As laid out in LOW PROFILE’s Jamboree Principles, Jamboree actively shares its model and encourages others to establish and support artist-led professional development activity.
Here’s a video presentation recorded (during national lockdown in 2020) by Hannah & Rachel (LOW PROFILE) talking through the development of Jamboree, and key aspects of the model that others could consider when designing artist-led professional development.
You can read a full transcript of the presentation below.
Hello everybody, my name is Rachel and this is Hannah. We have been working together, in collaboration since 2003, as artists under the name LOW PROFILE and are based in Plymouth (in the south west of England). Alongside our artistic practice, we have an ongoing commitment to developing ambitious artist-led projects that form an equally integral part of our work.
Today, we’re going to talk through the development of Artists Jamboree – a national gathering of artists & curators – that we devised and delivered in 2018 and talk about the importance of ambitious artist-led professional development that is sector-supported.
SLIDE – Come to ours
The artist-led projects that we make (often in collaboration with others) are in response to a set of needs that we identify, something that feels otherwise lacking or not being provided elsewhere. As independent artists, with a long-term and committed practice, we are often better placed than those working in large organisations to address and identify our own (and our community’s) needs/barriers, related to wellbeing, time, money, geography and isolation.
SLIDE – H&D residency
Jamboree is also in part inspired and informed by our experiences of being involved with Live Art Development Agency’s DIY scheme; EXPO in Nottingham; Diskurs Festival in Giessen, Germany; The Cornwall Workshops & Conventions and our own self-made residency projects with the artists Hunt & Darton and as part of the ‘Plymouth Peer Residency’ with the artists Barry Sykes, Sophie Mallett, Beth Emily Richards, Sophie Hope, Ania Bas and Elizabeth Masterton.
SLIDE – Plymouth Peer residency
Jamboree, of course, also sits alongside many other artist-led initiatives that have a focus on professional development across the UK – including a whole host of alternative MAs, cohort-building programmes & study programmes that have proliferated since around 2015; as well as long-term and established artist-led relationships and networks, and the types of grassroots peer-to-peer learning that creative practitioners engage in, in a variety of ad-hoc ways.
SLIDE – A brief history
Back in 2014 or 2015, we had started to feel that our network was becoming very localised. We wanted to connect with artists and curators across the country but had very little resources available to us to enable this. We started to think of ways that we could build quick, productive and mutually beneficial relationships with other artists and curators, in a way that was responsive to our own inability to move freely or easily.
SLIDE – Principle –
We recognised that this need would be echoed by many others and started to shape the concept of Jamboree, as an intensive residential model, focussed around meeting people from across the UK.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2015
Towards the end of 2015 we brought 16 people together for the first iteration of Jamboree. We worked quickly, smartly and resourcefully. We approached Vickie Fear, then assistant curator and coordinator for Plymouth Arts Centre’s artists associate scheme PAC Home, to ask if we could take over some of the building for a long weekend for free.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2015
We worked with Vickie to approach a number of other artist associate schemes that PAC Home was connected with, to ask them to each contribute around £350 and to send 3 artists each to attend.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2015
Vickie encouraged us to approach a-n the Artists Information Company and Plymouth Culture to see if they could add some support, and they both quickly came on board with some important match funding to help us cover our costs.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2015
We ran that first 3 day event on a very small budget and a lot of good will. Vickie worked solidly with us throughout, giving her time as PAC Home Coordinator in-kind. We (as LOW PROFILE) delivered the whole project pro-bono and unpaid. Our partners came to cook and feed everyone in the evenings. The participants slept on borrowed camp beds on the floor and artist friends came to present their work for free.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2015
Partly out of necessity, perhaps from a lack of experience, and definitely due to not enough time, we set up the first Jamboree like a LOW PROFILE workshop, setting tasks and activities for the participants to be able to get to know each other and exchange information, which we led and heavily facilitated. Not only was this exhausting in practice – it was unsatisfying for both us and the participants.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2015
There was not enough space for participants’ voices or work to be centred. We (Rachel & I) remained at the edges of the group, too consumed with delivery, and didn’t get to benefit directly from the event that we created.
HANNAH & RACHEL VIDEO
In 2016 a-n, got in touch to ask us what we were going to do next with Jamboree; to encourage us to take the project further and to offer us support in the form of a mentor (Lucy Day), and to offer some vital match funding to help us get started. This major kick up the arse and essential backing led us to reflect on what we had learnt from delivering this first version and to think about how to take it further.
