Arts of being

Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem

Sowing a garden for a healthy performing arts ecosystem 2560 1701 markeloptah
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Last December we got invited to facilitate a session in our hometown involving Baratza, an independent theatre, and its surrounding community. Baratza (vegetable garden in Basque) was born 6 years ago with the intention of being an active agent in the contemporization of performing arts in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Since then it has actively engaged with cultural, artistic and civil organizations in the city in several projects regarding education, cultural programmation and artistic support for creators. After these years a little bit of the initial energy and focus has been lost in the process. Moreover, the ecosystem has evolved as so has Baratza’s potential users and audiences. During the last months they have been realizing and effort to mediate and attract new people to the room but these efforts are yet scattered.

In the context of the celebration of its anniversary, we were invited to facilitate a session involving various actor from the ecosystem such as: civil servants, creators, audiences, staff… The facilitation proposal was orbiting around two important elements:

  • A narrative metaphor regarding the care of a vegetable garden and the health of soil and, generally, the ecosystem in which is embedded. This narrative vehicle helped workout some future guidelines for Baratza’s strategy from an ecosystemic perspective. For doing so we used the panarchycal framework and the life cycle of a project as the basic unit. We used some of the notes and tips offered by Liberating Structures materials.
  • The use of performing elements as well as environments. The workshop was celebrated in one of the rooms used as a theatrical stage. A lot of attention was paid to keep the scenic aesthetics in lights, space distribution, music… For setting up a final presentation of the scenarios developed in the session we suggested the use of a “lambe-lambe” miniature theatre set-up. This last element was not heavily used due to the lack of time.

Agenda for the session

12.00 – Ice breaking games

12.20 – Presentation of the agenda and the ecological cycle.

Relationship with natural cycles. Creative destruction. Feeling what is about to be born. Letting go of what is already of no use to us. Creative process.

12.30 – Facilitating the dynamics: maintain, grow, destroy, be born…

We will create some profiles of people (creator, producer, neighbour of the neighbourhood, neighbour of Vitoria, political/cultural). Current needs will be identified and latents from which the model will be filled with actions and interventions. In order to sort out the proposals the elements that must take part in a healthy ecosystem (entities, relationships, resources, knowledge…).

13.15 – Baratza 2022 – Elaboration of everyday life situations involving future Baratza.

Each group will take one or more actions and images of the Baratza that is about to be born and will materialize it in a particular everyday situation that will design, create and will be staged in the Lambé Theatre in the middle of the room.

13.45 – Presentation of scenes at the public and closure

Collective presentation and open space about what each has to contribute to those scenarios.

Some of the results and conversations

Industry Paradoxes. Need for freedom and flexible and emerging creative processes but dependence on public sector funding which is governed by particular tempos and cycles and needs of control and reliability by the creators.

How can we leave the necessary space-time but still ensure a timely harvest?

The need to nurture creative communities and act as such. Re-weave networks and put in value those connections. To make the metaphor of the orchard a mark of Baratza’s work in the creative ecosystem.

How do we rethink our role as community weavers?

The need for updating and access to different publics that the room usually accommodates. Finding ways to access the most young people from their languages without losing the essence of Baratza. We can’t try to cater to new audiences from the vantage point of the past.

How do you learn to let go and make room for new coming, with its new forms, codes and practices?

The apparent paradox between artistic realization and offer a cultural product accessible to a majority.

How to generate cultural experiences that evolve with the understanding, trust and experience of the public? How to find joint maturation processes between the works and the public?

The connection to the neighborhood remains a non resolved issue. There is a desire to articulate it but lack the energy or the channels to do so. Energy is a scarce commodity. It was widely discussed where to put the energies. A very intensive event in terms of investment in a short time or a more leisurely performance and distributed over time.

What other ecosystems or energies already present in the neighborhood could be symbiotic with the ones we want to nurture in Baratza?

Search for hybridization spaces and contexts with other practices or complementary knowledge. Public institutions, academic institutions, companies, organized civil society, etc.

How could we give away our knowledge and know-how to other orchards and/or other professions?

Facilitating change: a workshop

Facilitating change: a workshop 1500 1000 markeloptah
Reading Time: 5 minutes

My last weeks have been focused around two main tasks and deliverables: the course on design transitions we are facilitating in the Masters in Design for Emerging Futures and the development of a workshop around facilitating, participatory leadership and art of hosting which I conducted for inèdit.

These past weeks I have being lagging behind a bit with the registration of my learnings in these platform. I guess I need to get used to it and acquire the habit. While writing this an oppotunity comes to my mind relative to exploring behavioural science and the power of habits to apply it to my own process. The past decades of management theory have focused a lot on the individual agency and power of will to change organizations and systems. Dozens of books targeting productivity, personal habit change and self-growth can testify that.

Some of ours latest work focused on Social Practice Theory and Transition Design aknowledges the tension between structural approaches to change and those based on individual agency and proposes an integrative change theory. One that builds on routinized behaviours being collectively modeled, evolved and created by their carriers during time. This model recognizes the power of structures in setting the framework for practices to emerge or transform: material reality (ex. physical infrastructures), mental models and collective imaginaries (through propaganda, mass media, control…) or access to education. But it also gives space for niche enactments of practices to transform the status quo. This article bring some interesting points to the complementarities of socio-technical transitions and social practice theory.

One of the reason of socializing my learning process and trying to create a support comunity for bringing it forward is this. The need to approach it collectively instead of relying uniquely in my will, effort or capacities to carry this process. This week I will try to organize a kick-off meeting with all mentors so they can also meet to each other and, what’s more important, share opportunities for them to benefit from this. One of the main focus will be then to help them reflect about what they want to take from this project.

Geting back to the work that I have been doing last couple of weeks. inèdit offered me the chance to conduct a workshop around participatory leadership and facilitation for their workers. This gave me the opportunity to explore new ideas, and more importantly, reflect on passed experiences around facilitating change. I also had the chance to read couple of books that helped me frame the workshop. I will try to write a blog post this week with some of my takeouts.

«… leadership is the capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate.»

One of the most spreaded focus one spreading facilitation abilities is that that of allowing the access to tools, frameworks and methods. The underlaying hyptohesis in then that in order to collectively improve our leadership capabilities we need to find the right tools. Unlike that approach Otto Scharmer’s Theory U puts the stress on the «inner place from which we intervene» as the main focus. That idea was the starting point for the workshop: What if learning facilitation is about embodying soft technologies of self?

One of the slides used during the workshop. Based on Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.

While researching I found many approaches to change management through the recognition of organizationa as a social system. This is pretty evident in the case of the learning organization approach by Peter Senge but also present in the work from Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations or in Liberating Structures. What really caught my atention from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U was its phenomenological approach to systems in contrast with my more habitutal scientifist outreach. For futher explorations I would like to get a little bit deeper into the spiritual dimensions of these approaches. A good amount of modern theories of management have a spiritual and new-agey tint that has traditionally left me a little bit skeptic. Further explorations of this may start by exploring Integral Theory by Ken Wilber, which is an inspiration for Laloux’s work.

“I would say that Theory U is something simple. It’s phenomenology applied to systems reality, not systems science. It’s the reality of our systems. That’s why sensing matters.”

Structure of the workshop

The workshop was conducted around four key soft tecnologies of the self that are crucial for a good facilitation.

  1. Hosting: creating, charging and mantaining spaces
  2. Listening: suspending judgement and extending perceptive organs
  3. Generative dialogue: the power of questions, reframing and collective creativity
  4. Improvisation: leaving space for what’s emerging

While designing the structure and dynamics of the workshop I was really aware of the need to lead from the example. That’s to say the workshop needed to be well facilitated and illustrative of the core ideas. It also needed a three fold epistemological movement between learning by experiencing the ideas, embodying the ideas by generating a generative dialogue about the contents generated and clinically analysing the dynamics of the social field that emerged and how they were treated or facilitated.

Having all these premises in mind the program which follows was designed.

Intro 10 min 9.45 – 9.55

Hosting – Crear, cargar y mantener los espacios. 90 min 9.55 – 11.15

  • Check-in. 20 min 9.55 – 10.15
  • ¿Qué significa facilitar? mental landscapes 40 min 10.15 – 10:55
  • Teoría 20 min 10:55 – 11.15

Listening: suspending judgement and extending perceptive organs.  70 min 11:15 – 12.25

  • Video 10 min 11.15 – 11.25
  • Theory 15 min 11.25 – 11.40
  • Exercise 1 15 min  11.40 – 11.55
  • Exercise 2  30 min 11.55 – 12.25

Generative dialogue: the power of questions, reframing and collective creativity. 45 min 12:25 – 13.10

  • Theory 15 min 12.25 – 12.40
  • Exercise : Frame- storming. In search of a more beautiful question. 30 min 12.40 – 13.10

Improvisation: leaving space for what’s emerging 5 min 13.10 – 13-15

CODA 5 min 13.15 – 13.20

CHECK OUT – 10 min 13.20 – 13.30

My outcomes

It was a very good chance to reflect about the experiences of the previous six years in which I have facilitated dozens of processes both long term and concrete interventions. I also had the chance to settle some concepts and ideas through the reading of some books and articles. In general I am quite happy about the result. People were engaged enough with som exceptions.

One thing that could have been better is the taking care part of the workshop. During one of the dynamics the topic of bullying emerged and then it caused some personal and emotional reactions from the participants that didn’t help. Taking care of the group is a basic task for facilitators. I was not present enough to see it coming.

I would like to keep exploring facilitation maybe during the next months I could attend to an Art of Hosting event to keep practising. I would also be a good idea to do some research (or sensing journey) to speak and observe proficient facilitators in their elements.

More resources

Here you can check the internal document which has some side coaching questions for facilitating the workshop.