We finished PARADE! with a bang in April, and after a quick breather realised we wanted to keep the momentum going and build on our new relationships with Oasis Cardiff and two local primary schools, Stacey Primary and Adamsdown Primary. We were really pleased that our wonderful group of men at Oasis Drama were noticed by a freelance Director working for National Theatre Wales, and he ran a few sessions with the group after PARADE! had finished. Angharad Evans who had been leading the group also carried on working with the group and over the summer Oasis Drama grew into a choir as well as a core group of performers, taking part in several performances across the city.
We put in two small bids to Cardiff Council - one for a collaborative project with Sherman Cymru and Oasis Drama, the other for a storytelling project with the two primary schools - and were overjoyed to have been successful in both! The Romeo & Juliet Mash Up saw Oasis Drama work with Angharad over the summer in weekly drama workshops on the themes of Romeo & Juliet, leading up to the Sherman's Autumn production of the play. For a week in August, the drama group re-located to the Sherman Theatre itself for intense workshops across 5 days. At the same time we brought young people from other groups to the Sherman to work on creating a set for the production. There was a small performance at the end of the intense week to 'show back' what had been produced by the artists and the group. The weekly sessions continued and on the final night of Romeo & Juliet we were very proud to see the drama group perform a curtain raiser performance before the main show. We are so proud of the group and are looking for funds to keep Angharad on at Oasis. STAR Stories is a short project which bring storyteller Michael Harvey into two local primary schools. Michael is working with year 4 in Adamsdown Primary and year 5/6 in Stacey Primary. Based on a story told to each class by a parent or grand parent, Michael guides the class through the writing process, making collaborative decisions about the characters, plot and setting. Each story will then be made into a book and animation, created by each class with professional animation kit and workshops with local company Turnip Starfish. This project will showcase the young talent in our area and we can't wait to read the stories!
We have learned a lot in 2014, and in many ways it has been our most successful year so far. As a tiny organisation made up entirely of volunteers we sometimes feel like the small fish in a huge and uncertain ocean, and this means that we have to work harder to get our voice heard and shout out about the work we do. Publicity and marketing always come second to our project work. Perhaps that's not the 'right' way to be doing things in order to become better known, but that's the way we do it anyway. And for us, it is working. Instead of going out to meet with groups we want to work with, we are now getting emails from groups wanting to work with us, which we are thrilled about. For us, having a good local reputation is invaluable, although we also love it when we're in the local press or someone tweets about us!
As well as refusing to spend all of our time promoting our own work, another thing we have resisted is succumbing to an outcomes-based way of working. This is something that affects all community based organisations seeking funding, not just arts organisations. Anyone who has received external funding knows that we are increasingly expected to predict and measure a number of outcomes upon which the funding is contingent. In some contexts, of course this is sensible, but we are wary of applying this rationalist model to the arts and in particular community-based work. The danger is that community work, instead of being driven and directed by the people it is trying to help, becomes outcomes-led i.e. all of the activities are aiming to achieve a number of pre-determined outcomes, rather than the real (and often dynamic and unpredictable) needs of the community. Focusing too much on easily achievable outcomes stifles innovation and different ways of working. It's something that is endemic to our economic regime and incredibly difficult to challenge. The way we cope is to still include outcomes in bids, of course, but not to let our work become dominated by them. We aren't afraid of opening up a dialogue with funders if the outcomes we wrote at the beginning no longer fit, or if the methods we thought we would use to evaluate a project are no longer appropriate. We have found that funders appreciate this dialogue.
So what next for A3...?
Our STAR Stories project is due to end on 8th December when we will be launching the two stories written by local primary pupils, along with the screening of two HD animations of the stories. Come along to the Local Hero Awards in Adamsdown to get a copy of each story and see the animations. We would love to meet you as well, if you're interested in being involved with us. Next year we intend to apply for more People's Health Trust funding, as we had such a great experience with them on our PARADE! project. They truly are a fantastic funder. Ideas are floating around so if you want to contribute to the debate then keep an eye out on our facebook page for our next meeting and get involved.