Beyond The Pale: The Deep Dive (Our Thriving Tribe)

Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale. This week she takes a deep dive into Our Thriving Tribe, which is a European initiative that finds its home at Visual Carlow.

Each week, Stage Door Live’s Associate Producer Janice de Bróithe takes a look at theatre Beyond The Pale.

Welcome one and all to my lovely corner of the universe Beyond the Pale. Every few weeks, I am going to take the time to delve into something a little deeper than my usual blog post. I am calling it, very originally, The Deep Dive.

For my inaugural Deep Dive, I have decided to take a closer look at an initiative, or rather, curatorial project to use the correct term, called Our Thriving Tribe. (Try saying that fast three times in a row!)

So what exactly is Our Thriving Tribe?

As a curatorial project Our Thriving Tribe (OTT) aims to expand upon the current discourse on entrepreneurship within the arts in Ireland. A process of enquiry into the context of artistic practice by researching entrepreneurship from the perspective of the artist in order to generate new knowledge within this field.

This is a project that came to my attention through their Zoom Room Sessions: a series of online interviews with artists. This interested me initially because I knew the artists involved. However, what appeared at first glance to be some artists talking about their practice, suddenly became much more. They were discussing what can often feel like a taboo within the arts community: entrepreneurship. Watching these Zoom Room sessions, truly, I felt relief.

These artists, from a variety of disciplines were talking openly and frankly about things I had always felt, but never really felt able to talk about. Most specifically money, and, even harder to talk about sometimes, owning yourself as a professional artist. It’s a struggle I know many of us face: no matter how successful you are at any given point in your career, it can still be difficult to value your own worth. How many of us joke about choosing the wrong career, or that any day now we’re going to go off and get a ‘real job’? Personally I’ve almost thrown the towel in several times. (At one stage, I was THIS close to going off to become a history teacher until a teacher friend of mine convinced me the pay wasn’t worth it and it would take me about five years to get a permanent job anyway so I might as well stick to what I was doing).

That first Zoom Room Session hit me hard, so much so I had to know more. Where did this come from? Who was involved? How did it start?

One quick search later and I realised there was an awful lot more to OTT than I imagined. First of all, it’s actually part of a much larger European initiative called AHEH (Arts & Humanities Entrepreneurship Hubs) which is all about improving the entrepreneurial capacity of Arts and Humanities students. In other words, making it easier for those who study arts and humanities in college to create/find work for themselves when they leave college. This is such an immensely sensible notion that I can’t believe it’s taken this long to come about. The project involves 14 partners from 7 EU states, all working together to study, innovate and implement ways to improve and encourage entrepreneurship in the Arts sector. Each of the 7 states has an A&H Hub, and ours is VISUAL Carlow.

Visual Carlow. Home to Our Thriving Tribe.

This, as you will know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, was excellent news for me and my quest for more information. I am from Carlow, and have spent almost as much time in VISUAL as my own house. (If you haven’t been, you should. It’s pretty awesome. When we’re allowed out again, of course). A little more digging and I discovered David Francis Moore, the Programme Manager in VISUAL is at the core of the whole project. I immediately picked up the phone and organised a Zoom interview. It felt appropriate.

VISUAL had been a part of the AHEH project since 2018, and when it landed on David’s desk he was interested in how the term or idea around entrepreneurial language was aligned with or might benefit the arts, but also more importantly how creative thinking and the arts could benefit from entrepreneurship.

So where did the idea for Our Thriving Tribe come from?

According to David, there were several things that happened around that time from which the idea came. Two stand out in his mind. He watched a TED talk with Aja Monet and Philip Agnew. It was about the idea of bringing people together and starting a movement and conversation. Not long after came Theatre Forum 2019 and Lian Bell. She spoke about empowering artists and how artists don’t recognise their own value. This had a big impact on David, who recalled his own struggle and unease at calling himself a professional artist even being unsure what that even meant. Out of this, he realised, is where the value of the project can come in – where is the artist’s voice in all this? So, he concluded, looking at entrepreneurship not in terms of a business thing, but in terms of the artist as an entrepreneur creating value beyond oneself and for oneself, being of value to society. Bring people together, create a space for conversation, and hopefully start a movement to empower artists to recognise their value, the value that they bring to society.

A great idea, to be fair. So where to start? Who to get involved?

Well, that part was easy, relatively speaking. VISUAL has its own ready network of artists from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines. Some of them are overtly entrepreneurial in presenting their work engaging with their audience in a plethora of ways, some of them less so and that was a natural starting point. However, they soon started to reach out to others and the response has been positive.

Now for the how:

Originally, they had planned to go and spend time with each artist in their own workspace, interview them there and record the interviews as a podcast series. As we all know now, the little matter of a global pandemic got in the way. Quick to adapt, as our kind often are, the podcast became the Zoom Room Sessions. There are three online so far, and I highly recommend you check them out. They are all different, and all engaging. The conversations are open, frank and thought provoking. The topics, at times, are uneasy ones, but it is a discourse that is clearly much needed – some of the artists have been in touch with David afterwards to talk further. The conversation has certainly started in earnest.

There are plans afoot for a symposium later in the year (hopefully we get to be there in person) and a publication after that which will be an accumulation of the interviews and so on. Also in the works, which interests me greatly, is that they have asked artists to create an entrepreneurial gesture, (however they choose to interpret that) to document it and send it back. I am very curious to see what comes of that: an entrepreneurial gesture through an artistic medium. Brilliant.

So what are the hopes for the future of Our Thriving Tribe?

“A movement that empowers people to look at the business of art in a creative way in order to support their creative practice.”

For David himself, he is just happy to open up the space to create that conversation and get people thinking and talking. In one way, he feels that now, amidst Covid, is the perfect time for everyone working in this cultural sector to come together to think creatively about how we can create a sustainable future for ourselves. It is time to reflect on what has gone, but also the possibilities of the future. Theatres may not be able to open any time soon, but who said theatre has to happen in a conventional theatre? You can create theatre in a warehouse for ten people and it can be just as powerful, if not more so. Entrepreneurship is about adapting, finding a way to thrive.

So there you have it. Our Thriving Tribe is, at its core, about empowering us to own our profession and not be ashamed to do so. It does have value, we have value and we deserve to make a fair living from it and not feel guilty for doing so. None of us (or at least, no one I personally know) chose this path for the money. You couldn’t, it’s too hard. We live in a society that is capitalist in nature, and most people place value, intentionally or not, on things through a monetary lens. The world in which we live and work all too often does not see our profession for what it is: a profession. It’s a hobby. A past time. Are you really an artist if you do one gig a year and spend the rest of the time working in a bar? How many forms have you filled out online, only to find that your job apparently doesn’t exist, and you have to pick something else vaguely similar? (I’m always a teacher, if you’re asking. Technically, I do teach drama so…)

To make a big change, you have to start with a small change. You can’t eat the elephant all in one go. So if we can make the change, to use the language of business and entrepreneurship for ourselves, to have those conversations with each other and take that power for ourselves then maybe, just maybe we can demand it of everyone else too.

Maybe, just maybe, Our Thriving Tribe has started a movement.

You can find Our Thriving Tribe on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

If you have a programme, event or initiative that you would like covered in my ‘Deep Dive’ please get in touch, I’d be happy to talk!

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