Beat Beethoven – Fundraising and Running for Sport Relief

This Friday 13 March, I’ll be heading down to Salford Quays to do a charity 5k with a bit of a difference.

In Beat Beethoven, runners need to complete the 5k course in less time than it will take the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which they’ll be doing live in the studio at MediaCityUK (and broadcasting it live on Radio 3). A quick google through some existing Beethoven 5 recordings suggests that the average time is around 33-35 minutes, so while I run 5k quite often, this will need to be a little speedier than normal!

Beat Beethoven is in aid of Sport Relief, an event which raises money to help vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. The larger part of my run entry is already going towards the charity, but I wanted to set up a Justgiving page to try a get a little bit extra donated, if anyone would like to donate. You can find my JustGiving page here.

You can also find out more about Beat Beethoven (and join in via the Radio 3 broadcast – even if you can’t be at MediaCityUK, you can do your own personal run) here.

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Image BBC Radio 3

Cultural Exchanges and the European Parliament – Meeting MEPs

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A board in Brussels Charleroi Airport celebrating the 2019 European Parliamentary elections

Yesterday (Wednesday 22 January) was my last day in Brussels meeting with MEPs at the European Parliament about keeping close ties between the UK and EU after Brexit, in particular looking at how free movement can be preserved, especially since our arts and cultural industries rely a great deal on close ties to Europe. 

You can read my account of the meetings we had with MEPs on Tuesday 21 January here, and my initial post on issues around Brexit and the arts here. 

Since the Tuesday post was so long, I actually had to leave out quite a bit! As well as the meetings, we also were able to attend a set of presentations around hydrogen fuel as a potential green energy source, first from lobbyists with the WWF, looking at specific industrial uses for the fuel, and how they could work with the existing gas industry, then from researchers at MMU on how they are creating resources for schools to teach about hydrogen fuels and their uses as part of their main science curriculum. There were a number of Green MEPs in the room who asked some quite searching questions about the research and industry support behind it – getting to see a bit of behind the scene European Parliament work in this way was really interesting, even if it was a long way from my reasons for visiting.

We also had a presentation with some details on how the EU works – how the parliament votes, how the different cross-parliament political groups form, what they can and can’t legislate on. It’s certainly true, if a bit embarrassing, that most people from the UK couldn’t properly explain the difference between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council (differences that are taught in schools in other countries) so it’s actually a requirement that all groups visiting the EU Parliament have to learn a bit of this! 

Meeting with Terry Reintke

Now I’m all caught up to Wednesday, where we had one meeting with an MEP, German Green Party member Terry Reintke. Like the other EU MEPs that we met, she expressed her sadness at the UK MEPs leaving, as apparently many of them are considered extremely hard-working and have a big presence on various committees within the European parliament.

Terry has been involved in setting up a friendship group for current EU MEPs and soon-to-be former UK MEPs to keep in touch – she already has a list of 75 MEPs and would like to sign up at least one from every member state. In addition, she wants to make sure that they can be a point of contact for UK citizens living in EU countries, especially with the current levels of mistrust around the withdrawal agreements. 

She believes that, in particular, keeping the Erasmus programme going is vital, and this led on to a great conservation about the importance of cultural exchanges in keeping close and positive links with European countries. My father was at the meeting and talking about his (and my) volunteering work with sail training organisations, and in particular about Sail Training International’s Tall Ship Races, which has spent years bringing young people from different cultures and backgrounds together to a commons goal.

Overall, it feels like much of the EU understands that there are many people in the UK who want and need a close relationship with our European neighbours, and there are many MEPs who are happy to help facilitate this as far as they can, but we and they recognise that the final decisions are down to the UK government. Getting the chance to meet MEPs, and to give facts, figures and testimonies on how free movement will benefit all of us was an immense privilege, and I hope that when added to all of the stories, reports, analyses and more about the effect of Brexit (on all walks of life, not just the arts sector) it might help in some way.

