Where’s the artist?

10014578_10151955518951050_850719480_nThere was a moment during Bedford Happy which raised an interesting question; ‘Where’s the artist?

On Saturday, left behind, is the answer. The photographer we had documenting the day was taking a photograph of everyone involved – the Bedford Happy gang, the choir, Bedford Creative Arts production team, assorted artists, and so on. But me, the artist? Left out of it.

Talking to Lloyd Davis, who was helping document the day, we realised that in some ways, that’s the sign of a job well done. The social artist is an alchemist, mixing things up, making things happen, lighting the touchpaper – but a good alchemist doesn’t really want to be part of the bang itself.

But it’s important to remember that Bedford Happy was a work of art, not an event. It had a narrative, the stories gathered by the artist about what makes people happy, which were used to weave the day together.

It used the whole town as a venue, because that served an artistic purpose – to remind people, by using they spaces that they already knew in different ways, that they were special places and that Bedford, as a whole, is a beautiful place.

And it had a very strong aesthetic, a sense of beauty which held all the diverse parts together. (And that worked so well, one lady was overheard talking about how ‘those Happy people’ were everywhere. We were a small team – we weren’t. But the branding was that strong that it looked as if we were.)

So, where’s the artist? There, behind it, underneath it all, interwoven into the fabric of the artwork. So maybe not in the big group photo, but very much there.

PS This photo, taken later by the ace Graham Watson from We Can Creative, does have me in it – because I insisted. 🙂 

The Social Artist Podcast

Lloyd DavisThe trouble with being a social artist in a small town is that it can be rather solitary. And it’s an area of work that’s fed by discussion, debate, a bit of discourse. So – good fellow, fine chum and all-round top chap Lloyd Davis (left, photographed on our Workshop 24 project) have decided to address that, by having a conversation regularly, and recording it as a podcast.

Here’s the first one. A little rough, sans exciting jingles, and Lloyd sounds a bit quiet in places; but where else will you get happiness, Mary Portas, Jeremy Deller, Humphrey Lyttleton at Conway Hall, Bryony Kimmings, William Gibson on bohemias, the tidal Thames, The Story conference, a mysterious trunk belonging (maybe) to Powell-Cotton and the Arcadia Sweetshop all in one podcast? Nowhere, that’s where.

Download the Social Artist podcast – it’s about 30 minutes long – here.

A workshop that showed social media works

P1070426I’m often asked to talk about social media, and have discussed the subject at conferences, workshops and discussions for the last few years. I’ve never claimed to be an expert (I don’t think there are any, and certainly don’t think there are rules to follow). But social media is very much part of the work that I do, and is wrapped into everything Revolutionary Arts has ever done since we created artistsandmakers.com, which let users set up a profile and create their own content. So I have some practical, grounded experience to share.

But as a social artist, I don’t think just talking about social media is enough. It only really works when you couple the words with some action. Like the Pink fairies say, ‘Don’t talk about it man, all you gotta do is do it’. I’m a social artist because I want to make things happen.

So when long-term collaborator Steve Bomford asked me to come back to Portsmouth for Global Entrepreneurship Week I said yes – as long as we could do more than talk. I wanted to bring together people who wanted to learn more about social media, find out what they had in common, and create a live project by the end of the workshop. So about twenty people, with diverse experiences and skills, came together at Portsmouth’s impressive Guildhall in November.

I thought we might get a Facebook page, or a Flickr group, or some kind of funky mashup. But Portsmouth’s finest creative minds went one further, and used social media to create a one-day busking festival, Southsea Sunday.

The event, just a few weeks after the workshop, focused attention on local shops and cafes in the run up to Christmas, and raised funds for Southsea’s Food Bank.

Even better, the gang that met at the workshop are still working together, and are planning what’s next:

So one afternoon, a good room with coffee and biscuits and reliable wifi, and you can not only learn what social media is and how it works, but test that in action and have some fun doing it. I’d love to repeat the workshop  elsewhere and see what a different twenty people come up with. Get in touch if you’d like that to happen.

Rules of Social Media

I was invited back to Portsmouth’s creative networking night Gloo yesterday. I’m honoured; I’m not often invited back after a first visit. The theme of the evening was ‘social media’, with a range of people talking about the how, why and where of using Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

So I wrote the Rules of Social Media. And here they are:

1.Social networking isn’t an online thing, it’s the real world; it’s about talking to real people. Just more of them than you’d find in the street.

2.It’s not about broadcasting; it’s about conversation, collaboration and creation.

3.Do it all the time, especially when you’re offline; carry business cards, create real events, spread the word. Evangelise.

4.Because it’s the real world, be honest and considerate. Hype, bullshit, arrogance and bluff will be found out.

5.Share. Give stuff away, pass interesting things on. Like an explorer of the internet, create maps for the people following.

6.Don’t believe people who tell you ‘these are the rules of social media’ – there are none, we’re all making it up as we go along.

How the Lib Dems might just fail

It’s been an exciting few weeks for British politics. After a few years in which a low, dirty Labour party have dragged British politics to new depths (not listening to a million anti-war marchers, shaping legislation around the needs of big business, breaking the economy, massive national debt and mismanaging shameful expenses claims for example) it looked like the forthcoming general election would see the usual low turnout, apathy and indifference.

Until Clegg spoke at the first Leaders Debate. He’s woken people up, inspired them to think about a real alternative and consider voting differently. Sadly, his party could get the most votes but not the most seats under our shabby electoral system, unsurprisingly skewed in Labour’s favour.

But I don’t think that’s the biggest problem. I was a very early Obama supporter, and followed his march to the White House with great interest. The key to his success was learnt when he mobilised people for community action in Chicago. Systems were in place from the start for mass communication, and to mobilise a growing army of supporters. That system was clearly scaleable and future-proof. Obama took millions around the world with him as he marched.

Clegg and the Lib Dems, however, don’t seem to have figured for becoming popular. There’s no system in place to get posters to local supporters, let alone mobilise those people into a mass door-knocking campaign. The Lib Dem party can’t maintain at a grassroots level the momentum it has at the top. Unless they move quickly, their inability to manage their own election campaign will seriously dent their credibility.