What Next Zoom Salons

What Next?

DAD: What Next? The Four Salons

One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude
—Goethe

It is May 2020, and amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all thinking about the future. Transformation is everywhere, but this time, it hums amongst the quiet streets, behind closed doors; emanates through white screens and during telephone calls. This time, it is without a body, shapeless: waiting to take form. For now, everything beyond ourselves feels intangible as our world shrinks to the spaces that we inhabit. Our home. A garden. The sound of birds. The closest shop. The walk nearby by the sea, or through the local park. And as our world shrinks, our focus shifts; our ideas have space and time to grow. Change is happening through conversations.

Four of such conversations were arranged during 2020 to discuss a myriad of topics relating to Dover, including the future of Dover Arts Development (DAD), an arts organisation which has devoted itself to the town. Artist-led, DAD is known for producing contemporary art of excellence, supporting artists’ practice and initiating cultural activity in the form of walks, exhibitions and events. DAD: WHAT NEXT? was designed to be a six-month programme of activity to explore ways of securing DAD’s future, made possible thanks to Arts Council England’s COVID-19 emergency fund.

The conversations, named ‘Zoom Salons’, were aimed to bring together artists, thinkers, residents and representatives of organisations for curated conversations about collaboration and ongoing partnership-working, the role of a local arts organisation post-COVID-19, climate change, a changing world, creative resilience and environmental responsibility. Co-director of DAD, Joanna Jones, described a salon as ‘a gathering of individuals connected to arts and culture, brought together by an inspiring host. Within a less formal atmosphere than most meetings, the group exchanges ideas and increases their knowledge through conversation’.

The first Salon came in mid-June, a few weeks after Dominic Cummings was spotted at Barnard Castle, flouting the lockdown restrictions that had been followed by the vast majority of the general public. The initial goodwill of the UK towards the lockdown was souring, along with the feeling that ‘suddenly, dreams and aspirations that we thought were fixed have evaporated’ (Philip Hutton, Architectural Historian). Events were still being cancelled, and the future of many industries still remained a question left unanswered. The death of George Floyd in the USA had ricocheted through the UK and Europe via social networks, causing a public outcry. People were restless and the cotton-wool sleepiness of lockdown was beginning to rupture.

‘Black Lives Matter was a break from the cosy feeling of lockdown. Suddenly there were thousands of people putting themselves and others at risk. People made a value judgement and decided to leave their homes and to take to the streets. That again was a powerful reminder of the power of real life. Nothing beats the live performance. You cannot replicate it. You cannot take a statue down online.’
— Gabor Stark, Senior Lecturer at UCA Canterbury

With our lives having been made inevitably more digitally saturated, it felt fitting to have a conversation based on how the national lockdown has changed the way in which we communicate, especially if this was to set the template of how we are to live in the future. DAD asked, ‘In living online, do we abandon the solitude that accompanies a less hectic life?’ Does the march of technology during this era make us vulnerable to a complete loss of privacy? ‘It can connect us when crises come up, but its impedance on our senses, seclusion and dignity is less well-known’.

Dover-based architectural historian Philip Hutton hosted the Salon, and speakers addressed how the lockdown had impacted them more widely and how some of the facets of lockdown life had shaped the Arts. DAD Co-Director Clare Smith said,

especially in the arts and the cultural scene, a lot of teaching workshops have been going on on zoom and it can feel as if it’s very flat. In a workshop, there are lots of materials to pick up and play with and feel, but on the other hand, Zoom is incredibly accessible.

If there’s something interesting going on in London, it’s often a lot of effort; lugging your stuff there, parking, etc. For anyone that is slightly disabled, it’s so off-putting. We ran a print festival and did two workshops online. Some of the feedback was how much easier it was to work in your own space, with your own stuff, making do with the things that you have at home. A few of the participants found it really good, and it certainly does make a difference. These are some unexpected plus points’. 

Gabor Stark mentioned that he was missing the spontaneity of the unexpected encounters that can bring shape to ideas:

‘When there’s no boundary between where you live and where you work, it all turns into one big bubble – talking to students, colleagues, friends. Beyond the efficiency of communicating online, I am missing the chance encounters that you have in your normal life. Running into people, or talking about things in an informal way – this is completely gone. Technology is very efficient but you only meet the people that you have to deal with or that you like anyway. All other encounters that we would normally have are not happening. I am missing these other moments, from unplanned contexts, where there was no invite and no agenda for the meeting. 

It was easy to finish a year teaching online, but it will be much harder to start a year in this way. I think that it’s easy to bring things to an end, but much more difficult to set up new things. For that, you often need chance moments where you run into someone; the unexpected, much more poetic moments. How do we instigate new things, rather than simply delivering the things that we are used to?’

This has been reflected in our current news cycle, with many workers reporting a struggle to maintain a work-life balance and set boundaries with employers. Charles Holland agreed with Gabor, adding ‘I did something with Gabor a week ago, and we got everything done, but it wasn’t quite the same; it was lacking the warmth, the social interaction, and the intrigue. The rigidity of the system means that a lot is lost.’ 

Our speakers were wary of the ‘compulsory nature’ of digital media, where ‘we always want to go faster’, as Philip observed. But you’re very quickly excluded from it if you don’t have access, or your internet speed is not sufficient. You can easily fall out of the channels of communication, Gabor noted.

“I have concerns for arts and cultural life. It’s not the same to look at a painting on a screen — you have to absorb it.”
— Garo Keheyan, Founder and President at Pharos Arts Foundation

There were grains of hope when looking more widely at the public acceptance of the dramatic changes to their every day. Charles noted that ‘Governments had hidden behind an idea that “we’re not capable of that much”, but now it’s clearly possible for governments to act, and for societies to accept certain restrictions or changes to our lives. When we look at the climate crisis, perhaps people will be able to accept these things.’ 

Interestingly, Zoom calls also appeared to reduce a sense of hierarchy. Jon Iveson noted that, at his place of work, he had been working with people from a wider variety of different areas; ‘the hierarchy structure has broken down to a degree — we’re talking to the person that we actually need the answer from, rather than that person’s boss.’ 

The salon highlighted that zoom calls and online events, while beneficial in some contexts, were brilliant for accessibility but could not wholly replace the sense of community and place that physical meetings and interactions enabled. Online events may have been expanded to new heights, but they can only ever be supplemental; it is clear that our salon speakers felt that an internet community could not form the basis of a local artistic community. The success of the zoom call itself was predicated on existing relationships.

DAD’s next salon focused on the ethics of invitation. They wanted to gather different perspectives from local art organisations who approach the aspect of invitation, addressing the question of who we do invite, why we invite, how we facilitate an invitation and what we offer with an invitation.

Accessibility is a huge point of discussion in the arts, and on the 23rd June 2020, when the salon was held, galleries were announced to reopen along with a ‘return of cultural life’ (The Daily Telegraph). Physically and legally, people were able to return and participate in events. But now, even more so than ever, we were keenly aware of the people that could not.

Touching on the topic of the first salon, Louise Webb noted the benefits of online events:

even if you’re thinking about doing workshops in different spaces, people’s time is always of value. Also, doing work online, you don’t have that extra travel time and cost. Meetings in London cost a train ticket and two hours of time, from Kent. Using online platforms can be a way to explore hospitality. How do we create a space that is enjoyable for everyone, let alone comfortable?’.

Louisa Love added, ‘I was thinking about the performance events that are available by Zoom. It feels like a really important way to break down the gap. Maybe there’s something quite intimate about that, the sense of informality that allows people to feel more comfortable and more able to participate in something that doesn’t have the same level of expectation, I think. The digital alongside the physical makes space and time and ability to be less of an issue’.

Dominic Pillai (Touchbase Care / Artist) also mentioned the language that is used in some arts spaces is often uninviting; words like ‘work’ and ‘practice’ suggest that you have to have qualifications or training in order to participate. For many arts scheme applications or funding bids, written skills are often used as a barrier for entry. Agreeing, Lisa Oulton (Future Foundry) added, ‘In a room full of artists, you often start with your education, your degree, where you’ve worked — to see where you sit in the art world. Everyone will know from that where you sit. Also, your language plays a role. With the social enterprise sector, it’s completely different. It’s all about what idea you have for change and what your problem is — what the barriers are to change’.

Cheryl Pierce countered: ‘That isn’t my experience of how workshops start, but I work in theatres. We might reveal ourselves through playing games. Instead of saying ‘Hi, this is my educational attainment’ you would get up and do something via a game. More of an icebreaker scenario, where you gather around the reason why you’re there in a room together.’

Street markets were cited as a way in for young artists from a wide range of backgrounds: ‘It’s more acceptable to parents, it builds networks, and people will come who need to make money’ (Lisa Oulton, Future Foundry).

