‘On the Tightropes’ by Mark Robinson

How can we build a fairer cultural sector that works for artists, organisations, and communities? Mark Robinson explores some tactics for the tightrope act of shared culture.

Published by Arts Professional, 13 July 2021

Mark Robinson is Founder of Thinking Practice and Author of Tactics for the Tightrope, in this Arts Professional article he discusses why we still need creative resilience, and how we cannot be resilient alone.

Those on the tightropes want to take risks, do good and beautiful work, be healthy and to care for each other. Yet the sector is surrounded and beset with chronic conditions including systemic ableism, overextension, racism and sexism that call for tactics rather than the grand strategies of the powerful.

This week the brave people of Future Arts Centres publish my book Tactics for the Tightrope. It starts with the image of people on an interconnecting network of tightropes. People of all kinds, some walking, some dancing or juggling, on feet, hands or moving with wheels and sticks. Some watching and catching. People coming together as movement and stillness meet where balance dances with the drop, with flight. Balance and movement. Change and stability. The risky, paradoxical, wide-awake dreaming that is culture.

People who were most disadvantaged before Covid have been disproportionately hurt by it. The limits of conceptions of resilience as simply ‘developing diverse income streams’ have become ever clearer. Those on the tightrope are often pig sick of hearing about resilience.

Why we still need creative resilience

And yet, I still find the word a useful one, eleven years after writing Making Adaptive Resilience Real for Arts Council England. I have come to think of resilience as resistance to the damage done to our creative communities, in keeping with a long history of self-organisation such as trade unions, co-operatives, credit unions and other coping mechanisms.

For many things in culture, longevity matters. It helps accumulate memory and innovation into evolving traditions. It creates spaces for people to work long-term, and for others to come in, learn and pass through. It also demonstrates a set of values counter to the ‘stick it up and tear it down’ values of much commercial activity.

This requires creative resilience at all levels: the capacity of organisations and communities of people to be productive, valued, and true to self-determined core purpose and identity. This may involve absorbing disturbance, adapting with integrity in response to changing circumstances and positively influencing the environment.

There are some concrete actions being taken such as the Seven Principles set out by We Shall Not Be Removed. Growing networks and collectives of freelancers, arts centres and others give me hope that healthier approaches may become part of a reconfigured ecology.

Multiplying leadership and connecting communities

You cannot be resilient alone. There are an infinite variety of ways to do the tightrope with an infinite variety of people, but only if we abandon top-down heroic models of cultural leadership and governance. To achieve this we need to consider four domains: the self, inside (the organisation or practice), outside (the art form or cultural field) and beyond (in society).

An asset-based approach to sustainable livelihoods has potential to develop more agency for individuals and communities. This is not theory: starting with assets helps people make their own choices and find their own power. Who are you, what do you stand for, and what have you got to draw on? The book has lots of practical tools for people to try, adapt and improve in finding their own, unique ways to be on the tightrope.

Read the full article by Mark, and how a handful of basic principles can make creative resilience a form of resistance instead of co-option – www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/article/tightropes

Published by Arts Professional, 13 July 2021

Tactics for the Tightrope is published by Future Arts Centres on 23 July. It will be available as a free download in October.

Mark Robinson is Founder of Thinking Practice 

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