Dear Arts Sector, thank you.
Until last summer, I was leading a double work life. Despite being perhaps best known now for my work in presenting mindfulness in fresh modern ways, the majority of my time was actually spent working in the arts.
From 2008 until summer 2015, I worked in a range of roles all to do with innovation in the arts sector, which invariably meant working with arts organisations on how they might do more interesting things with digital technology. Major organisations and projects I worked on included Mission Models Money, the Edinburgh Festivals, Culture Hack Scotland, Sync & the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.
It was during this time that, having spent so much of my career helping other people make stuff, I wanted to make my own. And it made most sense to design and publish products in another area I had special expertise in — 21st century mindfulness. The success of my first product buddhify and the fact that my specialism as an arts-sector digital innovation policy guy was becoming increasingly perceived as a luxury good meant that after completing my work on the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts last summer I put a stop to my work in the arts and culture. Therefore 2016 will be the first year which I am a full time mindfulness product design guy, heading up a tiny creative studio whose products include buddhify, Cards for Mindfulness, Sleepfulness (launching in February) and two new products due this summer. Do please feel free to snigger at my ridiculous sounding job.
To further seal my new full-time life as ‘Modern Mindfulness Guy’, my first (and actually very good) book This Is Happening is published on Thursday. Therefore while Thursday will be a happy day, it will also be a sad one since, for me, it symbolises the end of my life working in the arts. For the foreseeable at least.
I put a lot of myself into the various ‘innovation in the arts’ programmes that I worked on. There were many times of success, joy and delight and at least three times where I was brought to tears of frustration and hopelessness. But I guess that’s what working on the edge is like.
I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that I’ll spare you a 10,000 word screed on what I’ve learnt works and doesn’t work when it comes to embedding digital tools and digital thinking into arts and culture organisations. I’ve written similar in the past and they are rarely read, even by those who paid for me to write them. One inevitable regret having left working one this thing called ‘innovation’ in this thing we call ‘the arts sector’ is that my and others’ work there in the last five years, while brilliant in parts, perhaps hasn’t had as fundamental a change as we might have hoped. To assuage my feelings of a job only half-done, I therefore originally planned to write this post as a final parting listicle filled with my hard-earned thoughts on the five things that leaders of arts organisations, funders and infrastructure bodies should do to avoid furthering their slide into the crisis of relevance. I’d even written them out. But then I let that idea go. I’ve had my time and if they didn’t listen then while I had their ear then why would they listen now?
So instead I’d just like to say thank you. When I first started working in the arts, I was entirely new to the sector. In the eight or so years that followed I fell in love with a beautiful and flawed system which filled me up with both professional and personal delight.
Thank you to everyone who I had the great pleasure to work with all across the UK and beyond. You were and are kind and patient and brilliant and determined.
While I could name dozens of people who helped make my time in the arts so memorable, I’d like to thank three people in particular who for me exemplify the perfect combination of passion, intelligence, dedication and humanness. Clare Cooper, Roanne Dods and Faith Liddell have been the best colleagues, mentors and friends I could have had and I owe them so much. You taught me when to start, how to keep going and when it’s time to stop.
With my ongoing role as a trustee of the British Council, I will have the occasional involvement with some arts/digital work but other than that, this is me signing out for now. The wise do warn us to never say never and so I shan’t do that. But today, it is the world of modern mindfulness where my talents are best deployed and appreciated. If I have as much fun in this new world as I did in the old then that will be a very good thing indeed.