(#AD) Does Culture Matter? – a mass participation research project from Crystallised.

I’ve found myself really missing cultural experiences whilst on lock down. Even as The Culture Vulture, I didn’t realise how much “culture” mattered to me on a day to day personal level and how intrinsically linked going to the theatre, cinema, wandering around a gallery, is to my sense of self and well-being. I miss it and I miss feeling a part of a creative community in person. Attending things and supporting cultural venues gives me a real sense of positive purpose and now their doors are closed, I’ve spent a little while feeling lost. I am going to go on the BIGGEST cultural binge when this is all over – I want to attend, see, visit, experience e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. all the time.

I’ve been trying to replace this sense of loss in my life with cultural streaming – watching theatre, live performance poetry, launching a Silent Book Club (and about to launch a Culture Vulture film club) alongside heading down a rabbit hole on Insta discovering new artists and creative lushness. It’s helping ease that loss….but it’s not the same!

A project that is helping me tackle some of the above and making me feel useful to the cultural sector – is Crystallised’s project Does Culture Matter?  You might have seen me plugging it on my social…. Does Culture matter? explores that question thematically by collating the opinions and insights of the Nation, during COVID-19 and beyond. Through a series of weekly questions sent direct to your inbox on a Sunday, you get to explore and reflect on what culturally matters to you, what you’re missing and what you’d normally be out and about doing.

Lead DCM

Crystallised are collecting all this data, to make it available to arts and cultural venues and sector when locked down measures are lifted. Your insights and data will directly help organisations recover, pivot, be more resilient, stronger through the power of knowledge and shape their activities by enabling them to identify what is actually important culturally to you!

So do I think my fellow Culture Vultures should get involved…..

  • It’s something a little lush to do, to get you thinking and reflecting. The questions asked are interesting and in the moment – I mean there was a question about Tiger King last week!
  • It’s something to look forward to each week; I really look forward to the questions dropping in my inbox, grabbing a cup of tea/Sunday gin and sitting answering them. Only takes a few minutes but it’s a little lush brain exercise.
  • You are a part of a cultural community who are united in sharing their insights – it’s lush to feel useful and to be a part of something happening across the UK. #peoplepower
  • It’s helping the creative and cultural sector at a time of need – the organisations that will have free access to this data need a helping hand to recover post-COVID – this is that helping hand. Knowledge is power. At a time when you can’t attend these venues, support their cancelled projects or donate to every single cultural organisation and venue – this is something you can do to help that they will all have access to.
  • The data produced could form part of regional and National government lobbying – fingers crossed – it could form the foundation to justify increased spending in culture and creative projects by evidencing what is important to the Nation; what they want, need, love.

To get involved and to sign up – follow this link to take part – takes seconds and you can do it HERE

I had the pleasure of catching up with Laura Rothwell, Managing Director of Crystallised to find out more about why they launched this ‘Does Culture Matter’ project, why it is important and what they hope to achieve through it!

Hiyer you – right first things first, tell my fellow Culture Vultures about Crystallised?  

Crystallised is a marketing, PR and events agency for ethically, socially or culturally motivated organisations.

That’s the spiel.

What that means is we work with a range of organisations. All of them with a cause or purpose at their heart. We help them promote themselves, or their initiatives, we help them reach new audiences, market their work or make some kind of change. Invariably that means we work with a lot of arts and culture organisations, but we also work with charities, NGOs, ethically minded brands and foundations.

We’ve been doing this for seven years; we’ve helped organisations reach audiences of over 30 million people from all over the world.

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Team Crystallised

Impressive stuff – has has your organisation been personally impacted by COVID-19?

Yes, big time. A lot of our work is about getting people to a place. Arts, culture or destination marketing. So, jobs have been cancelled, or indefinitely postponed. We’re seeing many of our clients putting their plans on hold until at least October.

In January, I started looking at pitching for work which was less event-focussed, because of COVID-19. I have anxiety, and actually that has come in handy here, because I was worrying about this very early on.

Snap and snap! It’s been full of devastation and an opportunity to re-imagine in equal measure. What was is about the cultural and creative sector that drew you in?

It took a while to be honest. As a kid, things like ‘culture’ (museums, galleries) weren’t ‘for us’. Sometimes we went to castles which I loved, other times we went to National Trust properties which I hated, my main motivator for tolerating those was the Kendal Mint Cake at the gift shops.

It’s marketing that got me here, it’s where I started at 17, as a Marketing Administrator. And it’s what I’ve done for the past 19 years. The first eight years or so was retail and destination marketing, very commercial environments which are incredible places to learn and to train as a marketer.

I eventually took a role which connected me to ‘art’ for the first time, albeit in a commercial art organisation. There I ended up working on projects in the museum sector, at Great North Museum; Hancock, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Magna Science Centre (Sheffield).

