Friends of the Earth – doing some digging

Intrigued by the pioneers of environmentalism in Brum? From the early days of environmental education, paper recycling, practical actions around sustainability and creative street actions, there is so much to explore and uncover through the Birmingham Friends of the Earth Heritage project that I’m currently involved with.

We are currently recruiting volunteers who want to be involved in exploring organisation’s history.

Volunteers are being given the opportunity to interview BFoE activists.  This Thursday I will be running a fun workshop to teach some of the basics of oral history interviews.  We will be using audio recorders and film to capture memories.  Again, no experience is needed – just a curiosity and enthusiasm for exploring the topic!  We are meeting on Thursday 23rd November, 2:00-4:40pm at Stirchley Baths.  E-mail Liz Palmer at heritage@birminghamfoe.org.uk if you would like to get involved.

Volunteers are also being invited to help us sift through the extensive BFoE archive.  The BFoE archive of photos, newsletters, leaflets and posters is kept at The Wolfson Centre in the Library of Birmingham.  It’s a real treasure trove and we’re eager to share it through this project!  There are sessions scheduled for:

  • Tuesday 21st Nov 4-6.30pm
  • Tuesday 28th Nov 4-6.30pm
  • Tuesday 5th Dec 4-6.30pm
  • Saturday 9th Dec 1-4.30pm
  • Tuesday 12th Dec 4-6.30pm
  • Tuesday 19th Dec 4-6.30pm

No previous experience of archival research is needed – just your enthusiasm!  Again, contact Liz Palmer if you would like to attend!

 

A Healthy Ecology of Culture?

‘How do leaders in the Arts achieve wider and deeper engagement with the Arts and Heritage?’

This was the question posed by Robert Hewison, author of the excellent book Cultural Capital, the Rise and Fall of Creative Britain’ at an Arts Connect WM seminar for Arts and Cultural sector leaders on 1st November.  It’s also a question that I’ve been grappling with on a personal level over the past few months, and something I alluded to in a blogpost back in June.

Hewison has superb insight and clarity into the shifts in cultural policy, in the increasing commodification of culture and need to justify its value in market terms.  His book charts the rise of the ‘Creative Industries’ and the notion that an army of freelancers and small scale creative businesses can drive innovation, tackle unemployment and regenerate whole swathes of post-industrial Britain.  As one such freelancer who is frequently told how much my colleagues and I contribute to the economy, I’m acutely aware how much guff is spouted in this regard.

Thankfully there seems to be plenty of work being done to redefine how we measure value in arts, heritage and culture.  I completed the University of Sunderland’s online ‘Introduction to Participatory Art and Media’ course over the Summer and the range of excellent case studies with serious research evidencing their impact was wonderful.  However, unless this work is taken seriously at a strategic level with adequate funding and supporting structures, the hours spent meticulously evidencing outcomes will be just one more instance of the sector fruitlessly justifying ourselves on other people’s terms.

We were also provided with some seemingly damning statistics, highlighting how increased Arts Council and National Lottery funding for the Arts has led to minimal impact on engagement amongst the wider public (admittedly using flawed methodology).  It was highlighted in the ensuing discussion on our table that it is important to bear in mind the wider context of ‘homegrown’ and commercial culture to get a truer picture.  My mind instantly turned to a key text from the Leadership course, John Holden’s ‘The Ecology of Culture’ which sees culture in a wider context than Arts Council policy, where different cultural sectors organically intersect and support each other.  Like a natural ecological system, it requires interdependence and sustenance of the many different elements.

The lecture highlighted three key threats to the sector, which really set the challenge for everyone in the room:

  • National Lottery funding decreasing
  • Educational policy narrowing
  • the wider Economy shrinking, with particular challenges at Local Authority Level.

So, how do we begin the answer the question posed to us?  In all honesty I fear for my future in the sector as a Freelancer.  Whilst welcoming additional funding coming into new and existing National Portfolio Organisations locally, I feel that freelance artists are frequently on the outside of the conversation, working precariously in a tough environment.  If we don’t ‘get the gig’ or have the time to invest in attending arts events it is hard to operate.  This is exacerbated for people with dependents, people with additional needs or people living in more isolated areas.  The idea of an ‘Ecology of Culture’ is something which makes sense to me – the need for stronger networks at all levels, with more people looking ‘sideways and below’ for support, instead of merely responding to challenges and opportunities coming from a policy level.

