Bethany Cowley: Littoral Arts Trust, Merz Barn Project, Cumbria

April 27, 2016 Leave a comment

The Merz Barn, March 2016, showing recent storm damage.

As soon as I saw the option of a placement at Littoral Arts’ Merz Barn project in Cumbria I could think of nowhere else I’d rather go. Being a regular visitor to Langdale, the valley at the heart of the Lake District where the Merz Barn is situated, I had always been intrigued by what was behind the gates to the site, but never sure if I could go in and find out more. Working there revealed a completely unique environment, which constantly inspires artists, writers, curators and many others from all over the world.

What brings these people together is German artist Kurt Schwitters, who created the last in his series of ‘Merzbau’ in Langdale in 1947. These were immersive sculptural spaces built directly into the buildings that housed them, starting with his home and studio in Hanover. The work itself has since been moved to the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, but the barn still stands today. Following a public fundraising campaign, the Littoral Arts Trust, run by Ian Hunter and Celia Larner, bought the site in 2006, and set about restoring its buildings to create a small gallery space and accommodation. However, despite large amounts of public interest and Ian and Celia’s enduring enthusiasm for the project, they have only ever received short term funding, and are still unable to realise their long-term vision of a museum, residency and research centre at the site.

Our main placement task involved developing an exhibition plan for a ‘Merz Barn in Context’ project, which we then pitched to Tony Trehy, director of Bury Art Museum, where the exhibition is likely to be held in 2018. This involved researching the work of Schwitters and his time in the Lake District in particular, which revealed a fascinating character, alongside a rich portfolio of work. Schwitters had been marked a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis, and fled Germany before World War II, moving first to Norway, then Britain. Accounts of his time in the Lake District describe an eccentric personality; he would be seen collecting materials for his collages on walks round his home in Ambleside, reciting poetry in the local pubs, and earning a living selling landscapes to tourists.

Staying on site was perhaps the most memorable part of the placement; my temporary home there was a static caravan complete with 70s décor and occasionally leaky ceiling! This seemed a small price to pay for the chance to work in the beautiful woodland environment of the site, and being able to walk round the surrounding countryside at the end of the day. The rural setting bought with it several encounters with local wildlife too, and we were kept entertained by wandering sheep and chickens, occasional deer sightings, and even having to rescue a frog from the gallery one morning.

What stands out too, is the huge number of people who have been inspired by this place. During my stay I met several artists and writers developing work about Schwitters, and constantly found new traces of artists and art students who had left behind work there. Just looking at the fridge in the communal kitchen, which is covered in written messages of support for the project, shows the amount of people who have visited over the years. Despite issues of lack of funding, there is no doubt the Merz Barn is of great importance to countless numbers of people, and I’m sure will continue to inspire people for many years to come.

Leigh Hunter Dodsworth: The Royal Exchange Theatre: You, The Audience project placement

April 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Part of the sound installation in the studio

As soon as I found out that a 20 day work placement was a module option on my Arts Management Policy and Practice course, I jumped at the chance to apply. Most of my previous work experience had been within smaller, more independent charities and organisations so I felt that this was my opportunity to experience something new.

The Royal Exchange Theatre’s You, The Audience project placement role instantly stood out to me as it encompassed so many different elements including involvement in putting together a visual/sound installation called Show and Tell as well as generally helping to develop their ongoing research project that they describe as “a giant conversation with everyone who has ever been part of the Royal Exchange Theatre’s audience”. I’ve always had a keen interest in working within audience engagement in some capacity and The Royal Exchange was certainly a large organisation so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out more about this kind of working environment.

On meeting Amanda (Director of Audience Engagement) and Kate (Producer) in the first week I knew I was in safe hands because they were incredibly welcoming from the start. I joined the project at the pre-production stage of the Show and Tell exhibition in which they were collating audio material from audience members to include in the sound installation for the studio space. Within the first few weeks I was responsible for contacting potential interviewees via their contacts database as well as putting call outs through their learning and engagement groups before carrying out short one-to-one interviews or ‘conversations’ with people about their most memorable theatre experience. It was fascinating to hear from such a diverse range of people about their personal experiences of theatre and what to them makes the best kind of theatre.


