मेरा कफन तिरंगा था, मेरा कफन तिरंगा था,मेरा कफन तिरंगा था…..

The Last Trip from Gam to Fakhar

The destination was very far away,

But we also had high enthusiasm for serving our sacred motherland……

Tying shrouds on our heads and having rifles in our hands,

Passing through the valley of Kashmir the only heaven on earth……..

Sometimes beholden with the beauty of valley,

And sometimes lost in the memories of my family from the time passed by……….

But we didn’t realised that time is transforming itself,

Though I felt a strange movement from depth of my heart……….

As the destination was coming closer and closer,

The bomb of our death on the moving vehicle approached our convoy………

Just with one jerk the string of our life was broken,

Still we were continuing our struggle between our life and death for one last time…………

Trying our best to assert our will on our pre-decided destiny of ultimate death,

But we weren’t able to do so………

At last the promise to our motherland was broken……

Oh Almighty! I wish that you had lend me with some more breathes, so that I could tell everyone that:

Grief isn’t about being martyred,

But my complaint is about the way of being martyred……

Grief isn’t about my death being so early,

But my sorrow is about being not able to render my services to my nation for last time……

Grief isn’t about leaving my better half forever,

But my pain is for that her wedding necklace has been removed and her vermilion is cleared after my death…….

Grief isn’t about that I had died on the day of love,

But my sadness is about the promises which I made to my better half that will remained incomplete……..

Grief isn’t about that my children has lost the shade of their father over their heads,

But my mourning is being for the reason that I wasn’t able to see my child’s face even for first time……….

Grief isn’t about that my parents had lost their only support of old age,

But my regret is about that I had left those arms vacant and yearning in which I had grown…….

Oh God ! I had heard that at the time of death a person never lies. So, today at my final and last stage I shall tell my final and last truth of my life to this whole world that instead of being in grief I am highly proud:

I am proud of being an Indian warrior….

I am proud that Mother Bharat has chosen me for her service…….

I am proud of being able to fulfil my love for my motherland on the day of love……

I am proud that at my last movement my eyes were open high with pride…..

I am proud that at last movement also I was wearing the uniform of army on my body…….

I am proud that my life has been laid down for my country……

I am proud that instead of gold and silver my shroud was our national flag tirangaa, our national flag tirangaa.

By Simran Bhardwaj, February 2019

My time in Jalandhar was short, and my time with Ivy Education schools very sweet: albeit infused with the taste of tension in the airspace and on the land those two great nations occupy. Hopefully the voices of the poets and the country’s young people will be heard in the weeks to come and that a longer period of peaceful international relations will prevail.

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.


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Reimaginings

Well, today Arts Council England were supposed to have announced the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026.

As it happens, all applicants received an email yesterday which read:

Following discussions with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), we have agreed to delay sharing our Investment Programme decisions with applicants. The announcement will instead be made as soon as possible within the coming days. You can find a copy of our full published statement online here: www.artscouncil.org.uk/investment23.

So, our re-imaginings are going to have wait a little bit longer.

So, in the meantime, here is some music: “51 Reasons to Be Cheerful”, The Mighty Creatives playlist, pulled together during the dark lockdown days of Covid and pending ACE NPO announcements.

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.