Research & Practice

Who Do You Think You Are?

“Are you an artist? Are you a shape-shifter? Are you in transition? Are you welcoming or resisting change? Are you stepping into the unknown? Are you proceeding ‘as if,’ with no sense of certainty or security? If so I’d like to invite you to join me…”

‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was an invitation to 7 artists who identify as female to participate in a 7-day immersive experience which explored identity, transformation and the power of ceremony. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was for artists at a point of transition, in a state of fluidity, flux, confusion, exhaustion or questioning.

‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was guided by Fern Smith as part of her ‘Creative Wales’ year-long enquiry which included 4 residencies at 4 venues along the Welsh coastline. Each residency asked the question ‘Is the Artist in Residence?’ Each residency took a different form and extended a different invitation.

Throughout this, Fern’s third residency, she based herself in one of the iconic creative units designed by Heatherwick Studios at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ took inspiration from pan-cultural female ‘Rites of Passage’ specifically the three stages of: ‘Incubation’, ‘Metamorphosis’’ and ‘Emergence’. The projectwas also designed so as to work with the number 7. 7 artists who identify as female were invited to work for 7 days, 7 hours each day.

This creative enquiry involved working with personal stories and collective archetypal images, spending time alone in nature with opportunities for making pilgrimage, body-voice exploration, a day of fasting, times of feasting, space for attunement to universal energies, deep dialogue and self-generated ceremony. The ceremonial space we created together and alone was intended to mark a commitment, a severance, an Emergence into a new identity… This represented a space to be still, be resourced, be inspired. And an opportunity to connect to the mysterious, our own intuitive knowing and the deep well of creativity that is within each one of us.

Venue: Heatherwick Creative Unit, Aberystwyth Arts Centre
Dates: Monday 6th – Sunday 12th November 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Was an exploration and intervention, which represented part of Fern Smith’s Creative Wales journey made possible with support from The Arts Council of Wales.

Excerpt from Invitation to Artists:

“Who Do You Think You Are? is the most edgy thing I’d done to date… I’ve been a theatre maker and performer for 25 years with Volcano Theatre, then a curator, commissioner and documenter of socially and ecologically engaged art with Emergence. I’m also a celebrant, coach and cranio-sacral therapist. What is my art-form? What is yours? I’ve put this invite out to find 7 artists who trust me enough to travel into unknown territory with me. 7 artists who want to give themselves time and space to explore new forms, connect to the source of their deep creativity and spend time in ceremony alone and with others. I am actively questioning the practice of art-making in life and society – its form and its function. I am asking myself questions like: ‘How do we live in the world as artists, as change-makers, as agents of creativity, in service of all life forms on this planet at this great time of instability and uncertainty?’ I have a desire to bring the practice of art closer to the art of living, to connect to the future as it emerges.
Would you like to join me?”

Research & Practice

Culture Shifters

‘Culture Shifters: Artists Making Change’ tells three stories of how artists in different parts of Wales are leading on regeneration, sustainability and social activism.

Image credits: Mr & Mrs Clark (“Smash It Up” project)

The three case studies chosen are representative of the kinds of socially engaged projects being undertaken by artists working in Wales and further afield. They are ‘Mr & Mrs Clark’s Smash It Up’ ‘Oriel Wrecsam & The Shepherd’s Hut Project’ and ‘Vetch Veg’.

‘Culture Shifters’ is a response to an invitation from the Arts Council of Wales to document arts development projects where creativity has been used to generate broader societal change impacts in line with the work of the Enterprise and Regeneration Team. Sian Tomos Director of Enterprise and Regeneration says, “we want to use these case studies to raise interest in and enthusiasm for the role of artists in promoting social change.”

Throughout Spring 2016, a selection of people involved in each of the art projects were interviewed. In order to tell each story in as direct and immediate way as possible, I have assembled verbatim transcripts of each of the interviews. Further resources and reading including websites of the projects and artists involved can be found at the back.

Read the report HERE

Research & Practice

Culture Shift / Newid Diwylliant

“Culture Shift/ Newid Diwylliant” is a strategic document commissioned by the Arts Council of Wales that gives a glimpse of the many pioneering sustainable arts initiatives currently operating across Wales. It situates these initiatives within the context of a UK wide paradigm shift happening within the arts whose core principle is to support the creation a sustainable future.

Research & Practice

Creu Cymru Emergence

Emergence collaborates with Creu Cymru to integrate sustainability into the management and infrastructure of Wales’ venues and arts centres.

Research & Practice

Emergence Document

Launch event at the Wales Millennium Centre for the bilingual Emergence Eginiad report. Arresting ideas, practical advice and useful contacts from the 20 pioneering talks featured at the Emergence conferences in 2010/11.

‘Emergence has worked from the ground up…it has been a creative catalyst’. Louise Wright, British Council Wales
Emergence launches a legacy document after three conferences in Wales.September 21st 2011

The original intention after the conferences in CardiffSwansea and Caernarfon was to finish with a similar event at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. As many organisations were facing an uncertain future in the light of new policies and investment reviews from Welsh GovernmentCynnal Cymru included, the timing was difficult to commit to the intended event. Originally this seemed a blow as the energy behind and interest in the project was becoming more palpable. We decided therefore with the support of our funders to redirect our grant not into another event but into creating a publication. In retrospect this seems like we were trusting in emergent design rather than allowing a prescriptive plan to lead us! The talks at the conferences were such a valuable resource it felt an important step in the process to make these as widely available as possible. We had already filmed each of the talks and began to put them online, however it seemed essential to collect these extraordinary presentations together in one place. This meant that the whole story of the three conferences as it had unfolded – from context, through interconnectivity to resilience – could be told.