Examples of the drawings participants came up with in response to the task I set them


One of the key principles behind ‘You, the Audience’ was to find new ways of obtaining more in depth information about their audiences because after a discussion with Amanda it became clear that the Royal Exchange Theatre’s primary methods of research for obtaining this information was largely carried out by their marketing department. With support from Amanda therefore I decided to develop my own research method using two different approaches to obtaining data. I designed a Survey Monkey questionnaire which was sent out to every audience member on their database as well as put together a focus group framework with a diverse group of already existing audience members. I facilitated a section of the focus group in which I asked participants to create an annotated drawing of their ideal theatre space, money being no object. We discussed everyone’s ideas and got some really insightful feedback as a result.  The idea was to get people thinking about what they liked and didn’t like in a theatre and what they would do if they had the power to change things. We thought it would be interesting to compare the results of the survey and the focus group discussion so I also wrote up a report in response to this.

With a background in film production and having had no previous experience of working within a theatre company, I knew this placement would be a challenging one. However, I’m grateful to the audience engagement team for giving me so much responsibility and freedom within my role whilst supporting me along the way to get the most out of my placement. There is no doubt that I learnt a huge amount during my time at The Royal Exchange and I will certainly take this with me as I move forward in my future professional endeavours!

Lena Rufli: Islington Mill and David Parrish

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Designing a Creative Business can be easy, when you know how

‘Arts and Business are like oil and water’, some would say.

David Parrish sees it differently. He was once one that was proud to make no money to not belong to the “big bad economy”. He changed his mind and wrote books about it.

“Money can be quite useful” and “It is like Ying and Yang we need the best out of both worlds: creativity and commercial thinking”, he says at the beginning of his workshop on “Design your Creative Business”, which he held for young creative entrepreneurs. I had the privilege to join the workshop as part of my work placement at Islington Mill.
Islington Mill runs a culturally driven Launch Pad – a programme to support and invest in ideas that have the potential to become viable activities that contribute to Islington Mill’s strategy. Artists and creatives could apply to participate in the programme to get their business idea running. To start off Parrish explained the basic steps to set up a creative business successfully.

Is he a TEDtalker? It felt like a talk for a whole day : one inspiration after the other. Not to mention that I want to write my dissertation on businesses in the creative sector!
He manages to brake down important aspects of designing creative businesses into simple questions. There are four steps.

First we need to ask ourselves where we want to go – e.g. goal setting. It is to define success for ourselves, independently from others. That can also be reaching a desired financial result while having enough time for friends and family and does not necessarily have to be associated with profit.

The next step is about the current state: Where am I now?
Parrish does not like to use strength and weaknesses of the SWOT. He says all weaknesses can be strengths in specific circumstances. He prefers characteristics and breaks them down in People, Reputation, Intellectual property, Market information, Ethos, Finances, Agility, Collaborators, Talents = PRIMEFACT

Finally lunch. Listening and thinking made us hungry. While having a conversation with another participant that does not want to approach Parrish to not annoy him, I am recognising that there is a moment in which none is talking to him. Without overthinking it, I step up to him and explain my idea for thesis. He is very interested, offers help and wants to receive the final version before everyone else. I can not believe my ears.

After the break we continue with the third step, which implements analysing our surrounding in asking What’s going on out there?
He explains eight categories in which we can ask ourselves if there are possible opportunities or threats for the enterprise: Innovation, Competitors, Economics, Demographics, Regulations, Infrastructur, Partners, Social Trends = ICEDRIPS

The last step is to design the business formula.
Here it is to define which specific goods or services we want to offer in relation to competitors(!). Parrish says we need to invest in a product that we are better at than the other providers and sell these to a target group that are actually interested in it. It makes no sense to put all effort in marketing to everyone just to be busy, rather make an effort in the right direction.

Which products can we make that are representing our values but at the same time are on demand by the buyers?

Parrish’ ebook is available for free on the his website.

The article on “Create your own Business Formular” is also very helpful

“Nice to meet you Lena, we keep in touch about your dissertation”, he says in the end. And yes, when you Google his name, you can find some TEDtalks of him, of course about Cultural Entrepreneurship.

Rebecca Bailey – The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Group photograph at The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust

As a full-time MA Theology student eager to pursue a career in Arts and Heritage, I decided in September that I would take as many opportunities in the academic year as I could to get experience in the sector. The ICP placement module promised 20 days in a cultural institution and required a 6000 word report – an opportunity to gain invaluable experience as part of my degree.

The placement I chose was ‘oral history project assistant’ at The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, which works from The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre in Manchester Central Library. The ‘oral history project’ is part of the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘The Legacy of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’ project which will culminate in an exhibition at Manchester Central Library on the 14th October (Ahmed’s birthday) marking 30 years since his racially provoked murder.

