This is the first in a series of blogs by Rachel Smith, sharing a bit more about the beginnings of Make/Shift and what it’s all about!
It’s almost eight months since I started in my new role as Creative Producer for Make/Shift. I had high hopes of blogging and sharing about these first months. But alas the weeks have raced by and here we are, already eight months in. It feels like time travels faster through newness. And there’s certainly been a lot of that. New job, new home, new place, new schools, new project, new team, new collaborators, new challenges … a whirlwind of newness that has gobbled up time at a voracious speed.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky to work on lots of new beginnings. Setting up new programmes, projects & teams. I’ve learnt (sometimes the hard way) how important beginnings are. They set the tone and the trajectory for the future. They contain a potent mix of energy, naiveite, possibility and strategic momentum, counterbalanced by a healthy dose of confusion, messiness, uncertainty, and practical challenges.
This combo can feel overwhelming at times, and yet starting out with Make/Shift, I’ve tried really hard to relish and to linger a little longer in these uncomfortable beginnings. These are complex, messy, challenging times. We can’t pretend we don’t know this. Stewarding resources and beginning something new within this context feels like a huge privilege and a massive responsibility. Ploughing forward in a linear way, isn’t helpful right now. So, we’re embracing the messiness, resisting the urge to rush into solutions, remembering that the process matters, that how we’re being and organising matters, that relationships and stories matter and that if we want to shift towards different outcomes, we must start differently too.
So What’s Is All About?
When you start something new, the inevitably question on everyone’s lips is, so what’s it all about then? And with something like Make/Shift, it’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The whole point is that we have to make it together. If we started out with a set idea about what we wanted to do, we wouldn’t be doing our job properly. And yet, it’s so much easier to talk about defined outputs and tantalising things, and so much murkier to talk about how we’re working and what might become possible over time.
In those moments, when you only have a couple of minutes to answer the question, it can feel incredibly frustrating (for everyone!) not to be able to give a simple answer. There feels like such a tangible correlation between not having clear answers and a sense of shame, failure and disappointment. And yet it’s amidst these unknowns that the magical things can start to happen and that the real possibilities start to emerge … so here goes with a bit of an explanation!
Communities and their creativity
Make/Shift’s purpose is to put communities and their collective creativity at the heart of making positive change in the places that they live.
We think that when people have the opportunity to create, make, do and share what they love with their neighbours, connections grow (with self, others & place) and change becomes more possible.
We’re part of a national action research programme called Creative People and Places funded by Arts Council England. The programme is about more people taking the lead in choosing, creating and taking part in creative and cultural experiences in the places where they live.
We’re at the beginning of shaping a 10-year strategy with communities in Amber Valley, and we have funding secured until April 2025 for phase 1 of working together. Testing ideas, learning through doing and building the foundations for a thriving network of makers, doers and connectors to grow. Rooted in Amber Valley and reaching out beyond.
A place full of makers, where everyone’s creativity matters.
“Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives” Joseph Beuys
We start from a belief that we are all creative, that everyone is a maker, and that making together is an elemental part of who we are and how we contribute to shaping, and being shaped by the places we live.
We also recognise that the places we live, work, learn and play are often designed to dim this creativity rather than nourish it, and that many of our daily interactions position us as consumers, users and subjects, rather than as makers, doers and active citizens. In his book “Citizens”, Jon Alexander shares that the average person sees somewhere between 1500–3000 messages a day, telling them they are consumers. What might become possible if we lived in places where we received 3000 messages a day that told us that we are makers, creators, growers, and producers instead? What would it feel like to be part of places designed to nurture our inner maker and fan the flames of our collective creativity? What might become possible, if a vast array of different types of creativity mattered. Both in terms of its value and in terms of its physical manifestation as part of shaping our everyday lives?
Q: What if we could all be part of places where a vast array of creativity matters as part of everyday life?
