Strategic Dreamers (Bartosz Frąckowiak, Anna Galas-Kosil, Ewa Kozik, Marta Michalak) team was commissioned by the British Council to do a scoping research of the arts and culture/creative sectors in order to analyse the current and future plans related to Polish – British collaborations. We proposed to go beyond typical patterns of creating grant-based projects to discover what dreams, hopes and needs, not always previously named, the surveyed organisations had. An important part of the process was the use of strategic futures design methods to co-create new models and practices related to international cooperation and challenge our current assumptions concerning it. In a reality that is uncertain, unpredictable, characterised by crises, fragility and anxiety, it is worth dreaming your own dream and expanding your field of imagination to regain agency and build your own resilience.
In the course of conversations, meetings and joint activities, at the intersection of individual, often very diverse perspectives, a strong voice of those working in the field of culture and the arts has slowly emerged. It is a grassroot, deeply internalised need for change that strikes above all at the paradigm of building the symbolic capital of organisations and individuals through the number, scale and scope of projects carried out.
People working in the art and culture/creative sector want to create new models of work and collaboration, at organisational and individual levels, whose DNA includes:
- apprehension, reflection, introspection and constructive evaluation,
- building in-depth, long-term inter-institutional relationships on the basis of interpersonal relationships,
- collaboration and resource sharing,
- thinking in terms of responsibility and the ecology of action (here we can define the ecosystems we want to care for very differently),
- building the strength and capital of the organisation by creating working and development conditions that take into account the real needs of the people involved.
Our report is a kind of freeze frame in this process of change.
10 insights and takeaways from the report:
1. Crises as a new normal
The old formulas for international cooperation were no longer adequate in the face of the current reality. Crises has become the new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, and inflation have radically changed and continue to impact the way people work, feel, create art and culture, and approach collaborative initiatives.
2. New cooperation formats and models, new set of values and principles
Many organisations stated that certain things would need to change, indicating that they are willing to develop new cooperation formats and models based on a new set of values and principles, adapting them to the new reality.
3. Locality and beyond:
The need to link localities together and build relationships not based on national identities i.e. Britishness and Polishness, but by understanding how various local phenomena or processes – cultural, social, ecological, economic or political – resemble and differ from one another.
4. Process, not product
The theme of focusing on and prioritising the collaborative process recurred time and again during many conversations and at several workshops. A processual approach to a project implies great attentiveness to what arises at specific meetings, out of unpredictable situations, in a spontaneous atmosphere.
5. Openness to change and flexibility
This perspective stands in opposition to formalised projects in which conditions are rigidly pre-determined, preventing any modification of assumptions and/or goals in response to changing external circumstances or the internal dynamics of the process. The new way of thinking about projects is premised on openness to change and flexibility – both enable great collaboration. “Non-obvious discoveries,” trust and understanding become possible when non-linearity, unpredictability, time to talk and be with each other are incorporated into the project. There is no pre-determined set of project outcomes; they are subject to change and emerge out of the encounter under specific conditions.
6. Different concept of time
They also talked about a different concept of time which is necessary for such a project. Instead of rigid frameworks and inflexible schedules, a need was articulated to slow down, to “give each other time to be with each other,” to meet without a fixed goal or direction. Such a situation could give rise to a community to whom cooperation will provide a sense of meaning. (…) Such a set-up provides room for returning to different stages of the project, successive iterations, non-linear activities, leaps, organising time in reaction to what is created in the process.
7. Emergent and improvised things create more sustainable networks
A paradox mentioned by the participants is that things created in emergent, spontaneous, improvised and authentic conditions often pave the way for a more sustainable network of cooperation as compared to outcomes based on rigid structures and closed agendas.
8. Failures as resources
This kind of process also leaves room for space and time for potential mistakes. As one participant emphasised, it was important to “create the conditions for the possibility of failure.” A mistake from this perspective is not a failure actually, as it does not result from a lack or deficit, but is understood as a potential resource. (…) Failures, meaning mistakes one can learn and grow from, and which did not unravel the project. A mistake is also seen as a source of innovation. In fact, more interesting movement or language structures can emerge from a stumble or a slip of the tongue than from the perfect execution of a set plan. Similarly, very interesting, qualitative and innovative outcomes can arise from a mistake that occurs in the course of collaboration. Workshop participants stressed that if the funder allowed for making mistakes, the beneficiaries would have more breathing room and tension would be reduced.
9. Mutual recognition of each other’s biases
The participants also highlighted the need to create a systemic cooperation mechanism that would allow for the “mutual recognition of each other’s biases,” i.e. to experience how the British see us, as well as reveal how we see them, and then verify what in these “mutual projections” is correct and what is merely a prejudice. The importance of trust and personal relationships that allow people to comment on each other’s behaviour, including prejudices and stereotypes, on a meta-level, in a friendly and safe atmosphere, was also stressed in this context.
The topic of accessibility emerged as a priority for many Polish organisations. Various collaborative activities with those excluded, both physically and mentally, were proposed. Some of them involved providing a venue for people with disabilities at renowned institutions, e.g. allowing them to showcase their works in exhibition halls as full-fledged artists.
The report presenting the research results (short version and full version) can be downloaded in pdf form below: