Welcome Speech at the The Mighty Creatives (TMC) Mighty Memories event at Nottingham Contemporary on 10 March 2023.
Good evening, everyone. It’s fantastic to see so many of you here tonight, on what is a very special occasion. I’m here to say a few words about why we’re here tonight; how we got here, where we’re going and to thank those who have helped us on our way.
Last November, the whole of the arts sector was holding its collective breath for some major news which was going to impact on all our lives. This was the news we had all been waiting for months and the anticipation had become unbearable for many of us.
But then finally, after much nail biting and hair pulling, the news finally arrived: the Artificial Intelligence package ChatGPT chatbot was to be launched on the big wide world on 30 November. My birthday, funnily enough.
We were both thrilled and appalled at its implications for the creative and educational sectors.
For those of you who are yet enjoy its pleasures, ChatGPT is a search engine which has rapidly gathered attention due to its ability to generate detailed responses and articulate answers to questions across many domains of knowledge, including the arts and cultural sectors. Rapidly and in great depth.
Put simply, all you need to do to use it is type in a prompt – a question or instruction of some kind which is related to some kind of problem – and it comes up with an answer. Students can use it write dissertations, artists can generate novels using it and it has even been known to write business plan executive summaries, Happy New Year inspirational speeches from the CEO and much more besides. All in a couple of milliseconds.
It is, in short, a miracle, the answer to all our Google search prayers.
There was one other kind of significant thing that happened last November. This was the announcement from one of our long-term funders, Arts Council England, that they were, as they like to say, ‘disinvesting’ in The Mighty Creatives as a Bridge Organisation from April 2023.
Now this gave us a bit of a problem and the solutions were not immediately apparent. So, who better to ask to solve this contemporary problem other than ChatGPT? Could this chatbot help solve our existential funding problem?
So, we typed in the question:
What should a young people’s charity do if it loses 100% of its NPO funding from Arts Council England?
The cursor of ChatGPT blinked for a couple of milliseconds. And then for a few seconds more. And then for several minutes. In the world of Artificial Intelligence, this constitutes a lifetime of waiting. It was much like waiting to hear from the Arts Council itself, but we were patient.
After what seemed like interminable blinking of the cursor it came up with this:
Losing 100% of its NPO funding from Arts Council England can be a significant challenge for any charity, especially for a young persons charity. (No shit Sherlock).
However, there are several steps that the charity can take to mitigate the impact of this loss of funding and continue to operate:
- Diversify funding sources. Tick. We’d been doing that.
- Reassess programmes. Double Tick. We’d been doing that too.
- Reduce costs. Yeh. Obv. Triple Tick.
What they don’t tell you those ChatGPT people is that somewhere in all that intelligence there is a rogue element at work – a kind of ghost in their machine – which every now and then comes up with some mischief.
So, the next few answers were a bit of a surprise.
- Organise a food drive: collect non-perishable food items from the community and deliver them to the funder. Seriously?
- Hand out free flowers: The charity can hand out free flowers to Arts Council officers in a park. The flowers will brighten their day and bring a smile to their face. Yep, seriously.
- Organise a creative stunt to draw attention to the funding issue, such as a flash mob outside the funder’s office.
Well, we looked at that briefly by asking ChatGPT how we should do that but were met with silence, which got louder as the chatbot struggled with the constant challenges we threw at it.
- How do you tell the staff team that our entire funding has been cut? Silence.
- How do you tell our school stakeholders that their Artsmark programme is being withdrawn with no obvious alternative in place? Silence.
- How do you deal with these anxious times of the cost of living crisis and spiralling energy costs? Silence.
So much for ChatGPT we thought.
Whilst it can come up with plausible business plans in the matter of milliseconds, write inspirational CEO Speeches for New Year’s Day in the blink of an eye and even write welcoming addresses for CEOs to read out at organisational celebrations… can it solve real world, human problems?
No, not yet.
To solve those problems, we had only one option: to turn to the humans in the whole of Team TMC. Their collective skills, wit and human intelligence helped turn the funding crisis facing TMC into an opportunity for the charity to potentially survive, and perhaps even thrive.
So instead of ChatGPT leading the future in artificial intelligence, I’d like you to thank the real-world intelligence of the superheroes of Team TMC who are here tonight.
Working as our Mighty Team, they have individually and jointly helped imagine a new future for the young people we serve, invented new solutions to old problems, being discerning in identifying whether those solutions are brilliant or barmy, galvanised and engaged their colleagues and had the tenacity to deal with the nagging tiny problems which need sorting every single day.
Every team is different of course and everyone has brought their own inspirations and personalities to the challenges we’ve faced.
