The ABCD for Cultural Recovery in Brighton & Hove, a year on.

The strategy is finally resulting in a series of cultural activities that will take place in the real world, paying cultural workers to deliver new ideas for residents and visitors to Brighton & Hove. Conversations are happening that, I hope, will have an ongoing positive impact on the  City as we continue to recover.

I’m an independent producer. I help to bring creative acts to life and encourage them to interact with different audiences. My job involves bringing different people together and understanding their context, talking a lot, listening a lot more and finding sweet spots of potential collaboration. This often involves working towards a moment in time and then moving on to the next moment. A series of continuous peaks. In the last 18 months, I’ve used my producing skills in a variety of ways. One of them has been as a Founder of the ABCD for Cultural Recovery in Brighton & Hove. This has involved bringing over 100 individuals and organisations together in the City to find ways to reactivate and improve the way the cultural industries work together in response to the pandemic. Rather than a series of peaks, this work feels like a continuous horizontal line with peaks every now and then.

This work started for me, in April 2020 when Marina Norris  (Co-Chair of the Brighton & Hove What Next?  Chapter) and I decided to offer a weekly online meeting for the What Next members. Just over a year on and the project has raised over £90k to support 70 creative freelancers to develop the project and an additional £200k to support new creative recovery projects in the City.  

Talking, listening and bringing people together: April  – September 2020 (peak one)

The first key strategic partnership is between four local network leads; Marina Norris and I, Andrew Comben and Ian Baird (What Next, Arts & Creative Industries Commission (ACIC), Events Professional Independent Committee (EPIC)) who invite the three local MPS to a meeting to listen to a range of case studies from local artists and cultural workers on how the pandemic is impacting us. Caroline Lucas uses the case studies in a speech in the House of Commons to argue for more support for freelancers. These key individuals and influencers are crucial in driving the project forward.

Funders and strategic partners including Arts Council England, Brighton’s Business Improvement District, Brighton & Hove City Council and Brighton Dome & Festival come forward to support the work. The wider cultural community in the City collaborates to pull together content for the plan. The Founders draw out common themes and develop a plan around them.

We try hard to maintain ongoing transparency by sending regular detailed emails to participants and partners. Having the support of other individuals outside the core group is essential to help generate confidence and tackle challenges when necessary. 

Regular meetings and openness between the four Founders that involve trust, generosity and a shared sense of purpose is crucial. Our adrenaline and sense of urgency get us through this stage. As four leaders we utilise our skills, experience, networks and personalities to help move the project on. We begin to understand the value and limitations of having influence in this context. 

The power is shared: February – April 2021 (peak two)

We are working in a highly emotive context. People’s livelihoods are at stake, family lives in crisis and energy levels low. We need to understand the parameters of our work; we are not creating a cultural strategy for the City but an emergency response to the situation we are in. We need to understand the motivations of others; those that feel left out, that have not yet been able to take part and that don’t yet know about the work. We work hard to understand the external perception of our work, try not to make assumptions and are always open to feedback.   We have to understand what power dynamics exist and when we may have to challenge a situation.

This phase is where we put the plan into action, we share power and hand it on; creating Working Groups for three of the five work strands comprised of freelancers who are paid for their time by the project and individuals who work for organisations in the City and offer their time as part of their job, putting a Co-Chair in place and meeting as a wider group. A Programme Manager (funded by Brighton & Hove City Council) is recruited. Organisations in the City come together and contribute financially and in-kind to support the ongoing payment of freelancers in the team.

The driving forces of the project shift; the power is shared in a new way, the Founders group continue to meet but a new Governance Group is formed from the Founders plus the Chairs of the Working Groups. This replaces the existing Arts & Creative Industries Commission network. At this point, we have to better understand the political environment we are attempting to lobby in and garner support with. We learn that managing place base politics is important but must not undermine the ongoing work of the project. We understand that we cannot always choose the wider partnerships that we’d like to be part of. 

Investment in recovery: July – December 2021 (peak three)

The ABCD for Cultural Recovery work is creating ripples outside the project. Cultural organisations in the City are sharing training opportunities, Brighton Artists Network has set up their Open Venues scheme in partnership with Fabrica and Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival, BDBF has pre-empted the Creative Worker Income Guarantee work strand with their In House Artist scheme and some of the organisations applying to round three of the Cultural Recovery Fund are committing 3% of their ask to support the continued involvement of freelancers in the ABCD project. 

Thanks to support from the central government’s Welcome Back fund (via Brighton & Hove City Council), The Pebble Trust, Cause 4 and Brilliant Brighton we are now able to offer just over £200k towards cultural recovery projects in the city for outdoor commissions, artist-led alternative tours, training providers and equipment suppliers. These are the open contracts on offer (deadline 3rd Sept, more info here) to support the local creative community. We are also developing the Culture in Our City website, offering leadership support, profiling creative businesses and creating a wayfaring trail in the City – more on all these projects soon. We are hoping the first outdoor commissions will take place in November this year and we are planning to recruit for the Space to Grow Working Group (see pages 24 & 25 of the plan here) this autumn. 

We are also on the hunt for a Co-Chair to work with Donna Chisholm to lead the Governance Group. We need an experienced chair with an identifiable enthusiasm for the contribution creative industries can make to society and to the economy. We welcome applications from individuals in allied sectors, such as Higher Education, Health, Tourism and Business. The deadline is 17th September. More details here. Please spread the word. 

The active work continues

This project is hard. Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to create a truly inclusive cultural recovery in Brighton & Hove. I get tired when I find myself asking the same questions and pushing the same agendas as at the beginning of the project. The active work continues. The power of collective endeavour is not always easy but it is possible to find ways to work together differently.

I’ve found it helpful to refer back to the values we put in place at the beginning of the project (inspired by the What Next principles on page 9 of the plan here). 

It is worth it. The strategy is finally resulting in a series of cultural activities that will take place in the real world, paying cultural workers to deliver new ideas for residents and visitors to Brighton & Hove. Conversations are happening that, I hope, will have an ongoing positive impact on the  City as we continue to recover. I hope to see you at one of the cultural events in the vibrant and diverse City of Brighton & Hove soon. 

Louise Blackwell

August 2021 @LouiseBLou