Rekindling the maker in everyone
“The potency that comes from doing and making things yourself is irresistible, and means that we can face future challenges with originality, daring and joy” — David Gauntlett
Over the next 10 years we want to work with communities to discover, connect, nourish and let loose their creativity. We are all bundles of potential waiting for the right conditions and connections to make magic happen together. Just like a flame, our creativity needs to be tended to, connected with the right elements and kept away from the wrong elements, in order for it to be kindled, glow more brightly and spread it’s warmth!
Much of our focus will be on working alongside communities to make, do, create, repair, grow, share, care for and connect with what matters to them in the places that they live. Learning together about what’s already working, what’s wanted, what the future needs, what’s missing and what’s getting in the way.
Q: How might we work together as neighbours to rekindle the maker in everyone?
Letting creativity loose to shift the direction of where we’re heading
“The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently” ― David Graeber
As makers, doers, creators, producers we can activate our personal and collective agency and begin to craft our own stories and futures. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are can change everything. Absorbing 3000 messages a day from marketing companies, service providers, brands, public agencies, schools, workplaces and more … that position us as users, passive recipients, consumers and needy beneficiaries of their products, services and wisdom is like chucking a massive bucket of water over our inner spark.
The relationships and stories that we’re inside of matter. The stories we tell ourselves about who we are matter. Untangling our creativity from the dominant stories, power dynamics and systems that keep us trapped in solutions that aren’t working, matters.
If we want to shift towards healthier futures, we have to shift away from the delusion of exceptionalism and the idea that there are only a few extraordinary people, organisations, places who have the ideas, answers, solutions & creativity needed, and start telling the story of ordinary people, everywhere, who are capable of extraordinary things together.
Q: How might we let loose the collective creativity of our neighbourhoods to shift us towards healthier futures for people and planet?
We know where we need to start (with communities and their creativity) and we know where we want to get to (places full of makers, where everyone’s creativity matters) … but there’s a whole load of unknowns to navigate in between.
This is the work!
And this is where being an action research programme comes in.
We don’t have the answers. We’re here to learn together. By doing lots of different things together, taking the time to monitor and understand what changes (or doesn’t!), and then doing more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.
To help guide us along the way, we’ve created the compass above, that brings together the values that we want to lead with, the approaches that we’re committed to taking and the underlying stories that we want to bring to the fore in our work. These will shift and grow as we start to involve more and more people in shaping them together.
We think that focusing deeply on how we’re being and what stories we’re telling is one of the most powerful ways we can create the conditions for change. In many ways, given the complex nature of communities, places and change, these are the only things in our direct control.
So, What Shall We Make Here …?
Well, this is something that we can only figure out together …. and we can’t wait to find out!
If you want to find out more, have a chat or share your ideas, get in touch!
A place full of makers, where everyone’s creativity matters as part of everyday life.
Working with communities to make, do, create, repair, grow, share, care for and connect with what matters to them in the places that they live. Working together as neighbours to unleash the maker in everyone and let the creativity of Amber Valley loose.
Things can be different than how they are now
Things are better done with others than individually
I am because we are. We each owe a duty of care to those around us, as human beings, and to our natural environment
Our future is in our hands. As makers, doers, creators, producers we can activate our agency and craft our own stories and futures.
Starting With Strengths: We will start by making visible the hidden assets of communities and by shining a light on assets that are not yet sufficiently valued. From here we can explore together what might be missing and what might be newly wanted/needed.
How can we start with what we already have?
Moving at the Speed of Trust: We know that relationships matter and that building relationships takes time, patience and relies heavily on trust. To collaborate and make meaningful work together can be hard and throw up lots of challenges and vulnerabilities.
How can we take the time that is needed to get to know people and build safe spaces and high levels of trust?
With Not For: We want to build genuine, reciprocal, equitable collaborations with communities. This means paying close attention to context, power and positionality and making sure that there is a two way exchange of knowledge and resources.
How can power flow differently so that it is shared more diffusely?
Learning From Nature: We know that nature has been organising and growing healthy ecosystems for millions of years. We want to learn from more than human ways of organising, to help untangle ourselves from dominant stories and systems that keep us trapped in solutions that aren’t working.
How can we use nature as a model and mentor to re-imagine how we are being, doing and learning together?