The importance of looking ahead (and of looking back too)

tracks in the snow showing the path an animal has takenI’m over half way through my Clore Fellowship – its six months since I began.

This came as a shock to me yesterday as in my head I’m still just at the beginning with loads of time still to learn new things and put stuff into practice.

My next thought? If I’m already half way through, shouldn’t I have done more, changed more, be further along my ‘journey’? Shouldn’t I be going faster, catching up?

When we are on our journey (and we are all on one, even if we don’t acknowledge it), we often think we are just starting out. We assume the road ahead is longer that the road behind. We think of all we have still to learn, still to do, rather than looking back at what we have done, what we know and what we have achieved.

I’ve just gone right back to the beginning of this blog stream and read every entry (no, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you do the same!). I’ve looked at what I have done, what I have learnt, what I have reflected upon, what I have changed.

No wondered I’m knackered.

Doing this has given me a new sense of perspective on how I feel right now. Yes, I have so much more to find out about but I’m certainly not at the beginning. I’ve learnt an enormous amount in a short time – including plenty of information about me and how I operate.

So I’m half way through. I’m learning all the time.  And it’s not a race.

So instead of going faster and trying to catch up I’m going to do the opposite. Slow down and really look at the terrain I’m passing through.

Thanks to jenny downing for the image (I’m imaging another child spa in action here!) and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

Making choices, setting priorities – I know what I want (more or less)

a love heart in a splashing drop of water

It’s not physically possible to do everything I want to do right now. There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week. It just won’t fit.

Try hard as I might to set up my daily routine, I just can’t find another couple of hours in the morning. When I’m at home, I usually get up at six to walk the dog and sort my list of things to do for the day, so the idea of getting up at four doesn’t appeal. Equally, when I am not at home my routine is dictated by the space I am in, the work I am doing and the people who are around me. And I don’t want to cram in another couple of hours in the evening every night either – I’ve family too, who I want and need to spend time with. Basically, I can’t find more time.

Setting priorities

Yet I’ve got people I want to meet, books I want to read, events I want to attend, courses I want to sign on to, new things I want to find out about… If it’s not about time, its got to be about priorities.

So how best to prioritise? How best to work out which things on my ‘ohh I’d love to do that’ list are essential and which just desirable?

I quite like an idea I came across recently on Dan Goodwin’s CreativeCoach blog on making a ‘More or Less’ list.

It’s a simple idea, just listing on one side the things you want more of in your life, and on the other, the things you want less of. When faced with a whole stack of stuff I want to do, I’m checking which side of the list each thing brings with it – do I want more or less of it in my life?

So choices this week were whether to extend a five-day trip away by another day in order to catch a piece of theatre, which of the five books on my waiting pile to pick up next and how to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Using my ‘More or Less’ list, I’m sticking to the five days rather than extending it to six (I want to be less tired), reading Origins of Genius (I want more inspiration) and letting the kids plan, buy and cook a meal on Tuesday (hopefully fulfilling both the previously mentioned desires and also giving us more whole family activities).

And it’s that simple. Do more of the stuff you want more of, less of that you want less of. And that’s it. More or less.

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Having an impact: the time it takes to make a difference

A photograph from the duet 'The long and the short of it' with one tall dancer and one short dancerI get to do a lot of public speaking. It’s a great way of testing out ideas and people often come up afterwards and say, ‘oh, you made me think…’. Often, that’s as far as it goes.

About 12 years ago now, I spoke at a conference on Access to the Arts and asked what people were doing to engage disabled people in dance stating that this was not just a disability issue, it was for everyone – it was everyone’s responsibility to effect change. I can remember asking each member of the audience to take a moment – what were they going to do? When they left this auditorium, what concrete action were they going to take to become part of the solution, and not remain part of the problem.

Eight years later Janet Smith, then Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT), employed four disabled dancers within the main company for a season for a piece called Angels of Incidence – marking the first time a ‘mainstream’ contemporary dance company had done so. This was her response, her action.

