The usual tools don’t work: thoughts on working small

By Siddharth Khajuria & Razia Jordan

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Life Rewired Hub (Barbican Level G Programme), photo by Mark-Blower

Introduction

What’s the role we can play in convening conversations people want to have now, and creating moments of community?

Uncertainty

Most of the audiences who encounter our work do so in the Barbican’s foyers. In the past we’ve often called it ‘public space’, but in our recent conversations we’ve come to feel that this isn’t quite right. A genuinely public space, like a town square — with all of its distractions and noise and freedom — seems to encourage art which reaches more for spectacle and monument. Our space feels less like a piazza and perhaps more like a civic space, a place where you can lean towards the private if you like (e.g. sit on a laptop working) or take part in something more social. It’s appealing for both these uses because it’s one or two levels removed from the street and, importantly, there’s no obligation to buy anything.

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Unclaimed, photo by Peter Schiazza

Co-creation

Perhaps because of the co-owned nature of these foyers, the balance of our programme in this space has tilted in favour of co-created work. It’s now rare that we’ll embark on projects where someone is aiming for a fixed outcome from the beginning, or has a rigid idea of what the finished project might look like. Work driven or realised by one intellectual force feels less likely to thrive in the social and unpredictable context we work in. So, we’ve found ourselves drawn towards projects which come together in a messier and co-owned way.

Responsiveness

What, then, is the relationship between this kind of programme and our attempts at making a cultural organisation more responsive? For us, a responsive spirit involves actively talking to people we might not otherwise encounter, and reacting to the conversation which takes place — their insights, knowledge or ideas. We have experienced this in different ways across projects A recent example was our collaboration on the Panic! report and accompanying In Focus symposium — which looked at social class inequalities in the creative industries workforce[2]. It felt important that this project about our sector was led by sociologists who were independent from it, using external data sets with a real intention (both from them and all the partners) to create something distinct. We knew this research and dialogue wouldn’t have been created should we have all looked at the issue separately.

Values

When we’re talking about values in our work, we mean a set of guiding principles and questions that help us develop projects which feel authentic, meaningful and with a particular purpose in mind.

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Life Rewired Hub (Barbican Level G programme), photo by Mark Blower

Conclusion

Throughout the discussions the two of us had about Making Space, one word kept cropping up: conversation. Great conversations can be nourishing and they’re almost always messy, in good and bad ways. They are full of connections, signals and misunderstandings and when you have an authentic and exciting one in your professional world, you notice it.

About Razia Jordan and Siddharth Khajuria

Razia Jordan and Siddharth Khajuria are producers at the Barbican, a Brutalist arts centre in the City of London which is home to a concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas and two galleries. They work together to develop and deliver a cross-arts programme of talks, events, installations, residencies and research projects — with a focus on exploring the Barbican’s spaces as a site for convening conversation and facilitating unexpected arts and social experiences.

Making Space

Cultural production, its responsiveness to a changing world and role within social and civic life.

British Council Creative Economy

Written by

British Council Creative Economy team. We work with artists, entrepreneurs, and creative communities globally to tackle today’s cultural and social challenges.

Making Space

Making Space is a collection of essays, commissioned and written in 2019, each responding to the question “how can cultural producers become more responsive to an increasingly complex world beyond their walls, and play a stronger role in civic and social life?”

British Council Creative Economy

Written by

British Council Creative Economy team. We work with artists, entrepreneurs, and creative communities globally to tackle today’s cultural and social challenges.

Making Space

Making Space is a collection of essays, commissioned and written in 2019, each responding to the question “how can cultural producers become more responsive to an increasingly complex world beyond their walls, and play a stronger role in civic and social life?”

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