03 12 07

“How Can We Work Together to Achieve Our Goals?“

Branka Ćurčić

First big meeting of cultural workers and representatives of cultural institutions of different scale from Eastern Europe and Middle East just has happened in Istanbul from 24th to 27th of November 2007. The gathering was initiated by British Council (BC) in order to try to discover “How can we work together to achieve our goals?”. Besides employees of BC, meeting gathered around 100 participants and it was stressed that this is first of several massive meetings which will be organized in the following year in the region, in order to find out from very practitioners from this region what are their needs, aspirations, their practices, conditions of their work, obstacles that they are facing while working, etc. This would all at the end lead to the creation of a new funding program of BC for networked projects of cultural institutions in this particular region. The meeting of this big group of people was managed through the “Open Space Technology”. Open Space Technology (OST) is a way to convene people for a conference, retreat or meeting. "Technology" in this case means 'tool' - a process; a method. Attendees are asked to generate the meeting agenda as well as participate by leading small group break-out sessions during the meeting time ( Its definition further says that it functions when there is a conflict, complexity, diversity of thought or people, and short decision times. It has been used in widely diverse settings, from designing aircraft doors at a large aircraft manufacturing company to engaging street kids in defining a sustainable jobs program. As its creator Harrison Owen claims, it serves as "the invitation to take responsibility for discussing your passion." Since 1986, it has been used in over 100 countries and in diverse settings, industries, cultures and situations - for program and product design, knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary thinking, conflict resolution and conferences. The whole methodology is based on “self-organization, effectiveness, flexibility, openness in sense that participants creating an agenda of a meeting”.

Besides that, “Open Space Technology” has several principles of how it's functioning and one “law”. The principles are: 1) Whoever comes are the right people, 2) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have, 3) Whenever it starts is the right time and 4) When it's over it's over. The law is called “The law of two feet” and it means that whenever person feels not any more interested in the course of the discussion (being bored, finding discussion unproductive or having to do something else better), he/she is encouraged to leave the discussion and join the other theme/group, leave the room, the event, do something else, etc.

Therefore, the whole methodology of managing the meeting was based on imperative of networking, flexibility and individual/collective empowerment. But, several things appeared to be very symptomatic. What was visible at the very beginning of the meeting is that majority of people invited to participate are representatives of national or independent film festivals, theater and/or dance collectives, music industry, cultural entrepreneurship, advertisement, art schools and universities, as well including representatives of smaller independent cultural initiatives. According to BC's members words, the idea is to invite people from different strands of cultural sector from different countries, in order to get realistic picture of the environment and conditions of work in the region. At one of the sessions dedicated to BC's intentions with this new strategy, it was explained that BC sees this future creative collaboration between cultural producers from Eastern Europe, Middle East and Great Britain as interconnected assemblage “of different regional clusters working together in order to achieve productive multilateral cooperation.” What has been stressed is that BC is looking and hopping for bigger initiatives and more impact in the region, since they see those two stand points as being consequential and interconnected. Massive audience was put at the front of the talk, as something that we should strive for all together, since that would be reciprocal to the bigger influence in our local cultural and social environments and broader. Here first appeared one of the main problems of this meeting, which is assumption that we, coming from cultural sector from Eastern Europe and Middle East, all must have the same goals, therefore, our positions in the BC's eyes have been equalized and diversities flatten. This tricky setup of open agenda for its participants to create it and democratic nature of the tool used to manage the meeting couldn't totally push aside notion of taking part in the conception of the new market of different ideas and aspirations of cultural workers, with all laws of competition, personal engagement, therefore empowerment, and flexibility.

Proposed themes for discussions ranged from very precise and particular one, such are “How to organize film festival in 33 countries with limited budget” and “What are new nodes of networking for music labels”, to more general themes such are “Why do we need networking”, “Migrations”, “Documentary film today”, etc. One interesting debate happened at the session entitled “Who is the audience?” of art today. The discussion attracted people of different profiles: people from music industry, classical music performers, art university professors, theater managers, etc. What appeared to be a dominant attitude on the subject at the debate goes well hand-in-hand with BC's strategy of strive for massive audience, how to attract them massively and even how to manipulate them in order to have them at the art/cultural event. Opposite attitude present at the debate that bigger audience doesn't necessarily mean better audience, that there should be awareness of how to work and communicate with the audience and not to keep them at a consumer distance, didn't resonate in the discussion group.

Short timeline of discussion groups, fast change of themes, strive for effectiveness and possibility to come with some conclusions in such dynamics, resulted with general stand points of mostly unproductive and superficial discussions about our common goals, needs and aspirations. Openness and democratic nature of the working methodology (we are creators of our own future, therefore we are holding keys of our own destiny) of the whole event, could raise one important question that might be part of BC's general agenda towards this region: “Is the concept of Creative Industries applicable to Eastern Europe and Middle East and what should we do to achieve this common goal?”. Diversity of profiles of people present at the meeting implies that there is actually unhidden agenda directed to achieving massive culture and massive consumer-audience, which suppose to unquestionably lead to “bigger impact to cultural environment in the region and beyond”. What was also visible is that there was positive notion of accepting (and hopping for) cooperation between business/private sector and art/culture as something natural and unquestionable, which most of the cultural producers present at the meeting uncritically justified as necessary having in mind how public funding in their countries is usually being nonfunctional. In that sense, what could be often heard at the meeting was that we (cultural producers from the region) are waiting for investors, banks, private companies to come and to invest in our country, so our culture could progress. All this could question the main BC's goal in this mission - to learn more about the region and its culture - as something that should be achieved or as something that it's already sustained.

At the end of the day, I decided to use the law of two feet...

Branka Ćurčić