While Event 1 was predominantly about ‘framing’ the notions of RANS, Event 2 hoped to start looking forward to what this network can/should do in the future.
Activity 1: Questions from before?
After introductions to each other and Lyth Arts Centre, the network members explored some questions that had emerged from the online Event 1, specifically:
- How can rural leaders position themselves as impactful? (Eg, what if everyone members of RANS should be on a national board?)
- What does advocacy look like? How do we practically implement some of your findings
- Covid-19 pandemic has provided some opportunities in regards to Digital engagement with policymakers: how do we take advantage of these to ensure a more equitable engagement with policymakers in the central belt?
- There hasn’t been a cultural conference in the Highlands in over a decade: Can RANS work towards a sector-wide cultural forum for all of Scotland to showcase the excellent leadership/ activities occurring in the Rural?
- Can RANS do more to celebrate the rural as a site of inquiry/challenge for ‘culture’
- How can we ensure that there is space to express difference of politics/approaches of each different area that make our experience distinct, and yet also find the similarities that join us together? (Eg, How does RANS be a support mechanism and not an echo chamber?
Activity 2: Funding Forum
The second event was a continuation of Funding Forum that Lindsay Dunbar has been hosting, and in this instance inviting the group to exploring real-life situations. This contextual activity presented some important reflections about the funding situations within the rural contexts, and insights from these sessions resulted in some suggested actions the “Next Steps” below.
Activity 3: Questions for after?
Lastly, the group looked a how it could work towards addressing the central concerns of the network, specifically:
- A lack of understanding by funders/policymakers of specificities of delivering culture in rural and remote settings
- Locational barriers that include:
- Transport problems,
- Affordability, (over half of rural/remote organisations serve rural populations within the top 30% most deprived areas – SIMD 2020)
- Relevance of the arts scene to the concerns and experiences of the local population
- Limited platforms for relevant knowledge exchange between rural and remote arts/cultural organisations including an absence of appropriate networking opportunities as well as limited professional support/development for staff leading to a high turnover.
Key Insights from the Day
While some groups chose to answer some of the questions above, as a whole, the discussion surfaced some key insights:
- There was a strong desire to NOT be “solutions oriented” – this emerged understanding that some of the “problems” of rurality are some its greatest opportunities. As such, what is required
is not simplistic solutions to these, but a better understanding of contexts. (“Its fucked: but that doesn’t mean that we should “fuck it”’!). This was to ensure that we did not provide simple, easy narratives about the context of the rural, because there are no simple, easy narratives. This seemed to be underpinned by a notion that most in the network were against “best practice” modules. Instead, there was a reaffirmation that there were/are a plurality of practices, and this
is to be nurtured as these pluralities allow a more comprehensive discussion of the context. Similarly, it was felt “best practices” do not support context-specific requirements of living/ working the rural.
- Fundamentally, the network members seemed to profoundly value the opportunity to connect with other practitioners so as to reflect with each other about their unique and shared contexts. There was extensive value in being with people for whom the contexts of rurality is understood.
- An interesting theme of ‘decolonisation’ emerged and members wondered: are the expected and professional management structures expected by funders/policy makers acting as forms of
‘cultural colonisation’ to those within the rural? In other words, are the pressures of ‘legitimisation’ actually a type of assimilation? Instead could Rural Cultural Organisations offer a resistance to these ‘professional’ way sof thinking and provide spaces for different sorts of ‘indigenous’ management. (It is curious that three of cultural organisation all currently have shared leadership models that lead more too dialogue, discourse and collaboration, rather than
traditional hierarchical structures)
- The notion of entanglements was pervasive and there were tensions between “how do we exist alongside/with/in/for our communities” Vs. “how do we provide arts/culture in the rural” – this relates to the notion that those in the ‘rural’ can’t/don’t ever separate their identities as a citizen, neighbour, curator, producer, shopper, friend etc. Or: perhaps those identities are closer to the surface and more knotty than they are within an urban setting. This is to be expected when one’s neighbour is also a participant/audience/collaborator/expert. (This was highlighted in Lindsay Dunbar’s “Cultural Leadership on the Peripheries of Scotland” research, previously shared)
- Funding, as usual, emerged, but there was space to explore the rural as a site of alternative economies; economies of mutual aid or solidarities of economy. This requires further exploration, but is underpinned by the notion that “Funders feel very far away.” (see below in Next Steps)
- Evaluation as a requirement of funders/policy makers as also discussed, and there was a strong feeling that evaluative modules based on numerics and quantitative data do not work within the rural, as most are working with small populations; or working in ontologies in which numbers are not valid datasets. Instead there was a call to explore different forms of qualitative evaluation alongside funders/policy makers (see below in Next Steps)
- Shared values were discussed and a longer list of these is shared below. (see below in Values)
It was agreed there was a uniqueness to Rural Arts Organisations in Scotland that this should be celebrated, understanding that each is working in a very unique contexts. The network does not want to work towards solutions-based, ‘best-practices’ but rather finds the network a useful, productive based for peer-to-peer exchange.
- The network members very much value to the chance to access different contexts, to make connections and to have intimate, entangled time together that makes space to explore the
complexities and realities of operating in the rural. This provides significant insight, but also seems to have an energising effect. The members mentioned that it was “inspiring and exciting and relatable.”
- The group values notions of hosting/being hosted and very much enjoy the reciprocal relationships (“Sometimes the network comes to you: sometimes you go to the network”) That this hosting was equitable and authentic seemed very important (“We understand each other.)
- The chance to have genuine discussions about people’s experiences in non-hierarchical ways was appreciated and the space “to rethink systems – organisational, structural, infrastructural – was exciting.” This space to asked questions and to imagine “What if…” gave a strong sense of purpose. As one member said: “if we can see that all have visions of alternative of doing things, then this is a very powerful thing.”
The next sessions is hoped to be in Skye, with Atlas Arts and some ideas for the next sessions were based around ensuring ensuring some Funders/Policy makers are present at the event. This includes
- Evaluation: can we develop workshops/activities WITH funders / policy makers that develop a more responsive/appropriate methodology. Can Rural Arts Orgs be at the forefront of thinking
through this? For example, timelines and budgets are urban-centric: what would they look like in a rurally based-ontology?
- Funders: can we work more collaboratively about how we are funded and have conversations with ourselves and with funders as a way to explore alternative economies
- Can we advocate for multiple funders to work together to develop a strategic funding response to complex landscape of rural funding (Eg, where CIC, social enterprise, and arts culture can be understood) : How does the funding landscape understand itself.
- The group want to have more of a view of work in other places: can the next session have more presentations from the host? Or a way to understand the experience of their context a bit more profoundly?
- One thought was to work towards a cultural conference, wherein multiple stakeholders can explore these ideas and where many of the above next steps could be explored over several