I’d also like to say a big thank you to all of the MEPs and their staff to took time out to arrange meetings and talk to us, in particular Gina Dowding, Green MEP for the North West, who sorted out our group visit and passes. I’d also like to say a big thank you to the EU Civil Service, who showed us round parts of the Hemicycle building and gave a great presentation on the inner working of the EU Parliament and European Council. I’m so glad that the UK team members over there are getting to keep their jobs, but I’m sad that more talented British and Northern Irish folk won’t be able to join you any time soon.

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This preserved section of the original Berlin Wall sits in a park next to the parliamentary buildings – a reminder of hard borders past.

 

The Arts and Brexit – Meeting MEPs at the European Parliament

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Outside the Hemicycle building at the European Parliament (8.30am in the morning)

Today is the first day of meeting MEPs in the European Parliament, along with various political activists from the North West, and a number of Manchester Metropolitan University students. As an arts professional, I have a lot of concerns for the creative industries and it’s reliance on free movement around Europe to produce the world-class art, music and and culture that brings in a great deal of money (£10.8 billion in 2019) to the UK economy. You can read more about some of the ongoing issues and questions for the industry in my previous post here.

Morning Meeting with Green MEPS

Firstly, we met with UK South West Green MEP Molly Scott Cato and and Swedish Green MEP Per Gahrton.

Molly spoke about being ‘in the middle of a grieving process’ as well as angry at the direction that the country has taken. She has been working on behalf of the EU to look into tax evasion, and building sustainable finance – passing those reports onto various governments. She mentioned that while no-one is irreplaceable, she is heartbroken not to be continuing to use her skills in these areas, especially with the issues now facing businesses in the UK. For example,  working outVAT is now a huge problem for small businesses.

When asked about what she thought would happen next, Molly said she felt that Brexit would have to ‘play out in its worst fashion’ to dispel any lingering myths about the EU and its supposed disadvantages. She also mentioned her concerns about the media, whom she felt had failed to report on important political victories and legislation that UK MEPs had achieved.

Per, however, seemed more optimistic and spoke about the long history of cooperation between the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Ireland.

There wasn’t much discussion of the free movement issue, although on the end of Molly’s speech I did raise a question of how they would go on trying to inspire young people through the issues of political uncertainty and the climate emergency. Though there are many young people throughout the UK and Europe getting involved in politics and activism, the fact is that a very large proportion of 18-25s simply don’t vote, and many of those are in communities which may feel the worst effects of the Brexit fallout.

Finally, when asked by activists on what they felt MEPs and pre-European citizens could do next, she stressed the importance of informal channels to build close relationships. Meanwhile, former MEPs would still have certain privileges such as entry to the EU parliament and certain events which would allow them to help British citizens in ways such as continuing to visit Parliament.

Meeting with Jane Brophy

Early in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet North West Liberal Democrat MEP Jane Brophy for a short catch-up, so I was able to talk to her, as well as a number of activists from Liverpool for Europe and Manchester for Europe, about the importance of continued free movement in the EU for the arts. We discussed how that will translate into documentation and issues at the border for artists travelling – especially when the onus is on artists to prove their professional credentials as the requirements may be too high for newer and emerging artists. Jane said that the EU is seeking reassurances on EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens in the EU, but no-one yet knows what the situation at borders will be like in the future – it certainly won’t be resolved in the next ten months.

Meeting with Theresa Griffin

NW Labour MEP Theresa Griffin definitely already understood the issues involved in the arts in the future, and was very sympathetic to the issues that I raised, as well as free movement for other industries such as healthcare. She spoke about the need to build pre-European grassroots movements, and also about how many MEPs from other countries have been really supportive, and are very glad to see pro-European Brits coming over to experience the European Parliament.

Meeting with Julie Ward

NW Labour MEP Julie Ward actually comes from an arts background, in particular working in outreach and with young people. She really understands the need for arts and culture to bring people together, to teach understanding, tolerances and good, positive citizenship, in particular finding ways for young people to carry on visiting other countries, learning from them and collaborating with them. She suggested that arts and cultural organisations in the UK should be making the effort to mark European culture in positive ways, such as Europe Day in May, or European Languages Day in September – creating events and initiatives which will carry on benefitting people both in the UK and abroad.