We figured that if we were going to do it again, we may as well make it much bigger, so that more people could get involved and benefit – with a critical shift in approach being, that we would build it so that we were not at the helm of the ship, so that we could be participants and not the bosses, and so that everyone could input in different ways.
SLIDE – A New Curatorial Framework
For Jamboree 2018 and onwards, the key shift in gear was the creation of a curatorial framework that is participant-built. We devised and scheduled parallel programming strands that would enable participants to share their work; to run peer-to-peer sessions focussed on their interests & experiences, and to benefit from being both a participant and an activity leader, presenter or guide.
SLIDE – Principle
Alongside the programme strands that are selected by us through a proposal process from participants, we ensure that there are other strands that have no selection criteria or process, and are either run on a first come first served basis, or are open to all. It is important to us that all participants who attend also have the chance to share their work, ideas and practice.
SLIDE – programme strands
The programme strands are also devised to ensure to suit a wide range of practices, approaches to sharing work and modes of engagement.
Jamboree is shaped and scheduled in a similar way to a music festival, where multiple things are going on at any one time and as an attendee you create your own path through the event. It’s not possible to see everything so you plot a route; perhaps selecting activities led by or featuring artists or curators that you know; perhaps taking a punt on something that sounds interesting.
SLIDE – outside the Hex
Participants set their own pace and are encouraged to find out about what they missed by talking to others and sharing their experiences. Behind the scenes we do some careful mapping of the programme schedule, taking detailed care around considering what activities butt up next to each other or overlap.
The core programming strands for Jamboree 2018 were:
SLIDE – Walks & Talks
- Walks & Talks – where an artist or curator leads a group on a walk & discussion focused on specialist subject areas, topics or obsessions that surround, comes from, or informs their practice.
SLIDE – 20:20 Talks
- 20:20 Talks – quick fire presentations for artists & curators to introduce their arts practice and projects to the Jamboree audience
SLIDE – Communal Making
- Communal Making sessions – where artists lead practical sessions exploring an element of their practice that benefits from communal making or participation.
SLIDE – Moving Image screenings
- Moving Image Screenings – where artists & curators show video-works or project documentation
SLIDE – Camp shop miniatures
- Camp Shop & Miniatures – where artists & curators bring small scale affordable artworks, limited editions and ephemera for sale, alongside an informal exhibition of scaled-down or more portable aspects of artists & curators practices
SLIDE – Sonya’s workshop
Additionally, for this event we trialled running a series of seminars on the first day by invited artists & curators – where participants got a chance to learn about and discuss specific areas of interest, themes or creative processes. These were led by Alistair Hudson, Sonya Dyer, Lucy Day, Ingrid Swenson and Simon Morrissey.
SLIDE – participants notes
It’s worth noting at this point that we have already further developed these programme strands for future possible iterations of Jamboree, based on our experiences of this event and the feedback we received from participants. We have devised new programme strands and would take a different approach to others if we were to do another Jamboree event, but the essential ingredient of creating a structure that is participant built is fundamental to the ethos and success of Jamboree.
SLIDE – Rosalie’s walk group
So, what does this approach offer?
A participant-built model like Jamboree offers, multiple ways for people to come in contact with, be inspired by and learn from many different people’s practices, a range of approaches and experiences of working professionally within the arts sector.
SLIDE – Katrina walk & talk
It also offers the chance for participants to test and share ideas, and easy ways to meet different people – whether that’s by being in the same workshop, browsing the campshop at the same time, attending each other’s 20:20 talk session, or walking next to each other. All of these things Surprising and special collective experiences
SLIDE – Lucy Rollins walk & talk & greenandowens walk & talk
The structure of Jamboree constantly shifts the position of attendees from being participants to being those who are presenting, sharing work, or leading an activity – creating a supportive environment, with as flat a hierarchical structure as possible, where everyone is ‘in it’ together.
We had expected people to respond in certain ways to the briefs that we had set; but the proposals we received were often surprising, playful and productively disruptive of our guidelines, which led to a far richer event. So creating a framework that is porous enough for others to shape it has become a guiding curatorial principle.
SLIDE – Principle
Jamboree brings people together and builds strong relationships by providing a relaxed, informal, supportive meeting place where people from different backgrounds and otherwise isolated regions share their experiences, projects, ideas & challenges. Meeting face-to-face, sharing accommodation, food & social activities allows people to easily get to know and find out about each other by identifying common bonds & interests.