That’s what drew me in. I saw – for the first time really – what art meant, what culture could do for people when/if it wasn’t about commercial gain, how essential it was. I very quickly felt as though I had to use my marketing experience to allow more people (everyone, ideally) to a) know what was out there b) feel like it was ‘for them’ and c) contribute to it, own it, be part of it and d) benefit from it.

I started Crystallised, and seven years on I still feel those things acutely.

We are crazily similar #kendalmintcake Let’s move on to Does Culture Matter? What was the inspiration behind Does Culture Matter? – why did you start the project?

The idea came from an Instagram group convo with a collection of excellent women I know who work in the creative sectors. We were talking about what this all (COVID-19) meant for us, for our jobs, for the sector.

I was in the middle of what I suspect was coronavirus, I felt truly awful in the mind and the body. We’d had a recent, sudden family bereavement, and my brain was just not up for anything at all.

Anyway, as is the way, during this chit-chat back and forth, inspiration struck. I just thought, now is the perfect time to listen to audiences, to learn, without an agenda. No-one is paying us to do this, we aren’t trying to meet a brief, we are simply listening.

You almost never get an opportunity like this.

Can you describe what it is and how people can get involved?

Does Culture Matter? is a mass participation research project. We want to understand how our relationship with culture is changing because of COVID-19, what it was like before, perhaps if our own definitions of what culture means are changing and what we might want it to look like after COVID-19.

We want EVERYONE to give their opinions, even if – no, especially if, like me back in the day, you don’t think ‘culture’ is for you.

All you need to do is follow and input your email address.

You’ll receive an intro questionnaire via email and then one every Sunday for the rest of the year.

Why is it important that people share their insights with you?

It’s important because culture belongs to us all. There should not be someone ‘in charge’ of culture, there should not be someone gatekeeping, or deciding what is or isn’t culture. It belongs to us all. We own it.

I believe every single human being should be able to be involved with and relate to the cultural offer of their cities or communities.

The sector talks about ‘hard to reach’ audiences, that is infuriating bullshit. Audiences aren’t hard to reach, it’s the organisation that is hard to reach, because for whatever reason, intentional or not, they have made themselves inaccessible.

So, it’s important for you all to join up and share, because when your voice gets heard, change can be made.

We have an opportunity to come out of this and shape the next chapter. I felt as though the best way Crystallised could contribute to that change, was to use our skills and expertise.

Listen to people, advise organisations. It’s what we do every day.

Have there been any interesting insights you wish to share?

Our North East participants told us their favourite places to visit in the city, at the moment, the list looks like this – the data changes the more people who join, so that’s another reason why everyone should get involved.

Tyneside Cinema

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

Sage Gateshead

Northern Stage

Laing Art Gallery

But, if you look at our North East respondents under the age of 25, the list changes:

Cineworld, Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema

Riverside Newcastle

O2 Newcastle

Utilita Arena

Three music venues, two cinemas. I find this fascinating, there’s much that can be explored from this data alone.

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What do you hope to get out of it after the research period?

I’d like the data to have organisations start asking their own questions. I’d like this to be the starting point for organisations to look at how they can better serve their communities.

I’d love to work with the braver organisations who want to do something bold and radical as a result of seeing the data, perhaps homing in on something specific, collaborating with audiences, flipping the narrative and to some extent taking a back seat, so that others can shine.

In your opinion, do you think Culture Matters more during this period?

Yes.

This is a horrible, terrifying time, we’re all going to lose someone or something. There are many many people, organisations, institutions that desperately need support. I’m not suggesting that an “art gallery is more important than the NHS” – which I’ve been accused of on social media of late.

No argument is that black and white.

I think culture has the power to uplift, to teach, to heal, to connect, nourish and to be fun. I think it’s essential for us to support and protect the sector if we don’t want to see a desolate, cultural wasteland post COVID-19. Our lives and societies will be much poorer if we don’t act.

Has the lock down changed your cultural consumption personally? Have you been watching any streams/online happenings?

Yes, I’ve been watching National Theatre, stand-up comedy, a film discussion and some DJ sets all online.

A theatre performance feels special even when it’s on the small screen, you can still sense the atmosphere between the audience and the cast.

How do you feel about the movement to digital culture and events through streaming platforms and social media?

I think it’s amazing and fantastic that so much has suddenly become available, the speed at which organisations have been able to adapt to the changing circumstances I think is impressive.

However, I can’t help but find it problematic that it’s taken a global pandemic for organisations to make their content accessible. It has long been the case that parts of the arts sector are inaccessible to disabled people. To now see all this readily available content filling our timelines because their able-bodied audience members are no longer allowed to attend a venue, is shameful.

The future must be radically different. We cannot live through this, witness all the change that has been enacted and then revert. That would be a tragedy.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do post lockdown?