Overall, I feel like this turned out to be a positive day. All of the UK MEPs that we spoke to were clearly very despondent about current events, but seemed buoyed up by the support they have had from other countries. For my part, I’m glad I was able use this opportunity to speak about a very important part of the UK’s economy and society which isn’t being given due consideration by the UK government, and even if my words don’t have any individual effect, they might contribute to a greater whole.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be meeting a German MEP, Terry Reintke, and hopefully I’ll be able to get her perspective on the EU Parliament’s view around continuing free movement. I’ll do another blog post after the meeting, and some more details on my overall experience of seeing European Union politics in action.

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This sculpture is supposed to represent how the European Union works – each part leans on and is held up by another, and if one part moves, the whole structure would move.

Visiting the European Parliament – the arts and Brexit

Something quite different to recent posts! But this is an incredible opportunity and something very important to me on a personal and professional level.

Over the next few days, I will be visiting the European Parliament along with a number of university students, and various pro-Europe activists from around the North West. We will be given the opportunity to meet with a number of MEPs both from the UK, and from neighbouring countries, about how they see the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.

As an arts professional, I have deep concerns about how the UK Government is handling provisions for the arts and cultural sector in a post-Brexit world. Many feel that these concerns are a long way down the priorities list, and while central government is undoubtedly under a great deal of stress and a very tight (though self-imposed) timescale to nail down even the most basic elements of a trade deal, we are talking about an industry that was worth £10.8billion a year to the UK economy in 2019, providing around 363,700 jobs (More details in this Arts Council report.) 

One of the most pressing issues is around free movement for artists, performers and other professionals in the industry. This is something that many people have already written about in great depth, and I’ve linked quite a few of those articles below.

Touring abroad is an important source of income, experience and recognition for all kinds of artist. Even the Beatles got their professional start honing their skills in Berlin dance clubs, and since then UK bands, small theatre companies and performers of all stripes have been able to take advantage of the ease of travel around Europe. A no-deal Brexit will end that completely. Even Brexit with a deal could cause real problems. Smaller artists have written about the problems of touring – for example, coaches and minibuses may only be able to run with an ‘international operator licences’ which are available only to licensed bus and coach operators, not individuals, vastly increasing the cost of DIY touring. The huge amount of paperwork involved, much of which will need professional help such as customs agents to unpick and complete, will make European tours unsustainable. (See ‘No-deal Brexit may make touring Europe ‘unviable’ for UK artists’ for more details and insights on this.)

Frankly, the performing arts in the UK already have an increasing class-based issue – it’s a career path often open only those with financially supportive families or other incomes. Brexit can only make this worse, because that path to the continent, with the opportunity to collaborate with and study other cultures, build international contacts, experience and fanbases, will become much harder for those without ways to finance it, for a younger and just-starting-out artists who will need it most.

I spent quite a few years working in the classical music world, specifically around symphony orchestra. British symphony orchestras are highly regarded around the world, but due to a shortage of UK talent, orchestras have recruited from across Europe and beyond to fill their ranks with musicians skilled enough to maintain their reputation for excellence.

The UK government has already recognised this, as orchestral leaders, principal and subprincipal roles are on the skills shortage list, meaning that certain requirements and rules are waived when recruiting from non-EEA countries. 

Of course, we would all like to see more homegrown talent in UK orchestras, but for that, the UK will need to commit a lot more funding and resources to music education, something that does not appear forthcoming under the current administration. Even if this funding did exist, it would take time to develop that talent, time during which orchestras would still need to recruit overseas simply to continue to exist. The CBSO’s Chief Executive Stephen Maddock has written a great article about this and other issues facing touring orchestras in ‘Post-Brexit Britten? The CBSO’s guide to touring.’

The Association of British Orchestra’s report on the impact of Brexit to it’s members was published in April 2018, and posed many questions about uncertainty around touring and recruitment, which as of January 2020 have yet to be answered by the UK government. One very important point that it raises is how the UK also maintains an international reputation for excellence in teaching music and drama at a high education level. Many EU arts students travel to the UK for study, and many stay on for work.

The UK government website is deeply unhelpful around these issues, you can find the article here.