SLIDE – Principle
We carefully selected Dartington as a site for the event in 2018 knowing that it would give participants the chance to ‘get away’, to a relatively remote, beautiful and green place, whilst also being fairly easy to get there – the local train station at Totnes is on the main line from London to Penzance, and it’s not far from the end of the M5 motorway.
SLIDE – Dartington site
On site, we knew that there would be some phone signal, but not loads; that there wouldn’t be many distractions on site or nearby (other than a small pub and a very lovely river!). We wanted to create a space for participants to be as present as they could be and to give their full energy and attention to the event.
SLIDE – Snack station
Every aspect of the Jamboree event is carefully shaped in huge detail. We spend months thinking about and discussing thinks like the importance of the free ‘snack station’ and complimentary toiletries & essentials provided in the toilets;..
SLIDE – outside the hex
..the signs that we should make and where we should place them in the grounds; the caterers we should invite; how many showers and toilets we will need; ..
SLIDE – chill out tent
.. where people will shelter from the rain or the sun, or find a quiet space to get away to escape it all.
SLIDE – arrival
We think about how people will arrive, what they will be told and what they will be given. We worry about getting them to the site and making this as easy as possible. We provide free taxis for those coming by train and carrying heavy camping gear.
SLIDE – pitching tents
We pack a spare tent in case someone forgets their poles. We make sure there is a film screening going on for early arrivals so they can sit and watch and not worry about having to immediately talk to people they don’t know.
SLIDE – yoga
We take our own social awkwardness, neurodiversity and experiences of attending terrible ‘networking’ events, as a curatorial compass for combatting everything that is bad, stressful and uncomfortable about these types of events.
SLIDE – printed programme
We put ourselves in the position of attendee and participant at all times and we think about the things that would make a difference to us and our experience.
We really, really try and think of everything.
And of course, it’s not just LOW PROFILE who are looking after Jamboree.
SLIDE – Jamboree 2018 Team
All of this is delivered by a team of dedicated, hard-working people brought together to deliver each event and all the participants who play such a key & active role in ‘making’ the events. For Jamboree 2018, we were joined by an amazing team of producers, interns, student observers and volunteers who we in no way could have run the event without.
It’s really important to us that Jamboree offers financial and professional development opportunities for those who work on delivering the project. Whenever possible this includes providing training and ‘first time’ experiences for team members with support in the lead up to, during & after the event.
SLIDE – Communal making
For Jamboree 2018 this included offering a series of student internships and observer roles, working in partnership with Plymouth College of Art. The interns got practical, hands-on experience of making the event happen in the lead up to and during the event, SLIDE – notebook with training from our producer Vickie Fear. Our observers worked with Beth Richards (our brilliant marketing and comms producer) and were invited to come along, watch, listen, learn and report back on their experiences to their peers.
SLIDE – Partnerships are important
In both iterations of Jamboree, we realised that creating partnerships with a range of geographically dispersed organisations was going to be key to reaching outside of our existing networks and creating a situation that would facilitate mixing of different practitioners from across the UK. Our aims through establishing a network of partners are to:
- Support as much free access to the events and diversity of attendees as possible – through a bursary scheme where independent practitioners are supported financially to attend (covering ticket price, and when possible, travel expenses)
SLIDE – trees / walk
- Support and extend the work of local and regional visual arts organisations, networks and associate schemes, who have a remit to provide professional development opportunities for creative practitioners in their areas
- Create an opportunity for participants in locally or regionally-focussed networks to mix with, meet and form new productive relationships with others across the UK
Responses from both our 6-months-on & 2-years-on evaluations from Jamboree 2018 show that this is highly effective – both in terms of facilitating new meaningful connections between geographically dispersed participants, and in terms of cost (including time, travel and event ticket).
SLIDE – Principle
However, in previous iterations of Jamboree, this model operates on a pay-to-play model – where partner organisations need to commit their existing (and often limited) budgets to supporting individuals to attend. This means that partnerships have to be renegotiated with each iteration – which involves a lot of communication, advocacy, agreements, and time – for both us, and the partner organisations (who are often already under-resourced and over-stretched). In reality, it is pretty precarious – like a complex and delicate patchwork that could unravel at any point.