Oh Christ! I’d like to go to Riley’s Fish Shack, sit on the beach and listen to my pals chatter, feel the sunshine on my face and be able to lie down on the sand, let my dog make friends with a Bichon Frisse, and just take my sweet sweet time outside.

What would be success for you as Crystallised for 2020?

Crystallised still existing would be success. I’m fearful of how much harder the year is going to get for business. This is going to be a slog. If we still have our full team and are on the way to some semblance of stability at the end of this year, I’ll be thrilled and relieved.

Anything other projects or happenings you think my fellow Culture Vultures should know about?

Right now, we’re working with one of our long-term clients Family Arts Campaign, who exist to make the arts accessible for families. Our focus is supporting their ambition to be the go-to national database of all arts and culture events happening online for families to join. We’ll be working on PR and influencer campaigns to get as many families as possible trying something new. Find that here: fantasticforfamilies.com

We’re also deep into New Creatives, a two-year project with BBC Arts and Arts Council England which looks to find undiscovered talent to make work for the BBC – could be a film, or something for radio. No prior experience is necessary, we’re trying to find northern creative folk under-30 who have something to say. Find that here: newcreatives.com

Other than that, we’ll be staying at home.

DCM. Share your thoughts.

Thank you Laura….so does culture matter? Well it does to me, it does to Crystallised and I think it matters to my fellow culture vultures, followers and readers. I’d love you to support Crystallised on their mission by signing up to participate in ‘Does Culture Matter?”

Remember – signing up is LUSH and is contributing to a project that could support your favourite arts and culture organisations to learn, pivot, recover, restart and fingers crossed – GROW.

Signing up takes seconds and participating in the project takes approx. 5mins a week.

You can sign up by HERE and feel free to share the project with your friends and networks – spread the word! #ganon

Gateshead Open Studios 2018 – 27th October; a day to celebrate creativity in Gateshead.

I had the absolute pleasure about 8 months ago of being invited to Brighton Road Studios in Bensham, Gateshead. I was excited because it’s an artist studios inside a converted Church and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for ages– behind the front door I found an independent creative studio space, lush facilities and full of local artists, creatives and SME creative businesses all doing great things – certainly somewhere I could see The Culture Vulture thriving and setting up camp. My meeting was with several of the artists to hear about what they are doing, their plans as a creative collective and fabulously, their plan to do Gateshead Open Studios.

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Gateshead Open Studios is a proudly Gateshead centric project and has been something that many artists, creatives and venues based in Gateshead have discussed and flirted with (including myself) so it was great to hear Brighton Road Studios wanting to lead on it. Fast forward to the present day and Gateshead Open Studios is an exciting impending reality – it’s happening in Gateshead!

On Saturday 27th October, the lush people of Gateshead will be able to discover what’s hidden away in 5 different but all very brilliant creative and historic hubs….

I caught up with James Oliver (artist name: William Fawkes) who is arguably the lead on this year’s Gateshead Open Studios organisation (however – there is a whole host of brilliant artists and creatives also making this happen). I wanted to catch up with James so my fellow Culture Vultures could hear what is in store for them on 27th October across Gateshead.

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Hi James Oliver/William Fawkes – I am over the moon to see how far you’ve taken Gateshead Open Studios – enabling it to be a reality in spite of many challenges. So let’s start with you and your work – tell me a bit about you and your practice?

I’ve always been an artist from a young age inspired & encouraged by my mum, and have painted my whole life. But it’s only been in the last couple of years, that I took the plunge to rent a studio, and start practicing more seriously. I previously worked professionally as a graphic designer, designing record sleeve artwork for clients including Blur, Sigur Rós, Trojan Records, EMI, and Universal music. I’ve also been a web designer and user experience researcher in recent times. All these skills have helped prep me for the world of marketing, events and experience design.

As a professional artist I chose to adopt the alter-ego William Fawkes, an ancestor from my family tree. My recent artwork is based on surreal storytelling, with a collection of dying British institutions with skeleton characters being an emerging body of work. I tend to create a master painting or drawing, and then have high quality framed prints available for sale.

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William Fawkes

What is the inspiration behind Gateshead Open Studios? Why now?

Since I moved up north 3-4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to what was happening over in Ouseburn with their Open Studios’ events. As soon as I’d found a studio in my local neighbourhood Gateshead, I looked around and thought “why isn’t Gateshead doing Open Studios?”. My mother passed away in January this year, and because of this, I decided ‘Gateshead Open Studios needs to happen this year!’ I’ve been driven ever since to make it happen, and had some great encouragement & support from fellow peers, friends and family.

So when is it?

Saturday 27th October 2018, from 10am to 5pm across multiple Gateshead venues.

Which Gateshead venues are involved?

There are 5 venues across Gateshead opening their doors:

  1. NewBridge Project: Gateshead High Street.
  2. Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Bensham
  3. Bensham Grove Community Centre
  4. Brighton Road Studios, Bensham
  5. Saint Chad’s Church, Bensham.

