Lynne Brackley reflects on a co-planning session for I Am Festival 2024.
6 December 2023
Let’s play Zip! Zap! Boing! Are you raring to go?Full of dread? A bit unsure? You zip left or right, zap across the circle and boing to return to sender. It’ll be fine.
We’re three cultural organisations, three schools, ten Cultural Ambassadors and assorted others from A New Direction and we’re doing PLANNING. The I Am Festival approacheth, and we have to devise some school workshops and festival happenings on the theme of ‘See Me! Hear Me!’. It’s all about co-creation. We have one day together. So, why are we messing about playing Zip! Zap! Boing!?
Games – and planning days - have rules and systems. How do playful activists like us feel about that? If we don’t like those rules, should we ignore them? Break them? Just not play? Or invent new ones to make the game better? More fun. More inclusive.
Well, as it happens, that goes straight to the heart of what our three commissioned cultural organisations do: Coney, BLINK Dance Theatre and Graeae invite us to play with kindness and imagination and in our own style. As we reprise elements of their masterclasses held earlier in the term, we shift between repetition and the new, risk and safety, fun and challenge. Sign names, name raps, elastic dancing, voicing over. We take time, we help out and we shake, squeeze and slide our way to lunch.
Aaargh! But what about the planning? We’ve never met like this before, we don’t know each other, we’re eating food and we don’t really know what it is we’re planning. And yet… From the carousel of conversations that follows, ideas begin to form.
‘Let us bring you up’. So begins a dialogue with Graeae about elevation and creating ‘something above head height’. A lantern, a superpower, healing with food, a manifesto, a visual thrill. We don’t know what it could be so we address the question of whose stories we could tell and why and what’s the best medium to use, using the skills and interests of the subjects and the tellers. At the partner school, The Complete Works, students often work one-to-one with tutors, and their learning can happen at home, in a library, at a hub or anywhere that works for them. Developing options that can include everyone and suit their needs is a key consideration. We are already cultivating relationships with those who are present and those who aren’t.
A secret mission can be a good way to make change. This is at the core of Coney’s work. In pairs, we take photos with our phones of things we find lovely, not so lovely and things we feel curious about in our work space in Hackney Wick. Looking out at the sun on the water, we reflect on these images then move seamlessly into bigger themes and the issues we care about. Anything goes. One that stands out in our list is housing conditions. How on earth do we address that in a playful way?
‘Jenga,’ says one Cultural Ambassador. We all look at each other. Genius.
The BLINK team are up on their feet for their conversation. The children they will be working with at Cherry Garden School are labelled with complex needs, and two Cultural Ambassadors are offering ideas for tactile dance using creative touch that could engage the pupils. They choose the song ‘One Dance’ by Drake and experiment with dance movements and directing each other with a spontaneity and commitment and talent that sends ripples out across the room.
So, where are we? We’ve looked and listened, we’ve played, we gave value to ideas. We barely touched on logistics, dates, timetables and session plans. We set out to create a space where everyone’s voice mattered and the where the cultural ambassadors could have meaningful input. A teacher from Queensmill School didn’t hold back in endorsing this approach to planning. It’s a revelation. It uses all our energies. It doesn’t shut down a thought before it can fly.
In our Cultural Ambassadors’ masterclass with Coney, we were invited to share our mundane superpowers. Something we’re really good at but for which we will never win an award. It’s one of the big things that sets the tone of this thing we’re doing. Maybe you’d like to join the conversation. Play the game. What’s your mundane superpower?