I’m not entirely sure what my ask is, I’m still making my first forays into thinking about this in more depth.  I’m probably being quite unfair in my analysis based on my current bugbears.  I could probably be more proactive, be more focused, take more risks myself.  However, here are some thoughts, which I appreciate are very focused on my own development:

  • In the Heritage sector there is so much dependence on Heritage Lottery Funding for individual projects.  It seems that there is little in the way of learning and development, particularly as so many projects are one-off, small scale activities by community groups who do not deliver heritage projects as a core activity.  As part of my work as Secretary of The People’s Heritage Co-operative I am interested in exploring how we can develop networks to increase our resilience.  Sharing experiences and skills, as well as making connections with other heritage practitioners will surely mean that we are spending less time competing for limited funds and more time pooling our skills as the funding pot decreases.  I’m particularly passionate about making the case for high quality and strategic heritage education with young people and I hope that Heritage Practitioners can feed into the development of the ‘Cultural Education Partnership’ locally.  Watch this space as plans develop.
  • National Portfolio Organisations could create ‘learning communities’ – spaces where artists can collaborate, play and respond to each other, without the pressure of responding to a commission.  Friction Arts’ ‘Artists on the Edge’ is a superb example of this.  It has created a family of artists from different disciplines who are now forging new paths, but who are also able to bring their skill and energies to supporting Friction Arts’ work.  It’s a reciprocal and sustainable model, which is of particular value to ‘post-emerging’ artists.
  • Arts organisations also need to find ways to welcome Artists through their doors – not just as consumers of culture, but as people with something to offer and share.  How can we initiate these conversations?
  • I really welcome the Arts Leadership course (Arts Connect WM are recruiting the next cohort now!) and I’ve taken plenty away which I’m not yet sure what to do with.  Perhaps my next step should be seeking a mentor?  But who and where?

Am I thinking along the right lines here?  Am I just using this as a sounding board to vent some frustrations?  I think that most artists CAN and WANT to achieve wider and deeper engagement.  Too often our engagement is fleeting, ‘hit and run’, working to another agenda.  I crave depth, collaboration and longer term relationships where I can use my artistic practice to work in a genuinely participatory and collaborative way.  Several projects are in the pipeline where I hope to address that.  In the meantime, let’s keep Hewison’s question in mind and try and develop a healthy cultural ‘ecology’…

2011 – The Year in Review

This year has been a pretty shoddy year for blogging. Thankfully that’s because it’s been a fantastic year of increasingly ambitious, interesting film projects with wonderful people. This blogpost is a bit of a round-up with some thank yous thrown in!

2011 montage

Pool of Memories

One of the most exciting and rewarding projects has been finally getting the ‘Pool of Memories’ project underway. After months and months of plotting and planning our funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, ‘Friends of Moseley Road Baths’ were able to throw ourselves into implementing an extensive and exciting programme of oral history interviews about the swimming baths and its 104 year history. I’ve been working in schools around Balsall Heath and Moseley to bring History to life for local pupils through using our interactive Virtual Tour website and Pool of Memories archive, then guiding groups through filming their own oral history interviews with members of the public. The response has been wonderful and it’s been difficult to keep a check on my enthusiasm in order for us to actually get the projects done!  Here is a taster of what we’ve been up to in the six projects completed so far!


What’s Wrong With Wolverhampton?

There was also no shortage of enthusiasm, or talent, from students at Mediacove who I worked with at the start of the year to create a documentary ‘Wolverhampton in Focus’ which investigated the claim by a Lonely Planet article that Wolverhampton was amongst the worst cities in the world!  Needless to say we uncovered a huge amount of positive stuff going on.  The documentary was a springboard for a live streamed debate, where the group took charge of finding panelists, chairing the discussion and filming the whole thing in the Mediacove studio.  I thought it was a fantastic template for empowering and innovative media work, but don’t take my word for it… here’s the Behind the Scenes film where the group talk about how the experience has changed their lives.  More information on the Mediacove blog

Young people making films

As the cuts to youth projects began to bite I spent some time with young people at Fox Hollies Forum in Acocks Green producing a short film with them to highlight the need for good quality, safe youth provision in their neighbourhood.  The group did a fantastic job of making their case and the film formed part of a wider campaign of lobbying and demonstrations that certainly puts any notion of apathetic young people to rest!