As part of the placement, I and another ICP placement student created indexes and summaries for two previously recorded oral histories. These recordings were each approximately an hour long and producing the documentation (which will be archived after the exhibition) for future researchers to consult meant learning how to conform to conventions and to the oral history projects already archived by the Trust, to ensure uniformity. These recordings contained memories of members from the Lonsight-Sylhet Link group, a multi-agency group who had visited the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Memorial School in Bangladesh in 2003. As project assistants, I and the other placement student had to summarise the recordings, drawing out quotes which were both representative of the entire recording and suitable to extract as sound bites for the ‘project updates’ blog and for the eventual exhibition. I therefore learnt how to: use software such as Audacity, concisely summarise whilst retaining the ‘voice’ of the interviewee’s oral history recording, and how to identify aspects which should be highlighted and carried over to other areas of the project (web and exhibition content) on the basis that they best suit the project objectives.

Having learnt the stages involved in an Oral history project, I and my peer placement student were entrusted to organise and undertake oral history interviews and documentation on behalf of the Trust. We worked together to research, contact and record the oral histories of two individuals who contributed valuable memories pertaining to ‘The Legacy of Ahmed’. I learnt in abundance about race-relations and community cohesion in Manchester from a range of professional perspectives and conveyed our findings from our independent interviews on blog posts which were uploaded by the Trust to their ‘project updates’ section of the website:

Interested in alternative aspects of ‘The Legacy of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’ project which were focused on community engagement, I took the opportunity to assist the project manager’s planning and delivering of a reminiscence session at Ananna – the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation. This aspect of the project also revolved around memories but was less orientated on documentation. This experience taught me how projects such as the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust worked with and had the potential to empower other organisations at a time when Austerity challenges/threatens their survival. The photo below is of the reminiscence session, Jennie (project manager) and I were kindly lent saris for the occasion by the women who reminisced about their memories and experiences of life in Bangladesh and Manchester.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my placement, am eager to critically reflect upon my experience in my report and am excited to see the fruits of the project in ‘The Legacy of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah’ exhibition on the 14th October 2106.


Shari Elis Jaffri: Manchester International Roots Orchestra (MIRO)

April 21, 2016 Leave a comment

MIRO’s Collaboration with Manchester Inspirational Voices at the Colours of Gospel EVENT on the 13th of February 2016, RNCM.

My work placement as a Manchester International Roots Orchestra (MIRO) Production Assistant at Community Arts Northwest (CAN) had me working alongside CAN’s Exodus Producer to help the orchestra set up as an independent entity. During my time there, I was primarily involved in creating a new website for MIRO, assisting with their social media capacity, identifying gig opportunities, as well as helping them raise funds through a crowdfunding campaign. I was also involved with some day-to-day activities which included attending meetings and events, liaising with key orchestra members, assisting with monitoring and evaluation, and supporting the orchestra’s performances.

The Manchester International Roots Orchestra (MIRO) is a unique ensemble of musicians with roots from across the world. It is a culturally diverse orchestra that aims to bring people from different ethnic backgrounds, beliefs and many musical styles together. Their music brings many different influences including African gospel, Persian classical, Kurdish traditional music, Eastern European classical and jazz, Sufi and Egyptian Coptic music as well as some hip-hop, jazz and classical music along the way.

MIRO was set up through a partnership with CAN and Royal Northern College of Music in 2012. With their continued partnership support, it is now setting up as an independent ensemble this year. The role I had was a great learning experience for me, especially because I managed to tackle a lot of new things which I’d not explored in the past like creating a (free!) website from scratch using and headlining a crowdfunding campaign on my own.

It also gave me exposure on what working with diverse communities is like and how the language used by a non-profit is different compared to my Creative Writing/Communications background. I would say the style of writing is more succinct and clean, yet requires a lot of attention to detail especially in the way the orchestra is positioned. This skill is especially crucial to have when applying for grants, given that the nature of grant funds are very competitive. Failing to position something the right way could potentially result in a lost opportunity lost in the long run thus I found that a lot of attention had to especially be given in the language that was used throughout my work placement, be it for the website or for the crowdfunding campaign.

Through the work placement, I not only managed to pick up a few new skills which I will definitely apply in future but it also helped open up other career options for me to consider once I graduate with my Creative Writing degree. I previously thought my options would be limited to the Communications/Creative field but my work placement showed me otherwise.  Personally, I found it very fulfilling to work with different groups of people as it allowed me to understand them and their histories better and being a part of this felt very meaningful to me.

