What we do

(top) Wolf’s Child, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2015. Photo: Steve Tanner. (bottom) The People’s Tower, Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2014. Photo: Chris Taylor.

Convening is at the heart of what we do. We believe that bringing people together in conversation has the power to inform, inspire and challenge people to do things differently in their own organisations, in our sector and in our communities. 

We convene space in regional Chapters and in UK-wide meetings, to bring together the breadth of voices/leadership (freelancers, small orgs, large orgs and policy makers) within the arts and culture sector, where challenge and possibility can lead to shared priorities and collective responses. What Next? comprises 12 regional Chapters operating across the UK, who meet regularly with their own local community. We also host regular UK-wide online meetings. 

Our convening leads to:

  • Advocacy: Shaping policy proposals & UK-wide & local strategies. We build the capacity (skills, knowledge & confidence) and access of those most impacted by policy (global majority, working class, disabled) to engage with policymakers in our sector and in government.   
  • Learning & modelling: Sharing and embodying systems leadership – We are a movement of peers in many different contexts with different specialist skills and experiences.  We build conditions for us to share good practice and to build systems leadership. 
  • Amplification: Championing actions that build equitable conditions for the arts & culture.  We work in close partnership with chapter chairs, sector organisations and other networks to champion and amplify campaigns across the movement. 

As a movement, we initiate conversations with policy makers, politicians, funders, academics, unions and sector bodies, and work with experts when we need to engage with specific agendas. We work collaboratively to write position papers and submissions to DCMS, HM Treasury, ACE, and other bodies about the value of culture to our society and economy, drawing on the consensus and arguments forged at meetings.

Activity we have delivered:

UK Wide Meetings: We produce and deliver bi-monthly UK-wide online meetings, these are programmed sessions on a wide range of themes. Recent themes have included:

  • The civic role of arts organisations and how this works in practice in the current climate, part of an ongoing series with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. View their latest report – The Civic Role of Arts Organisations Learning Report: From Inquiry to Movement
  • A session on democratic decision making led by Citizen’s in Power,
  • A takeover session on inclusive practice by the Jerwood Creative Bursaries Toolkit
  • A conversation on cultural policy with Thangam Debbonaire, Former Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
  • A listening exercise with the Department for Education and Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the Cultural Education Plan
  • A Q and A with the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Lucy Frazer MP KC
  • A Takeover session by The British Council – to give an overview of how they work with the UK and international arts sector to support creative and collaborative global communities that inspire innovation, inclusion and enterprise.

Regional Chapters around the UK

Our Chapters across the country have continued to convene digitally and locally to shape and debate the future of the arts and culture. Examples of activity include: the Brighton Chapter creating a ABCD plan for the future of culture in the city, the Wandsworth Chapter delivering a programme focussed on Grief, Mourning and Remembering, the Bath Chapter focussing a series of sessions on education and learning. We work with our Chapter Chairs to develop our peer-learning network.

What Next? has been a leading partner in the Freelance: Futures Symposia Consortium which looked at how to build more equitable conditions across the whole cultural workforce. As a core-consortia member we contributed to strategic planning and direction, design, logistics and marketing, as well as developing our own programme strands.

We produced and delivered a number of national meetings led by freelancers from across the sector, with Arts Council England, Freelancers Make Theatre Work, Migrants in Culture, Equity, the TUC, Culture in Crisis, and the Policy and Evidence Centre, Creative UK, the Welsh Government, and the Mayor’s Culture Team.

We also ran a Policy Roundtable with Lord Parkinson, the Former Minister for the Arts, and with the DCMS and Arts Council England, drawing from all of our sessions and from the themes and issues that had been raised across the symposia. One of our North East Chapter Chairs, Leila D’Aronville, chaired and curated a session on freelance networks.