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6th September, 2019

Curating for Resilience



Evelyn Wilson, Co-Director TCCE

This short paper was presented at Beyond Resilience: Creative Leadership Practice in a
World of Disorder, Cass Business School June 2019.

At TCCE we are often thought of as connectors, networkers and translators.
We work at the intersection of Higher Education and the arts and cultural sectors and have been doing so in myriad ways since 2005. As curator/producers often our work concerns the development of approaches and methods that actively help people to
connect and collaborate. In the case of Boosting Resilience this has been primarily about supporting people to be more resilient, creative, confident and focussed in their fields.
So curating, (or sometimes we might describe these processes as building or engineering, designing or architecting) spaces for learning, knowledge exchange, sharing, empowering and inspiring run deeply to the core of our work and to what we value as an organisation.

Those spaces/interventions have taken many forms over the years and include activities
like our conferences, workshops, festivals, our Knowledge Exchange programme for
Creativeworks London, our national collaborations programme The Exchange, as well as
our research fora in areas such as Arts and Health and Creative Entrepreneurship.
So when we saw the call for Boosting Resilience back in 2016, it felt like such a good fit
for our work for the reason for doing the work we do is precisely to support those wider
concerns. And of course, as a small company ourselves, the question of resilience is
never far from our minds, particularly in these complex, uncertain and at times quite
unkind times.

In constructing our approach to the programme, the first thing we did was to identify
who we might like to work with and as we’d already been working closely with
colleagues Sara Jones and Clive Holtham in the Centre for Creativity at Cass Business
School, that felt like a great place to start. We were delighted when they agreed to
come aboard and we knew their skills and knowledge would bring great
complementarity to our own. Through one of our colleagues, Ian Gibbs – who was part
of our first iteration LCACE (London Centre for Arts and Cultural Exchange) when he was
at Goldsmiths – we came to be connected to a great team of people in the Centre for
Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University and hence the team for Boosting
Resilience was born. MMU would bring in not only robust evaluation methods but also
processes like Theory of Change that would go on to form a valuable component of the
programme.

We proposed residentials as a core part of the programme. It was a leap into uncharted
water for us but something I had personally been keen to develop for a number of
years. I had a hunch that residentials as a mode could be quite transformative and
sometimes you just have to go with those hunches. So on that basis, we scripted them
into our successful application to Arts Council England to run the programme. We
delivered three residentials throughout the programme with TCCE curating the second
and third with much input from our colleagues at Cass and MMU. We also curated the
final programme forum, Beyond Resilience: Co-designing for our Creative Futures, which
took place in March 2019 in Bluecoat, Liverpool with over 100 attendees from all across
the UK and beyond.

Bringing a diverse group of people together and keeping them engaged, enthused can
be quite a challenge. As can creating methods by which they would develop bonds and
connections, whilst gaining confidence in their abilities and competencies in the subjects
of the programme – Creative Assets Awareness development and Intellectual Property.
But even before the content of such endeavours are considered, and that absolutely is
in many respects the crucial bit, there are other more fundamental, affective
considerations often concerning the environment itself: where you’re going to be
working, how it will make people feel, how it will affect energy, mood, feelings of
happiness and engagement. If you walk into a space that feels great to be in, then
you’re more likely to feel good too, if you’re being well fed, then your energies will also
correspond.

Though it may sound so basic, if people perceive a lack of things, like too little water in
the room, for example, they start to get a bit nervous and fractious. And more
importantly, they stop focussing on what they are really there to do. So on every level,
from the mundane to the monumental, there are things that need to be finely attuned
to, attended to and enacted.
With regard to what I term the ‘content-energy’ or ‘content-engagement dynamic’, that
requires a very particular sensibility and an attention to detail that is both deep and
wide. Somehow, you have to walk the walk and you have to walk that walk in the shoes
of others. The content engagement dynamic also means getting people to tell stories. At
a very fundamental level, we all need stories, we need to tell our own stories to help us
to make sense of our worlds and we need to listen to the stories of others for much the
same reasons.

At Residential 2 the first thing we did was ask people to tell stories; to give brief
accounts of their relationship to the programme, what they had taken from it and how
they were implementing it. People not surprisingly also talked about other people on
the programme and how friendships were starting to evolve. It’s not a new strategy of
course but this way of working can be so cathartic. Some people were literally blossoming and overflowing with idea and others for various reasons were having a really tough time.
The next thing we did was to look for other people who could tell good stories, people who could really inspire. Rosy Greenlees, who leads the Crafts Council was one such figure.

That inspiration that came from the process of narrating and telling stories led us into
our second method; making. We worked with Isla Wilson from Ruby Star Associates to
encourage the Boosting Resilience cohort to realise ideas through making, through the
use of Lego. Resilient leadership through Lego building, if you will. This is serious play of
course an it’s actually quite a challenging task, as well as being fun.
The third method we used, and the one that’s closest to my heart in many ways, was
walking. In the depths of November getting people out onto the streets was interesting.
Some of the group were desperate for air and free time whilst others had to be coaxed
out the door. We used two methods, working with practitioners in Birmingham to do so.
Ben Waddesley from Still Walking festival led a walk that encouraged the group to look
at the world afresh, using micro-lenses to investigate the environment around them and
a second walk, led by a Tai-chi expert from the city, encouraged us to tune into our
bodies, sensing the actual state we were in through the act of walking.

The fourth method we used, particularly in our 3 rd residential as well as in our final
forum in Liverpool, was co-design. Whilst undeniably time-consuming, this process also
yields wonderful benefits. There is a fine line in the process of both achieving specific
programme objectives and being flexible enough to enable fresh perspectives and ideas
to emerge and to be responsive to the fact that sometimes people want something
different than what you set out to offer.
Our fifth and final method was writing. As part of the programme, we were invited to
become an editorial partner by Arts Professional magazine. The partnership ran for
about a year, enabling us to support collaborative writing between both the BR team
and the cohort. Our colleague Prof Clive Holtham played a major role in this activity as
well, leading on Creative Journaling which for so many was a revelation, encouraging as
it does deep reflection through the act of keeping a journal.

It occurred to me too that as well as the ‘content-engagement dynamic’ I mentioned
earlier there is something that I’m tentatively coining the ‘content-environment
continuum’ that is a potentially useful framing device for curating work such as this..
When a Chief Executive comes up to you first thing on the day of a big event and says
‘this is amazing’, before anyone has even spoken, you know you’re doing something
right even it does put the pressure on for the day to be great. When that same person
comes back to you at the end of the day and they say ‘That was really wonderful and I
know because my staff have been telling me so too’ that is the essence of a good

content-environment continuum. Quite simply, when the content flows into the wider
physical environment of an activity, where it lives in the space and when it encourages
everyone who is part of the event to also leave their traces in that space, that for me is
the stuff of magic and if, as we did with Beyond Resilience, you aim for the high end of
the ‘content-environment continuum’ you are likely to achieve something truly special,
something that people will remember for a long time to come.


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