Meanwhile pupils in and around Billesley took part in a range of fun after-school clubs organised by the lovely crew over at Balsall Heath’s very own Round Midnight.  I led a range of film-making workshops which saw Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils getting to grips with using camera equipment and exploring how they can create their own short films.  I also joined the gang at Round Midnight to help pupils document arts activities happening at King Edward VI Girls Grammar School in Handsworth.

Promoting health

2011 has also been a year of promoting some important areas of the NHS, specifically services aimed at supporting children and families.  The year began with a whopping 10,000 DVDs of my Health Visitor film going into production to be distributed to new parents across Birmingham.  As I type there are a further 1,000 copies of a film about the referral process for children with suspected ADHD in production.  A third film aimed at young people and carers outlines the health services provided through the ‘Looked After Children’s Health Team’ for children and young people in the care system in Birmingham and will go into production shortly.  That project involved working with pupils at Firsbrook School in Quinton to create a short animation – loads of fun and my first animation!

A day in the woods

One of the most fun parts of my job is the opportunity to delve into other people’s worlds.  I was really lucky to be able to join a group of three and four year olds in Moorcroft Woods as they explored the woodland through the use of stories, crafts and their own observations.  The ‘Forest School’ supported by the Wildlife Trust and run through Rowley View Nursery School is all about getting kids out of the classroom and giving them opportunity to get muddy and let their imaginations run wild.  The response from the kids was absolutely wonderful to see and it’s hoped that more schools will grasp the opportunity to get involved in similar schemes off the back of the short promotional film we produced.

Film training

Finally I made a couple of trips down to London to deliver film-making workshops to the lovely folks at Friends of the Earth.  This is one of my favourite bits of work as it’s always hugely amusing to see what adults get up to when they’re given free rein to play with a camera!  I’ll leave you with a short film produced in one short hour long session – it shows you what can be created in a short space of time, as well as giving you some tips for your own film-making!

Huge thanks to all of the organisations I’ve worked with over the past year and all who have assisted in bringing some great stories and projects to light! Happy film-making for 2011!

Playing with a Flip

Now, I’ve never claimed to be at the cutting edge of technology, and in fact it was quite a relief when recently chatting with local photographer and all round lovely lass Jane Baker (you may know her as Greensnapper, purveyor of fine photography for the Jubilee Debt Campaign, Friends of the Earth, The Terrence Higgins Trust and other great pics coming soon to a good cause near you), to learn that I’m not the only local media maker who shies away from talking techie and comparing the size of our lenses with anyone who’ll get theirs out.

Fortunately, I have a husband who can happily while away the hours looking at the finer details of any given gadget, reading reviews, posting on forums and generally boring me rigid. Happily his nerdishness and my impatience to just DO go together quite nicely!

So, with that in mind, we’ve got our hands on a Flip Ultra HD. James did the reading around, I pointed a camera in his face. The result: just some initial thoughts on Flips, their compatibility with various computers and their use when traveling. It’s not a definitive guide, it’s not meant to be. But it does give you an idea of what’s out there and how it can be used… enjoy.

Social Media Surgeries

Here’s a plug for a really useful event happening this Wednesday. These guys know their stuff and I know people who have been to previous surgeries have really benefited….

If you belong to a Birmingham based community or neighbourhood group of charity please come and join us for the April 22nd 2009 Surgery.

When & Where

Drop in anytime between 5.30pm to 7.00pm at Fazeley Studios, 191 Fazeley Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DR. It’s opposite the Bond and a go kart track. Push the large pale blue door with the silver door knob.

Lots to learn, little to lose. We promise you friendly advice.

These surgeries are organised by volunteer members of the informal Birmingham Bloggers group. Non of them are getting paid to provide the help.

What happens at these surgeries?