So, there is a pressing need for the UK to maintain a close relationship with the EU to ensure that our creative industries continue to thrive – that UK citizens be be free to visit, study and work in the EU, and European citizens have the same rights However, it doesn’t feel like our current UK government sees this as a high priority. So we come to this week’s meetings. I hope that I can impress on MEPs just how the current state of the arts in the UK benefits the EU, as well as the reverse, and see how they can find a way forward, for us and for them. I’ll take plenty of notes on my visit, and update this blog as soon as possible.

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Image: European Parliament Plenary Chamber. by ‘diamond geezer’. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Original on Flickr.

January so far (mini update)

Marketing Studying Update

So, we’re now a few days into 2020. I haven’t been doing a lot of new studying since my previous posts. I have been carrying on going through the study reading which I listed in my post ‘Reading Lists for December‘, so here are a few notes from one of the article that I listed ‘Putting Purpose at the Heart of a Brand‘ .

  • When you start a rebrand, the first thing to look at isn’t colours or font or logos, it’s the core purpose of your organisation. Workshops and discussions with staff, clients or audiences can help with finding that.
  • Outside help can be useful in taking away less important parts and helping you to focus on the most important parts of your organisation.
  • Building brand guidelines can help you move forward not just now but in the future.

What else is new?

Next week, I’m off to spend a week skiing in Italy, so I’m back on Duolingo to quickly brush up on some Italian phrases. I actually had Italian classes all the way back in primary school, but I’ve forgotten most of it, much like French and German in secondary school, I didn’t appreciate the opportunity at the time! But clearly the basics sunk in somewhere, and the grammar is similar enough to French for me to hopefully get by.

What’s coming up?

I’m about to have a few unexpected weeks of free time between job contracts, so I’m definitely going to try and use that productively. I think I’m going to try and do some intense language studying (probably French and German) while I have the chance, but I’m also going to keep with with social media articles etc. to post about on here.

Welcome to 2020

Happy New Year!

I just wanted to pop on there and get something down quickly – I actually wrote a blog post already today, but as it wasn’t New Year specific I thought I’d better schedule that for tomorrow.

I’m not planning on making any specific resolutions – funnily enough I was looking back on posts around the end of last year and I didn’t have any then either, except to complete my PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification, which I actually did get. 2019 was honestly a pretty good year in a lot of ways, and I’m hoping that continues through into a new decade.

In terms of learning, I’m continuing with the reading on arts marketing that I laid out in a recent post: ‘Reading Lists for December‘, and I’m also back on Duolingo, brushing up on basic Italian ahead of a trip to the Dolemites in a few weeks.

Other than that, I’ll be trying to continue this blogging streak – reading through articles, trying to set myself some learning tasks and goals, and keeping up with writing. The more I write, the better I get at quickly producing words!

 

Reading Lists for December

So, continuing on from earlier’s Email Marketing post, I’m continuing to spend the next few days studying around marketing strategies for the arts, and that means finally reading through some of the more well-known guides and case studies that are available for free via CultureHive.

The first guide I’ve been reading through is ‘Thinking Big! A guide to strategic marketing planning for arts organisation‘, which has been interesting in light of having recently had to create a full marketing plan for a heritage attraction. I basically started the marketing plan using an older plan as a template (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!) While I know I made the right decisions in terms of audience trends, SWOT analysis and main messages, it will be much easier to explain my decisions to non-marketing staff using the pointers and explanations from this guide, which I’ll certainly need to be able to do in the future. The guide is designed to help people of any level, from those just starting out in marketing through to senior managers and the chapters are laid out accordingly, but as my last post showed, it’s never a bad idea to redo the basics.

Next on my reading list is ‘Balancing long and short term marketing planning’, as I’ve been putting together notes towards a three-year strategy for my current role, and, in a very different vein, ‘Putting Purpose at the Heart of our Brand’. I haven’t been through a complete brand refresh at any of the organisations I’ve worked for, but it’s only a matter of time, so I’m making sure that I have plenty of advance knowledge and examples from other organisations.

Image: ‘Reading [Day 87] by gerlos, Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0). Link