There’s Amy: whose phrase, Fighting for the Creative Voices of Children and Young People, will continue to galvanise us in the years to come.
There’s Bee: whose mantra – Audience not Programme First’ is having an immediate impact on how we engage with future stakeholders and partners.
There’s Caroline: who invests the term ‘creative accountancy’ with a whole new, more noble meaning which allows everyone else to continue to explore tangents, pursue their ideals and continue with the art of making the impossible, possible.
There’s Emily Bowman: whose leadership and resilience in the toughest of times has meant that we can still stand here, alive and kicking; still making a big difference to the lives of the young people we serve.
There’s Emily York: whose journey from programme participant to co-ordinator to manager has led to her driving the biggest engine of change for us by leading our Youth Voice programme and our Creative Mentoring work in particular.
There’s Hazel: whose impact on our teachers from across the region will be felt well into the future. She’s kept the cultural education flag flying high with us from the very beginning and continues her mission with Spark Arts for Children very soon.
There’s Hope: whose social media nous and TikTok music videos in those early stages of the pandemic, cheered us all in those early pandemic months.
There’s Kate: who’s expertise in combat juggling, cascade juggling, Joggling and Rubenstein’s Revenge means that we’ll be able to simultaneously spin many plates of different shapes and sizes in the most volatile of economic climates.
There’s Kevin: whose patience and dedication to building new cultural education partnerships the length and breadth of the East Midlands has been something to view with awe and respect.
There’s Levi: who’s bringing a whole new musical energy to our proceedings, which is going to be essential on our new adventures.
There’s Lisa: who said: I remember an inspirational teacher at Primary School who I think changed the trajectory of my life. He incorporated art into history projects, science, and literature. He also read amazing, quite advanced books to us and I just remember it opening a whole new world to me. Her voice is now captured in our business plan for the next five years and will help us remind us of the why of what we are doing.
There’s Lorrie: who has been central to making a real difference to young people and their families in poverty by doing much of the heavy lifting of our Let’s Craft arts packs which we’ve been distributing to foodbanks over the last couple of years.
There’s Louisa: who’s taken up the challenge of continuing to develop our relationships with schools through the Artsmark programme, through a time which has been marked by times of confusion, lack of clarity and mission drift from our previous funder.
There’s Rach: who confidently informs us about the impact we’re having outside of the organisation through her complete engagement with our Customer Relationship Management systems over the years.
There’s Ryan who since taking on the role of Income Generation Co-ordinator has stepped up to the demands of the post and provides us with invaluable bid writing support, something we’re going to rely on a lot in the years to come.
And there’s Sophie: whose interest in developing our digital presence and engagement with external organisations has been essential over the last couple of years. No doubt she’ll have something to offer the ChatGPT community some valuable insights about how to improve their rogue infested chatbots!
But there’s other layers to Team TMC.
We have our patrons of Mike Batt and Marcellus Baz who advocate for us across the country; and our excellent ambassadors of Rajesh Bajaj, James Brindle, David Davies, Ian Kerr, Janice Owen, Jeremy Simmonds, Maggie Welton and Martin Wright who have continued to provide much needed fuel and energy for all our campaigning activities through regular and substantial individual donations of time and money. Thank you all. Especially to our Chief Ambassador. You know who you are.
But I also want to thank our trustees who you’ll meet scattered around the room tonight. Nikki, Pat, Emrys, Jordan, Vivek, Raquel, Mandi, Vicky, Leigh: thank you all for your faith in our vision and for your support in bringing it to fruition, tirelessly and without complaint.
And I have to offer a very special thank you to our outgoing chair, Felicity Woolf.
Felicity, back in the day, we would have had Eamon Andrews walk on from behind a curtain and say, Felicity Woolf, This is Your Life! And he would hand you a large leather-bound album and slowly reveal lots of surprise guests much to your delight or consternation, depending on who walked out from behind the curtain.
You’ll be delighted to know that I won’t be channelling my inner Eamonn Andrews tonight.
But I would like everyone to know and appreciate that the six years we have worked together have been one of the productive working relationships I’ve ever witnessed between 2 people in our roles.
We didn’t know each other before we started working together; but Felicity came into the organisation at a time when it was reeling from another crisis of a different nature, and consequently facing another existential threat to our reputation and organisational mission.
She set about redefining the role of our Chair, adding new energy, insights and challenges to all aspects of the organisation. More than a figurehead, more than a status symbol, Felicity has been a real leader through some very difficult but also some delightful and inspiring times over the last six years.
I thank you all: Let’s hear it for Team TMC.
10 March 2023