Becoming a Change Maker and Artistic Director

Cheltenham Literature Festival, October 2017

This is the first of many blogs I’ll publish during my stay at Lighthouse. I’ll detail my progress and some of the many challenges I encounter.

Artistic Director and Change Maker are two firsts for me. The first time I have ever had a job title, and the first time I’ve been expected to professionally map out and deliver ideas for an organisation that isn’t my own. I am still fitting into both of these roles and by the end of my programme in 2018, I want to be as fluid doing this as I am in the club on the decks. It is a work in progress.

Podcast Interview recorded in February 2017 with Courtney Francis

In 2015, I was five years into running my company Butterz. We were doing reasonably well for a small operation, releasing records and touring regularly, making a living from our art. At the same time, month by month, the support structures that helped us build an audience were being closed down — small independent venues, usually because of property development. Within five years, most of the places I’d played were shut, with no replacement.

Butterz Residency at Fabric, November 2013

Venues like Plastic People and Cable in London, which have been celebrated worldwide as cultural hubs, weren’t being treated as such when directly threatened, and eventually forced to close for different reasons. The direct impact I saw as a DJ and promoter at the time was new talent finding it even harder to break through as there were fewer opportunities to practice, perform, earn money and start their own nights and labels than I’d had. Big business will always find it easier to find alternatives to sell established acts, but what I particularly wanted to focus on, and care about most, is DIY operations, and people starting on their journey into music and the arts.

There wasn’t much I could do myself to stop clubs shutting, but what I wanted to add to the conversation in the media, which was and still is widely missing, is how artists are adjusting and making progress without this support network there. I started a podcast called Rhythm&Cash® on which I discussed with artists how they make money, and the barriers they face day to day developing their craft. It opened up a wider discussion among my peer group, much broader than the scene I operate in, about how these closures have directly affected their artistic practice.

I visited Lighthouse and spoke at their Progress Bar event in 2015 with the Artistic Director at the time, Juha van ‘t Zelfde, addressing these concerns. There was a warm reception to the talk and in general we continued talking about what I could do directly about this situation. At the same time, I continued releasing records and DJing while these ideas brewed in the back of my mind.

In early 2016, Juha van ‘t Zelfde approached me with Change Makers, a new directive by the Arts Council to increase leadership in arts and culture who are Black, Minority Ethnic and or Disabled by means of a senior leadership training and development programme. The fund supports the Arts Council’s aim of addressing underrepresentation in senior leadership across the arts and giving us relevant experience and training so we are able to compete on merit when future Artistic Director / senior leadership roles become available.

This was the first time I had been presented with an opportunity of this kind, and really had any major contact with the arts formally. Without thinking too much about the long term of being within an organisation as an Artistic Director in the future, I looked at it as an opportunity to build on the early thoughts I had around the future sustainability of DIY club culture, and work within an organisation for the first time in my career.

Being at Lighthouse two days a week allows me to have my head in the arts world, where I am constantly discovering new artists, new organisations and meeting interesting people that I wouldn’t have met in music. The rest of the week I get to feed all that inspiration and new information back into my own organisation and practice, and share things I learn with my wider peer group on twitter primarily, but also in person. Since the announcement, I’ve been offered a lot of opportunities from a whole new network and when I haven’t been able to do things myself, I’ve put forward others who may not have got the chance before. It goes two ways, me learning, but actively bringing new ideas and talent with me just like I would when I’m DJing on the radio or doing a club night.

Talking at IAM Barcelona, April 2017

While preparing and researching exactly what I wanted to deliver for my programme ‘Last Dance’ I attended several conferences and workshops and met several people (including the other Change Makers) that helped me map out all my thoughts, and give me a better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses. Highlights of those being Sonic Acts in Amsterdam, The Story in London, SXSW with British Underground in Austin, Texas, and IAM in Barcelona, which I also spoke at.

Lighthouse Open Session, October 2017

It’s the most intensive learning process I’ve undertaken since I left University and has been really impactful personally and professionally. My first event at Lighthouse was hosting a talk with artists David Blandy and Larry Achiampong on their project ‘Finding Fanon’. It explores topics close to my heart that I haven’t had the opportunity to address constructively in a public way yet that I would like to delve into more in the future. These chances have helped build my confidence in topics away from music. That night was when I started to feel like a Change Maker, but not yet an Artistic Director. I’ve since been invited to talk at Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ableton Loop in Berlin and Tent in Rotterdam. Seven years into my career, really explaining myself and how I work, and what I believe in should be straightforward, but when you have worked independently for the whole time, and never given any public talks, opening up isn’t the most natural thing.

Presentation on the creative ecosystem of Butterz at Ableton Loop, Berlin

Part of the massive change for me is operating in a completely different city to where I live, and understanding what’s happening in and around the scene in Brighton. As a Londoner you can take for granted your priviledge of having such a wide selection of things to do on your doorstep, daily. Talking to creatives locally, issues weren’t arising just with the lack of places to perform finished work, it was in finding places to meet other artists, and like-minded people and have space to create new ideas. Last Dance needed to address this head on, I felt it would be great for the legacy of the project, and an opportunity for Lighthouse to engage with a new wave of talent on their doorstep.

Flava D production workshop at Lighthouse

To kick off the Last Dance programme I invited one of my long-term collaborators, Flava D, to Lighthouse for a production workshop, where people could get insight into her creative process, and how she developed her sound into a career. Most of the people that came were under 24 and it was their first time interacting with Lighthouse. There was a lot of energy and excitement in the room, and it’s what I will build on while I’m here.

New Energy at Lighthouse after workshop

My next post will focus on the particulars of the Last Dance programme, key dates and further insight into spending half my time in music and half of it within an arts organisation.

See you on the other side.

Elijah

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