It had taken eight years to emerge because change takes time – curiosity, thought, questioning, planning, convincing, piloting, testing…

This was the start of an incredible journey of discovery building on that first public step – embedding a new role within the company – ‘Dance Agent for Change’, a new work for the main company co-choreographed and danced by disabled dancers, a symposium on Pathways to the Profession in partnership with Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and much more. I really recommend you watch the short duet The Long and the Short of It (3 mins 46 seconds) with SDT’s Caroline Bowditch and Tom Pritchard to get an idea about the impact of the work.

I’ve been able to reflect on and write on this journey at a number of points; you can read an article on Arts Council England’s Creative Case site, the impact report I wrote for SDT on the Agent for Change role, or a review  of the symposium at Disability Arts Online.

Being able to travel alongside has been fascinating for me – and a chance to see exactly how little ideas can spread into action that can truly change the way that hundreds of people perceive things.

Janet Smith has just left SDT. Does that mean the journey is over? No way. New journeys are just beginning – for SDT and for Janet’s new home – as principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

Will I be following along? You bet.



Stretching out of my skin

A yellow snake with an open mouth - talking?You know how you think you know what you do and how you do it? And then something happens and you realise you could do things differently? You could do different things. You could do the same things but in a different way.

At the moment I feel I am stretching out of my skin.

I used to have a fairly set way of doing things. A set of rules that I needed to stick to. A fairly rigid way of playing. And at the moment that’s all up for change.

I’m working with different people on different things in ways that I hadn’t really thought possible before. I’m learning new words – and more importantly what they mean in both practice and theory. I’m learning new skills – how to stuff that I thought only ‘experts’ could do. I’m having new experiences – and finding that within them, my own past experiences are as valid, as useful and as relevant as anyone else in the room.

I’m finding out that I am more flexible than I thought. And equally, that other people are more willing to flex around me.

I’m loosing my natural sense of inferiority – which is fantastically liberating. What if I don’t always assume that everyone else in the room knows more than me? What if instead I value the knowledge and experience I have in other fields and throw that into the mix?

I’ve always said I hear like a snake (I wear a bone anchored hearing aid so hear through direct bone conduction). Now I feel I am becoming one too – growing a new skin and sloughing off my old one. Curious to see what I will look like…

Curator, curious and critic

A panel with the words curiouser and curiouser upon it, plus three toadstools and a butterfly.It’s no good, I’ve got to make a decision. What am I?

I’m having a real problem describing what I do at the moment. I was recently introduced at an event, and the chair of the panel I was speaking on just needed a quick sentence so she could do the honours. I’ve done my research, I’ve read the books. These kind of sentences shouldn’t begin: “well….”

Consultant, trainer, evaluator, researcher… none of these seem to adequately explain either the cultural sector in which I specialise or the creative approaches I take to the tasks that I deliver. The majority of my work is self-created – the rest responding to the opportunities of others. How do I try to put all of it into the standard time it takes a lift to go up two floors?

I’ve got three words I like, all beginning with C: Curator, Curious and Critic

Curator: I love this word and apply it to lots of the work I do. Not in the museum sense, but in a more content curation way; gathering things together, making selections and reframing them for a new audience.

There is a beautiful slideshow on the web created by Corinne Weisgerber describing this function way more eloquently than I could. Its what’s inspired me to aspire to the word.

Curious: being curious, staying curious. For this I have my long-term collaborator Sarah Pickthall of Cusp inc to thank. She taught me the art of always asking why, of digging deeper, of looking beyond the surface. And ohhh how much fun it is, how much more you learn, how much more you get. Can ‘being curious’ be a job? Again, it certainly describes much of my work.

I also love the quote from Alice in Wonderland: ‘ “Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).’ I know how she felt.

Critic: I am a critic; (hopefully) providing constructive and supportive commentary, analysis and comparison. I don’t like that the standard definition puts the negative usage first (‘a person who expresses an unfavourable opinion of something’) and the more positive one second (‘a person who judges the merits of artistic works’). It’s not always easy, the putting your head above the parapet role, but if you are clear about what you think I reckon you should be prepared to articulate it.

I prefer the spelling and sound of critique – but sadly its only applied to a process or a document (critiquer perhaps?)

What do you think then? Think I can get away with Curious Curator and Critiquer as a job title?