What Next? for Conversations

2 November 2015

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Malaika Cunningham, What Next? Sheffield and Bare Project, talks about starting a What Next? Chapter, the Sheffield based Creative Guild and why you should join the conversation.

In July 2013 Teo Greenstreet, Ruth Nutter and I facilitated the first What Next? meeting in Sheffield. The theme was ‘Growth’. We asked along some local practitioners and strategic leads to provoke conversations and asked ‘what do you grow in Sheffield’, ‘what is growing well in Sheffield?’ and ‘how can we grow better?’ Sheffield Theatres agreed to host it and over 60 people turned up to take part. Discussion buzzed and there were even some dissidents!

Our motivations were based in provoking conversation and exploring what was happening in Sheffield’s cultural community, how it needed support and what that had to do to with broader society and social change. I’m a part-time political scientist and a part-time theatre maker so these questions have deep significance for me.

Within the first few meetings it became apparent that for Sheffield to examine these big questions a few more immediate, place specific questions needed to be addressed. Namely, the gross lack of connectivity and communication within the cultural and artistic community. It seemed that whilst Sheffield had a huge population of artists and creatives there was a gap in infrastructure that could facilitate collaboration or mutual support within (or indeed outside) the sector.

This is where the idea for the Creative Guild came from. The idea had first been raised within the Sheffield Cultural Consortium (made up of some of the larger NPOs and the Universities) the year before. In the What Next movement it found new life and a working group was put together to write a funding application, on which we were successful. We got that news in November last year. Since then the Creative Guild has officially become a co-operative, put together a voluntary Board of Directors, hired a staff member, put together a mission statement and is now busy with putting together a website and branding. We hope to launch next February/March time and build a broad and diverse membership amongst Sheffield’s creative community to help to address this gap in connectivity.

Meanwhile, the What Next? meetings have continued, with support from the Cultural Consortium. We’re moving back to our original questions and maybe even getting a little bolder. Our last session saw Valerie Monti Holland facilitate using socio-drama to ask the question, WHAT’S IN IT FOR US? Why engage with arts and culture?

Fundamentally, all our questions come back to connectivity. Working together to make change. Working together to make art. Working across sectors and silos. This has been the real value of What Next? in Sheffield, and maybe that’s true nationally as well. It’s got us talking- to each other and to those outside our own boxes.

These conversations need to happen. The What Next? movement provides a structure to feed into a national dialogue, but the conversations are happening everywhere and anywhere. So be a part of it. Find your local What Next? If there isn’t one, start one. The more voices there are, the louder and more interesting the conversation will get.

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