IETM – Time for thinking…

I love conferences.  It’s not just about learning new things and visiting ‘other’ interesting places (both of which are always a bonus) but because they get me out of the office and give me time to think.  The freedom to think at conference is my guilty pleasure.  Guilty because I probably don’t listen intently enough but a pleasure because instead of listening, I can let my mind wander.  Crossroads, the IETM Autumn plenary meeting was no exception.  I found myself in many sessions with my notebook open, working on a two page system – session notes on the right hand page but doodles and wandering thoughts on the left.  Now I’m back at my desk and looking at my notebook, I can see that most of my attention was on the left.

I usually attend IETM once a year.  It’s a great opportunity to network with a range of independent arts workers (and in particular producers) from across Europe and further afield.  In the last few years, Australia has been sending a delegation and as someone who worked in Australia for a while, it’s a chance for me to keep connected.  While I enjoy meeting people I’m never really convinced by the sessions which are often too far reaching.  In Valencia the sessions I attended such as shrinking (‘regional’) identities in Europe, arts and disability, artists and human rights, collaboration and mixed realities were all too broad and lacking case studies which were meaningful to me.

Even with frustrating content, I’ve found IETM in the last few years particularly interesting because it has encouraged me to take a wider view of the impact of the Global Financial Crisis.  Maybe the wide-ranging nature of IETM has been what I’ve needed to question myself about the bigger picture.  Yes, things are tough in the UK but things are really tough in some other EU states and I’ve found IETM has prompted me to think about how the world is changing.

This IETM meeting fell at a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about the future because of the political climate including Brexit and the fact that I need to submit our next NPO bid to ACE early in 2017.  Therefore, my left hand pages are covered by diagrams and bullet-point lists trying to sort out what might change for Cambridge Junction.  One of the frustrations I feel working in an arts centre is that we’re expected to be Jack-of-all-trades and there is an ever-present pressure to be all things to all people.  And my response is too often polite accommodation.  I talk about Cambridge Junction as a place where ‘art meets life’ and as the world changes this seems to me to be an increasingly important frame in which to see our work.  I now find myself asking how this frame can give us a sharper focus and therefore be even more meaningful to the lives of our audiences in these challenging times.

I came away from IETM with a renewed interest in how our arts centre can have a unique voice.  IETM confirmed for me that now, more than ever, a distinct voice is important because a polite approach seems to be lost in noise of everything around us.  Of all the things I heard and thought about at IETM the one thing which has really stuck in my mind is a small note on one of my left hand pages.  It is self-encouragement around how we shape our organisation and future and reads: ‘sharpen the points rather than smooth the edges.’

Daniel Brine
Chief Executive, Cambridge Junction