Actually it was two days; and it began more V-olcanic A-sh than Voluntary Arts for the Ireland team. The Northwest contingent (Kevin & Isobel) left home in the too-small hours without knowing if the airport was open. The Southeast delegation (Emma & I, Stephen in Belfast) had the news in at 4.15am that the airport was opening at 7am. But actually when we got there it was business as usual so we just about made it. Pauline came and went on Friday without the ash crisis.
Highlights for me included catching up with people, mostly. Although strangely I didn’t get to talk to everybody and it occurred to us that the Ireland team also needed catch up time. And not everybody was there which was a pity (but obviously not a highlight). The project presentations were great. No bias at all but Isobel was wonderful – particularly the bit about the woman who had volunteered as a tutor first at the Carrosyl Up4Arts Day in Enniskillen and then went on to run her own workshop in Enniskillen library in February this year. Daniel Carpenter whipped through the information products and such. Classy (again no bias). Fiona’s ‘Making Waves’ had it all going on with the website, funding allocation, case studies and development support. Laraine (Up4Arts presentation) has a lot to answer for because now two of the VAI team – independently of each other – are planning a take over bid of the BBC (and RTE, I notice). I look forward to hearing more about the VAW / OU collaboration. The walk to the junction of Wide Open Seaton Burn and Killingsworth was very pleasant; and Jacquy’s song at the end was also a highlight because at that stage like Van Gogh I had need to go out and paint the stars… or some artistic outlet.
The information officers meeting took place in the Gosforth Park Marriott. Not too shabby, as my nephew says. Great to have VAE Co-ordinator Mary Lowe sit in. The notes will be circulated in due course but three new things in motion. These are a new briefing on that most indispensable of Voluntary Arts Group gadgets – the phone (tele/mobile); a blog to bring together and make available all the great internet based things that mostly Paul and Daniel find; and the first stage in a process to shorten the road between our information and the people who need it.
Whatever…. Next? That was the question for the Away Day proper which like the Celtic Day began at twilight with Robin setting the scene with the aid of UK election memories, Citizen Kane clips and a change of t-shirt. We’ll be keeping the four main strategy headings (if you are in the VAI team you’ll only know about the promoting participation one). The information gathering for the new strategy was organised using open space-ish principles. The best conference I was at was the VAW Open Space conference in Gregynog (sp) but I can see it could be a challenge if you were a.. directive kind of person. More to the point on this occasion, my sympathies are with the person who is synthesising all the great things we’ve done and the big ideas for the future. It is worth to say again that the VAI team is promoting participation..my question is… what is everybody else doing??
We had a few hours to spare after the goodbyes so we went in relay to the Baltic. ‘The arts of nesting on a slender ledge’ was the best exhibit. Forget the polished (real) human bones complete with disturbing poetry. Forget the carousels of LED displays which seem to point to the vacuous ubiquity of catch phrases, positive affirmations and the internal monologue of human anxiety. Forget the way the industrial landscape looms large when everyone (!) falls in love (don’t think about it, the exhibition was bland). Instead go to the Kittiwakes who are madly nesting on an outside wall up high in the building. You can see them en plein air or go to the children’s bit where they have their own little Truman Show. You’d love to transmit a message human-to-gull to say there has to be an easier place to nest. Emma was a bit distressed about the poor critter who didn’t seem to be able to drop its nesting payload in case it’s beloved had left it but I’m not worried – it was a prime location for love with all that industrial landscape. And then we got languid in the gift shop and had to run (all up hill, I notice) across Newcastle, through the empty halls of the airport. And then home (well obviously we flew home). Great to have met everybody. Sorry to Pauline, Isobel and Kevin for running their legs off when it wasn’t absolutely necessary for them.
Finally (part 1), I thought that it was really good to have gone with our own great facilitators – though interested to know how the experience was for them. The project presentations were a fabulous idea (more of that). I wondered, building on this, whether it would be good to invite an outsider or two. Not to facilitate and not people in opposition or indifferent to our work – but people that we might work closely with (a project that we might not actually organise but would be promoting; an enlightened funder, a partner/activist) who understand the benefits but would also be able to spot if we began to get too internal. And I’d ordinarily have been wanting a bit more art but am still scarred after the ‘creature-of-darkness’ logos that were produced last year…
Finally (part 2), in case you are wondering I haven’t take a sudden notion to blog (and about the Away Day) – Kevin asked me. Kevin I hope you weren’t expecting this in rhyming couplets.. Thanks to all for their good wishes re the poetry.