Co-creating the RAPP: What it looked like from inside | Part one
The Regional Arts Partnership Program is a new form of arts funding and program development, created by Country Arts WA over the last three years in consultation with the regional arts sector. It brings together regional and Perth organisations to create themed “clusters”, which network people and resources from everywhere in WA to create programs that meet the needs and priorities of regional communities.
Three clusters were successfully appointed a Lead Coordinator – a regional organisation/driver to lead the way in developing arts programs; Cathy Cummins from Warringari Aboriginal Arts took on the lead role for the Aboriginal Arts Centres cluster, Fiona Sinclair from Southern Forest Arts drove the Regional Galleries cluster and Kirsty Duffy from Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council took charge of the Dance cluster.
Here’s what Fiona had to share about her journey:
I didn’t really know where to start this project as there was no set course to follow – it was all completely unchartered territory. Exciting, but daunting!
RAPP Coordinator Ricky Arnold assured me that Country Arts WA, as an organisation, was also on a learning journey with the pilot round of the RAPP program and would support me if problems were to occur. This helped me feel like it would be OK to make some mistakes along the way but it also made me nervous that the mistakes might be huge (and public), as there was no sure way of knowing the danger zones, so I began cautiously. I asked for contact details of those coordinating the other three RAPP clusters so I could get an idea of how they thought they’d tackle their project challenge.
I systematically called all 21 contacts, including artists and arts orgs. I often had to ring several times and leave messages before I finally spoke with someone, but when I eventually did connect I found that everyone was very open to sharing their experiences, concerns and aspirations over the phone.
If you take the time to make a personal connection (via phone) you will be rewarded. People are grateful to have someone listening to them.
I asked a few questions, but mostly I just listened. People wanted to have their struggles acknowledged, they wanted stories of their successes shared and celebrated. These calls helped me understand that most regional arts workers and artists feel undervalued, misunderstood and frequently prone to a sense of professional isolation. The RAPP showed potential to address some aspects of these issues.
Bringing the Band Together
On June 1st 2017 I coordinated a ‘Round Table Gathering’ at Country Arts WA offices for anyone from the cluster keen to take a more active role in co-creation. This was a great day of sharing stories and opening minds to the experiences of others. Peak Service Organisations (often for the first time) began to understand some of the great hardships facing smaller under-resourced regional arts orgs. There was also a willingness from the larger regional orgs to help support the smaller orgs reach their potential.
Outcomes of this meeting and responses from phone conversations and emails were then compiled into a survey seeking further feedback from the broader cluster. Their responses formed the basis for the direction our cluster’s development and activities would take. The shape and scope of these activities were then refined through a further round of phone calls and regular group email updates and private email conversations. We also used this process to arrive at a name for the cluster, ‘The Creative Grid’ and name for the project, ‘Connecting to the Creative Grid.’
Spokes on a Wheel
The co-creation ‘style’ that emerged for this cluster was a centralised model with myself always at the hub in the middle of the wheel. Most communication came through me. I interpreted stories and information from one point of the wheel for transmission to all the others. I took sole responsibility for articulating conversations, concepts and strategies in documents that were shared within and beyond the cluster.
From my experience facilitating community engagement art projects, we chose to go with this centralised model; however another coordinator could have used an entirely different approach with more or less success.
- With a centralised model of co-creation there is always one person clearly responsible for communication, project management and project outcomes. This makes it easy for cluster members and funding partners to know where to go for information or action. It also means that messages about the project are consistent because they come from a single source.
- Not everyone is comfortable speaking out in group scenarios. Group meetings can easily be dominated by one or two voices. Private phone conversations and emails on the other hand provided an intimacy that allowed people to share more personal stories in a safe space.
- As all the artists and arts workers in the cluster felt unable to give a lot of time to the RAPP program it was great to have someone paid to do the work.
- The main challenge with this model is that the collaborative as a whole is heavily reliant upon the central coordinator. If that central person is incompetent due to circumstance, lack of skills or suitable personality then the whole system will fail.
- The model is also vulnerable to the personal bias of the person in the centre. It meant I interpreted all information through my own personal lens, with my own personal prejudices and preferences. I may have misinterpreted meaning from one person and misrepresented it to others. While this was not intentional, it was always possible.
- There is also a huge burden of responsibility on the person in the centre of this co-creation model. It can mean that others within the collaborative take less (or no) responsibility for the course of the project.
- Another flaw in this model is that it lacks immediacy and direct connection across the ‘edges’ of the network. While I had the good fortune to feel connected with all points of the wheel, no one else had this same sense of interconnectivity.
- As the Co-Creation Stage had such a tight timeframe (far too tight) then it really only made it possible to have one Round Table meeting to make these connections and really workshop ideas collectively in the same space.
There’s more to this story, you can read about Cathy Cummins experience with the Aboriginal Arts Center Cluster here.
To find out more about the project Connecting to the Creative Grid click here.
“Being involved in the scoping phase for the Creative Grid has been invigorating and inspiring. Fiona’s ability to draw all the threads together of a very large, complex project; to sift out the key points of information and distil these to those involved has been outstanding. Through clear communication, updates and a number of conversations, we have felt very much a part of the development process, that our regional voice is being heard and that unmet needs within our community are being addressed. We are excited about the upcoming opportunities that will be presented as this project rolls out.”
Cait Stewart, Arts Narrogin