SLIDE – We Met At Jamboree / map
This approach also limits our potential partnerships to those organisations who already have some kind of financial backing or support, and budgets dedicated to the development of their communities of interest, or modes of drawing down funding from elsewhere to support participants. This prevents new partners from ‘taking a risk’ on Jamboree, and reinforces existing hierarchies and barriers to access for under-represented practitioners. When we discuss the ‘true’ (unsubsidised) cost-per-head for attendees (which is around £575 per person, before travel expenses), partners feel that it is hard to find budgets to support individual practitioners to attend in this way.
SLIDE – Lessons learned – room for improvement
The community of artists, curators and arts organisers that Jamboree serves are from a range of places, ages, backgrounds & life experiences, connected through their shared interests in (and long-term commitment to) working creatively – making new artworks, projects, exhibitions & events that help themselves and others to make sense of the world; celebrate human emotions; comment on what needs to change; and suggest new ways of doing things.
SLIDE – Carly chatting
To keep working like this, our community regularly tells us (via conversation, events and surveys) that they need to connect to share their challenges & experiences – to build productive relationships leading to peer support, skill sharing, offers of work and knowledge exchange. Jamboree provides them with an easy and cost-effective way to be more connected & better supported.
Visual arts practitioners often survive on low incomes and precarious employment (the 2018 ArtsPay survey told us that on average this is under £15k p/year) meaning they don’t have many opportunities to travel to connect & meet new people – leading to isolation & problems with mental and emotional wellbeing.
SLIDE – 20:20
Jamboree helps more creative people to reach their potential by offering a ‘fast-track’ to building networks with people outside of their immediate location. At least 30% of those attending are at the early stages of their creative journey / professional lives. They share their projects, make connections, get feedback and learn from those with more experience, building confidence, knowledge and skills.
SLIDE – Eleanor
Just 6 months after J2018, 76% of surveyed participants each got 1-4 opportunities to make new creative projects happen, benefiting 9750+ people in their communities.
We know that the limits of the network established for Jamboree 2018 meant that artists and curators of colour were significantly under-represented, and there were barriers for some disabled artists and curators that meant they did not attend (or feel so well supported), so in our future work we will be stepping up our existing ambitions to increase access on all of these fronts.
SLIDE – Goodbye toast
It is crucial that the opportunities we create do not simply maintain ‘the status quo’ in the visual arts sector – where people from the global majority and people with more complex access needs related to disability are marginalised.
To address this, if we were to do another event we would:
- Adopt a clearer, fairer approach to ticketing
- Create alternative subsidised accommodation options for participants who find camping difficult or unappealing with funding to support this
- Secure min 40% bursary places via funders & partners – including new partnerships that offer supported places for more artists & curators of colour
- Offer more focussed support for artists & curators with disabilities & a wider variety of access needs via new partnership with organisations such as Unlimited
SLIDE – We Met At Jamboree – impact & legacy
We know there is room for improvement, but we also know that lots of things about Jamboree 2018 worked really well and were really successful.
SLIDE – Principle – Jamboree supports practitioners to form long-lasting, meaningful & productive relationships with other practitioners.
In 2018, 12 National & regional organisations across 6 UK regions partnered with us to make Jamboree happen and 22 different towns and cities across England, Wales & Northern Ireland benefited from practitioners from those areas attending. Our partners supported us to enable 36 practitioners to attend via the Jamboree Bursary Scheme.
SLIDE – Marks’ workshop
From our recent ‘2 years on survey’ where we surveyed 49 people who attended, participants reported a total of 191 new professional opportunities (gigs) that arose as a result of attending Jamboree which resulted in £67,119
of new income generated and 78,625 people seeing, engaging with, or taking part in participants’ new work & projects.
From our surveyed participants, 18 new groups, collectives, collaborations or creative partnerships have been formed and 96% participants cited the importance of Jamboree in establishing and supporting their own artist-led professional development activity; with 45 participants reporting actively using aspects of the Jamboree model in their own projects.
SLIDE – Simon Bayliss workshop
67% of participants cited Jamboree as important to strengthening their local networks and 55% cited Jamboree’s help in extending their networks far past their own locality.
SLIDE – Seminar
93% of participants specifically mentioned, described or talked about the importance of Jamboree being inclusive, non-hierarchical and welcoming.
And we were able to provide 191 days of employment for 18 creative freelancers, also offering training and ‘first time’ experiences for team members.
SLIDE – Bram Thomas Arnold / civil twilight
It’s important that we recognise and celebrate the value of this project and share this value with the sector, because for us this evaluation extends far past Jamboree and speaks to the importance of other artist-led projects like Jamboree, and in the need for these projects to be supported, enabled and funded.