To check out MIRO’s new website which I helped to create, do go to where you will also be able to listen to their fantastic music and watch their videos.


Jonathan Sutton – Shelter at 50

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment


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The Information Resource Centre at Shelter

This year Shelter, one of the UK’s leading housing charities, turns 50. Back in 1966 Britain was in the grip of a housing crisis with millions living in slum conditions with no protection from landlords[1]. Shelter was formed in response to this crisis, advocating on behalf of the homeless and tenants living in awful housing conditions. Since then Shelter has worked tirelessly, to improve lives and to influence policy making.

50 years on and Britain is in the grips of another housing crisis, and the work of organisations like Shelter is as vital as ever. Many people associate homelessness with the rough sleepers we see every day on our streets, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Today in fact, 81,000 households were found to be homeless in England alone, the vast majority of which simply have no fixed address[2]. Waiting lists for social housing are only getting longer as the government is consistently failing to build even half of the estimated 240,000 new homes Britain needs each year to meet demand[3]. People living in private rented accommodation are struggling too, on average households in England are paying 40% of their gross incomes on rent[4].

When I first moved to Manchester to start studying my MA in Humanitarianism and Conflict response at Manchester University’s HCRI I was immediately struck with just how many street homeless people there where. I decided to opt for the work placement module because I wanted to try and lend a hand to organisations working to tackle Manchester’s homelessness crisis. I have always been interested in the issue of homelessness and have never been able to understand why a wealthy society such as ours has left such a huge problem untended for so long. I also have a professional background in support work with a charity run homeless hostel that I really enjoyed and I was keen to keep my hand in.

My role at Shelter is ideally suited for me. I work in the Information Resource Centre which is a client facing drop in centre for people seeking housing and social welfare advice.  Quite often the first thing a client will say when they enter reception is ‘I’m homeless (or facing homelessness), what should I do?’.  This is why the drop in centre is needed. Some people are street homeless and need help finding a hostel for the night, some people are in temporary accommodation and need help getting onto the social housing ladder, some are in private accommodation but are struggling to pay their rents because of cuts or confusing changes to their benefits and need help with applications and appeals. I also meet with a lot of refugees from places like Iran and Syria who are at risk of homelessness because their limited English language skills or lack of understanding of our social welfare system makes it difficult for them to access the services they need. It is touching to see the human face of global political crises and government policy that I read about in the news and talk about in classes every day without ever really appreciating the human element; more really needs to be done to support these people to integrate into our society.

Doing this work placement has given me a great deal and has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my Masters. I feel I am working on the front line of the movement to address homelessness and through this have come to understand many of the problems people at risk of homelessness are facing and the limited options they have available to them. This work has started to give me a picture of the underlying causes of homelessness and what can be done to tackle it, which I intend to explore when producing my






Cultural spaces are safe spaces: Why inclusion is everything

March 12, 2016 Leave a comment


LGBT Hist FestThe first blog of the academic year from our student placement programme. Kath Fox, is currently working with the People History Museum, Manchester.

As part of the Festival, I ran a stall promoting the Museum’s new community-led LGBT+ exhibition entitled “Never Going Underground”, taking place in 2017 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality; in partnership with Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, LGBT Foundation, Proud 2b Parents and The Proud Trust. Throughout the day, thoughts and feelings about past, present and future LGBT campaigns were gathered and captured from the festival attendees, and much conversation was had.

Then all of a sudden, around mid –morning, a woman arrived at the Museum with a sense of urgency, keen to know where one of the talks about gender was due to take place. She seemed anxious, looked at me and said: “My son has come out as transgender”, then paused and waited for me to respond to those words which were still unfamiliar to her. I greeted the news with a big smile and replied, “How wonderful!” She looked relieved, “I need to talk to somebody about it. Can you help?”. “Of course”, I said. Within the hour, in between talks and events, Kate Hardy (LGBT Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing Officer) and the woman were busy arranging to meet.

Genderbread ManThe woman had come across the festival online and thought she may find help there. Which is exactly what she did. Her son’s life is already better. At that moment she too became part of an entirely new LGBT+ family, and it was just as important to welcome her within an inclusive space, as it was to ensure she had the right support for her son.

Inclusion is such a powerful thing. As an LGBT+ person, to be part of an environment that includes you, respects you and positively celebrates you is something perhaps others take for granted. Being part of a Festival that achieves these things is particularly special.

Cultural spaces are as much about belonging as they are about storytelling, and the People’s History Museum do it brilliantly.


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