Fern met many people since the beginning of Emergence who voiced that storytellers have a great role to play in the transition to a more sustainable society. Transition Town’s project ‘Tales to Sustain’ and Dark Mountain’s work are two examples of the power of story at this uncertain time. The story of industrial progress of continual growth and the creation of wealth through increased commodity consumption is just that – a story. This story however has become the dominant paradigm and has shaped the world in which we live and is the reason we find ourselves in our current global predicament. There are other stories and it is high time to hear them.

The power that drives Emergence is the story that it is hearing, collecting and re-telling. The Emergence document became the next piece of work – the next project, a homage to the storyteller.
With the help of the original speakers, we began the work of editing the talks into a distilled, readable version that retained the power, accessibility and immediacy of the spoken word. This was a more complex undertaking than we had originally thought. We wanted to keep the talks fresh, the use of language personal to each speaker whilst at the same time create a coherent document which would make sense to those not at the live event.

Hearing the right words at the right moment in our life is a crucial precursor of change. Sometime we hear but do not listen – or is it that we listen and do not hear? The spoken word can move us in a way that the written cannot. Perhaps the vibrations enter our bodies and literally ‘move us’ to act. How to retain this power in the literary form?

The publication of the document became another marker in the unfolding story of emergence. We decided to shine a spotlight on it by using its launch as another opportunity to gather people together and continue the conversation.

The Wales Millennium Centre offered us their venue in return for the opportunity of sharing with guests how sustainability is being incorporated as a core organising principle into the management and practices of this iconic building. This created a focus for the event and encouraged us to organise a low-carbon infrastructure seminar. After the speeches and supportive words of encouragement from John Griffiths (Minister for Environment and Sustainability at the Welsh Government), Louise Wright (British Council Wales), and Nick Capaldi (Chief Exec Arts Council Wales) this is what we got our collective teeth into.

The example of what was happening at WMC (and how it had significantly reduced emissions and running costs) and a presentation from Catherine Langabeer at Julies Bicycle galvanized those present into action. Representatives from some of the major companies, arts organisations and venues in Wales were present in the room. This was clearly one of those eureka moments when people begin to see exactly what difference can be made by a small committed group of individuals. The power of information sharing and collective action was at the heart of the discussions. Deborah Keyser from the Welsh venue network Creu Cymru and Lori Frater from BRASS (Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society) were also in the room and were the inspiration behind what was to become one of successful early project outcomes of this first phase of the Emergence project – Emergence Creu Cymru.

Research & Practice

The Emergence Arts Survey

Emergence conducts a survey of practising artists in Wales about their attitudes and understanding of sustainability in relation to their practice and the arts industry.

“We asked artists what they thought their role was in imagining and shaping the future. The Emergence Arts Survey intended to find out by sending a survey to arts contacts across Wales.” Fern Smith & Rhodri Thomas

Early in 2010 in advance of any of the Emergence conferences and before the Emergence project had really got going Rhodri Thomas and Fern Smith were interested in assessing just how involved Welsh artists were already with sustainability.

At that time Rhodri & Fern’s sense that artists had a real role to play in imagining and shaping the future was just a gut feeling. Rhodri Thomas, co-creator of Emergence was convinced that statistics and graphs could not change the world but that artists could. In advance of launching Emergence it was important to get a sense of how engaged artists were and what was being done already, so Emergence wouldn’t replicate existing projects or reinvent any wheels unnecessarily.

It was also important to hear from artists what they needed from Emergence and what type of activity or information would fire them up to the task of co-creating the future.

The information returned from a survey is always only a part of the picture. Rhodri & Fern knew that artists who completed the survey might be ones who had strong views either way about sustainability issues. However, this was a beginning and as soon as the results began to accumulate some interesting patterns emerged.

One of the most important patterns for Emergence was the disparity between how important people thought sustainability was, how they supported engagement and involvement in their personal lives, but when it came to their professional practice or position at work then these issues did not seem so much of a priority. Prior to the survey Fern & Rhodri had spoken to contacts at Arts Council Wales and got a sense that sustainability was not yet really on the agenda (this was only in 2010). Sustainability appeared to be something that the Arts Council knew they would need to begin to address (especially in the light of the Welsh Assembly’s ‘One Wales: One Planet’ strategy), but it wasn’t at the top of the list of priorities at that particular time. If Emergence was going to be approaching Arts Council for funding, then they would need a sense of how interested and involved their clients were and exactly what was being done already.

Around this time Julie’s Bicycle had just finished a review of the carbon footprint of bands/festivals and orchestras, and were now focusing on the environmental impact of touring theatre. Julie’s Bicycle were early supporters of Emergence and subsequently became part of a small Emergence advisory group contributing to the first Emergence conference in Cardiff. This was a very significant moment as it was the first time that Alison Tickell from Julie’s Bicycle had presented in Wales.

Fern & Rhodri also had lots of anecdotal evidence that the artists leading or getting involved in sustainability were the visual artists. Certainly participation at Tipping Point conferences seemed to confirm these early impressions. Working on the survey felt a very pivotal stage of the whole project. Emergence wanted to approach artists as a whole – not different art forms separately. There seemed to be few gatherings that brought artists as a sector together. From the start we wanted to have conversations across art forms and to look at what united us in terms of sustainability, our role and our place in the world.