Artist-led / sector supported
SLIDE – Principle
Jamboree is artist-led but sector supported. Jamboree works with a wide range of partners to support as much free access to the events and diversity of attendees as possible, through a bursary scheme.Through working in partnership with organisations of different sizes, each with varied resources and reach, Jamboree aims to reach far past the limitations of its, and each individual organisations, networks.
Drawing on her 2019 doctoral thesis “Artists’ livelihoods: the artists and arts policy conundrum”, Susan Jones highlights the significant impact of Arts Council England austerity cuts (from 2010 onwards) on artist-led practice via the active de-funding of artist-led activity and micro-organisations, and the inherent bias of “reporting parameters [that] are better suited to measuring audience type and levels in mainstream public-facing venues” against “the nuanced or less tangible benefits, such as contributions to sustaining artists’ practices and livelihoods over a life-cycle.”
SLIDE – Improving artists livelihoods
We’d like to reiterate and reinforce some of Su’s key points here too:
- Current arts policy misunderstands and underestimates the value of small-scale artist-led organisations.
- Artist-led organisations are vital to visual arts sector advocacy, strategy and policy development (as well as serving and representing their “communities of interest” effectively)
- Artists & practitioners need ‘timely and affordable’ opportunities for professional development that support them to develop their own communities of practice and build engagements ‘where they are’
- Current support and advice is too often formulaic (and not tailored to personal contexts)
SLIDE – painting
Ambitious and large-scale artist-led activity like Jamboree actively feeds and nurtures the visual arts sector by supporting practitioners to:
- Develop their confidence to act via new personal and professional ‘circles of trust’
- Improve their ability to get ahead via co-validation, and exposure to empathetic and like-minded people and institutions
- And increase their sense of belonging through finding ways to situate their practice in ways that can be conceived, developed and modified over time and encompass their own personal circumstances
SLIDE – patch sewing
All of these things are identified, by name, in Su Jones’ research and writing as absolutely vital to supporting artists livelihoods.
SLIDE – Principle
Jamboree advocates for ambitious artist-led professional development that is sector-supported. This is enabled through visual art organisations pooling limited resources and working in joined-up ways to support practitioners in their regions.
By extension, Jamboree also plays a vital role in introducing curators, arts programmers, organisers and key gate-keepers in regional organisations to a range of artists and practitioners from across the UK. Our impact survey (across the 2 years since Jamboree 2018) demonstrates that this was an incredibly cost-effective way for new long-lasting, meaningful & productive relationships to develop.
SLIDE – seminar
So, if our activity as artist-leaders is so key to feeding and nurturing the visual arts sector, we need to have routes for projects like Jamboree to be fed, nurtured and supported too. This is why we are suggesting an artist-led / sector supported approach. We need the visual arts sector as a whole to find a way to make activities like Jamboree sustainable – both financially, and in terms of the time, effort and energy that goes into making this happen.
SLIDE – 20:20 – flexibility
We’re well placed as an independent micro-organisation to listen and respond to Jamboree’s community of interest, to generate ideas and solutions, and to pull off ambitious things on relatively small budgets. However, we are not well placed to fund all of this activity.
SLIDE – Money money money
Our funding options are actually pretty limited. Arts Council England supported us for Jamboree 2018, which although we were able to pay staff this time round, the event was hugely subsidised by the whole team working over and above their contracted hours and we know that if we are going to it again, we need to raise more funds. Our participants bought tickets (apart from those who we were able to secure bursary places for via partnerships) and we kept this ticket price as low as possible, with the true cost of each place at over £500 and tickets being sold at £75.
HANNAH & RACHEL VIDEO
Our sector wide partnerships are critical. We need buy in from many different arts organisations from across the UK, to pool their resources; to fund as many bursary tickets as possible and to invest a bit extra to make up the shortfall in funding and to make the event possible.
SLIDE – Image – ARTIST-LED, SECTOR SUPPORTED.
Artist-led, sector supported, that is the mission. That is the only way a project like this can survive, and that grassroots activity like Jamboree can be sustained.
HANNAH & RACHEL VIDEO
So here’s to working together to make good stuff happen. Here’s to using our own positions to leverage support for others. For being as generous as possible with the resources, skills and knowledge that we have.
Here’s to getting together, to assembling, convening and rallying as a group and to strength in numbers.
Thank you for listening!
#WeMetAtJamboree activities have been supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s 2020 Emergency Response Fund.