Volunteers from the Birmingham bloggers group are offering to show voluntary and community groups in the city how you can make best use of social media. It doesn’t matter if you are the head of communications at a major charity or an active citizen in your neighbourhood, if you’re at all curious come along.

No boring speeches, no jargon.

Tools like blogs, podcasts, video and social networks can give a real boost to campaigning organisations, often for no or little cost. So these experts are offering you approachable one to one help and support because they believe it can help. You may just want to see what is possible and go away and think about it. You might be itching to set up a blog and start using it.

Perhaps you think video might help you tell your story but don’t know where to start? All is possible. There’ll be no lectures, just people with knowledge, ideas and a passion to help you make best use of the internet for your organisation.

For more information and to sign up in advance go to www.paradisecircus.co.uk or contact Nick Booth on 0777 909 5692

Them and Their Movie

The BBC ‘Me and My Movie’ workshop which I worked on last week turned out to be a really action packed day with lots of great ideas and enthusiasm from all of the young people who took part.  The finished two minute film will be put forward for a CBBC ‘Me and My Movie Award’ in association with BAFTA.

This article on the BBC Birmingham website gives  a flavour of some of the activities we got up to.  Huge thanks are due to Jenni, Tessa and Andrea at the BBC for all their hard work.  Well done to all the young people, keep on making movies!

Me and My Movie

Would you like to make a movie in a day and potentially win an award in association with BAFTA?

On 28th August I will be running a one day workshop at the BBC Public Space in The Mailbox, Birmingham to help young people between the ages of 6 and 14 to produce a film which will be entered into CBBC’s ‘Me and My Movie’ competition.

You will work with up to seven other young people to produce the two minute film, taking responsibility for scripting, filming, directing and editing the entire film. Winners get to go to a glitzy awards ceremony in London!

Read more about Me and My Movie and then check out the BBC Birmingham website for details on how to apply.

Be Yourself!

Girls in action

With only a few days to go until I get married, I’m running short on time to type out a much needed post about the absolutely fantastic Mediabox funded project with ‘Girls in Action’. It’s been a whirlwind of a project, with the weeks rushing by in a haze of planning, filming, editing and lots and lots of giggling! However, to give a bit of a taste here’s the press release. I’ll try and write more soon! Well done to Anisa, Sabriya, Hannan, Houaria, Maryam and Eaman for all of their hard work!

Be Yourself Birmingham, Urge Young Movie Makers

A world-premiere brought a touch of glamour to the Millennium Point ThinkTank Theatre last night as friends, family and excited fans were treated to a new film by six young Muslim Women from Sparkbrook, Birmingham. The fifteen minute short-film, Be Yourself, which stars and has been written and directed by members of the Girls in Action group, works to challenge stereotypes and combat prejudice.

Girls in Action was formed as part of the Balsall Heath extended schools programme, in April 2007, as a direct result of consultations with parents and young girls living in the area who wanted a safe and secure place to meet and the chance to develop new opportunities.

The Balsall Heath extended schools programme brings local schools and organisations together to provide young people with the opportunity to engage with new and exciting initiatives including healthy lifestyle projects, family learning programmes and after school clubs such as sports, arts and crafts and cookery classes.

“It has been great to be part of this media project and watch the group develop together,” said Alison Moore, Extended Schools Coordinator. “This film is a great example of the really positive impact schools can have on the community by providing extra opportunities for all.”

The premiere was brilliant and the whole night went so well. In the end, it was a wonderful opportunity for the girls to showcase all of their work and people commented about how impressed they were with the professional standard of the film.”

“Seeing the film on the big screen was a fantastic feeling,” said Houaria Mohammed, 18, one of the young women involved. “  It gave us the chance to show everyone what we have achieved and also give people an insight into our lives and experiences. As young Muslim women, people put us into pigeonholes and it’s about proving to people that we’re more than those religious stereotypes – we have a life with interests and ideas that are common to everyone. Plus, the after party was great!”

With research showing that extended schools are already benefiting the children and communities taking part, every school in England will offer extra services by 2010 ensuring that all communities can participate and benefit in this way. More information about extended services offered through schools can be found at www.direct.gov.uk/parents.

 

Written By Pat Awty
Geronimo Communications