We also have partner cafes nearby who have been really supportive and can provide refreshments including The Staiths Café (who have an exhibition available to view) and The Nest Café in Low Fell. There will also be friendly volunteers on the day to help direct people, give you tours and generally make you feel welcome.

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So what is in store for visitors – what can they expect to be able to see/do?

You will be able to explore unique creative environments and historic venues, some of which have never had a public open day like this. You will be able to meet practicing creative people, see their studio spaces and be inspired, and even take part in creative workshops and try making new things to take home. There will be art, music, conversation, refreshments and a friendly excitable community buzz on the day.

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Will people be able to buy things on the day?

Yes, the artists and makers will have unique items you can purchase, or you can even discuss a private commission. There will also be creative workshops & demos happening for free, and other courses in the near future people could book on to learn a new process.

There is something so brilliant about being invited into an artist studio – a behind the creative scenes if you will! Are you excited to have people come into your studio?

Yes I think it’s great, and I can’t wait for people to come have a rummage, ask me questions and hopefully be inspired! I’ll try to make sure it’s tidy before they arrive!

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Here is the mini sales pitch – tell my fellow Culture Vultures why is this an unmissable weekend for Gateshead?

It’s a chance to explore hidden historic venues right on your doorstep, meet the quirky creative inhabitants and see their personalities spilling out through their work!

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Why are events like this so important for artists and creatives?

Creative people are not always the best at promoting themselves, but this is a unique chance to get a glimpse into their world and see something you never imagined you’d see! I can promise you’ll come away inspired and with a greater respect for Gateshead local talent.

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Tell me about your studios in Gateshead and who is in there with you?

I’m based at Brighton Road Studios. We are housed inside a beautiful 3-storey converted church, which was designed by Christoph of Kiosk Architecture & Design, who is also still a tenant. Other tenants include Skunkwork Props who specialise in replicating Star Wars helmets such as Darth Vader. Kourosh Edalat is another painter & illustrator who is always busy with commissions. We have Serious Stamp Company run by Clare who makes personalised rubber ink stamps and seals for your personalised stationary needs. Little Silver Ring Co. is run by another Claire who practices as a silversmith but also dabbles in other things. Chris is another talented silversmith, who is also a teacher at Bensham Grove. Raw Leather Company is run by Phillippa and she makes beautiful leather bags, purses and other bespoke items. IG Media won’t be present on the day but operate as an animation & web design company. Bobzilla is a busy guy – he dabbles in painting, outdoor street art mural designs, concrete pot-making, and also a resident DJ. Finally Gaelle of Tamiah Designs imports Ivorian African textiles to make cloth-bound books, bags and many other unique items.

There’s 14 studios spaces all together, and currently a couple vacancies as I understand.

What will be going on in your studios specifically?

In my studio I’ll be showing people my work, talking though different pieces and explaining how I get inspiration. I’ll also have a large blank canvas set up on an easel and I’ll be encouraging anyone who wanders in to have a go painting a little of whatever they wish, and over the day hope to have a unique piece of work created which will be a great memento of the event! I’ll share the final outcome on social media.

I’ve also produced a limited set of framed art prints of my most popular work which will be on sale for those wishing to take home a unique piece of signed art / it could be the perfect time to grab an early Christmas gift for someone special.

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Other creatives in Brighton Road will be talking though their work, giving demos or running fun activites and also some will have a unique items to sell.

We also have special guests The Nest Cafe offering a pop-up Refreshments stall, and gentle background music provided by DJ friends of ours.

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I will be culture vulturing and doing some live social media on the day – do you have a suggested route for me?

There’s no particular order you have to do things, but if you’re travelling into Gateshead Metro station on the day, a logical route is to start with venue no.1 – NewBridge Project which is right outside. From there it’s 15mins walk or short bus ride into Bensham to reach venue no.2 – Saint Cuthbert’s Church. After that you’ve got venue no.3 minutes away – Bensham Grove Community Centre. From there venue no.4 – Brighton Road Studios is again only several minutes walk away, and finally venue no.5 – Saint Chad’s Church is just across on a parallel street.

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What is next for Gateshead Open Studios in 2019?

This year is a 1-day experiment to see what the appetite is like in Gateshead for discovering what’s inside a few quirky creative venues! If all goes well, we plan to seek funding next year to expand the event to potentially include further venues and cover a whole weekend. It may even split into a twice-yearly event if the appetite is there.

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I can’t wait for 27th October – it’s going to be a great day for Gateshead.  Really looking forward to some true Culture Vulturing at some Gateshead venues. You can follow my journey across Gateshead via The Culture Vulture and of course, keep an eye on the main event page for updates before the main event!

Until next time Culture Vultures and see you on the 27th October!