‘We advertise on social media, but the best connections tend to be word of mouth. Especially with the arts, it’s intimidating to get involved. Word of mouth gets a few people involved, and then their friends get involved.’
— Lisa Oulton, Future Foundry

During the conversation, it emerged that many participants saw and appreciated the benefits of online spaces in the arts being widened in order for more people to have access to events and workshops. It also felt important for invitations to be as personal as possible and for an organisation to be approachable and hospitable in both its language and its outlook. Having role models from a variety of different backgrounds was also put forward as important for bringing people in who may lack confidence or who may feel that they’re not good enough to be an artist.

‘We asked ourselves: what will our communities look like in 5 years if we carry on in the same way?’
— Diane Dever, Folkestone Fringe

Joanna Jones shared her perspective on invitations and how it had changed and evolved while co-directing DAD with Clare:

When we first started, we had an open call thinking that it was the most democratic and open thing that we could do. We had been going for one year. We ended up with five people who were delighted and 65 people who were really upset. It was not a good start for us in Kent.

Even if rationally, you think “well, not everyone can get it”, still it leaves people feeling rejected. That taught us a lot. We have since worked mostly by invitation, we give smaller commissions or larger commissions, and so that’s one way that we have grown the organisation and given people chances at different points in their career.

I particularly wanted to create something that brought in all the people in Dover who have real intention in their work together and be able to include all of their styles. That was the motivation for the Park Bench project: everyone had the same size paper, upon which they made a drawing or wrote a piece of poetry from a park bench in Kearsney Abbey gardens. I invited all poets and artists that we knew of in Dover and the surrounding area and asked each in the invitation to give me the names of any we might not know of. We discovered artists that we didn’t know were here. Kearsney Abbey also did a callout. In all, 54 visual artists, poets and musicians took part.

Most recently, on the £17,000 commission for the West Wing at Fort Burgoyne, we used Curator Space and asked for an expression of interest. That was a very light touch. We asked what excited them about the place, a CV, 5 examples of previous work and something about their practice. The only thing that needed to be personalised was their enthusiasm for that place. We shortlisted five who were then asked to do a full project proposal and for that they each got £500. Rather than sharing the four runners up proposals, we decided not to, so that they could adapt their ideas for another submission’.

The Park Bench project focussed on bringing many members of the community together and utilising existing connections to bring even more people into a project. The Fort Burgoyne commission required an expression of interest, but it did not require the artists applying to complete a large volume of work should they not get chosen. From this discussion, a recurring theme was valuing and respecting the time of artists and, where possible, favouring approaches that emphasize a community working together on a project, rather than competing against one another for funding or acclaim.

For DAD’s next discussion, we ventured into the realm of architecture. The conversation was led by Charles Holland, who has trained as an architect in London and moved his practice, Charles Holland Architects, to Dover in the summer of 2020. Charles has been an integral partner for the CHALKUP21 project, Dover Arts Development’s Architectural Coastal Trail, which celebrates and brings awareness to contemporary buildings along the Strait of Dover.

‘What I really wanted to do is talk to everyone about how we start to place a value on buildings and places and placemaking and whether we want to conserve old ones or commission new ones and all points in between’.
— Charles Holland, Charles Holland Architects 

At such a time of great change and convergence for not only the town, but the country, it was wonderful to bring so many different people together to meaningfully discuss Dover and their personal relationship to the town as well as their working interest. What would the next changes bring, and who might shape it? As many flee the inner cities to move to coastal areas, the value that we put on architecture and landscaping seems especially relevant.

Featured as part of the conversation was a local historian and conservationist, a representative from the Port of Dover, local architects, council leaders, sustainable home developers and the Director of the Turner Contemporary in Margate.

Neil Wiggins (Port of Dover) spoke openly about the detachment between the seafront and the port:

‘Between roughly 1985-2005, Dover almost totally lost its direct connection with its own seafront and its own port. Part of the way that I look at it is: how do we get that connection back, get that flow back that moves freely and benefits both the seafront and the town centre?

Dover is my home, it’s my town, it’s where I went to school, and I so much want to see it take advantage of the potential that’s there and link it with beautiful views which also deliver on the core purpose of what a port is’. This was also reflected by Charles Lynch: ‘We don’t want a twenty-million pound bridge, we just want to walk from the high street to the seafront. Dover needs a vision and needs to know how to link up its fabulous places and to allow people to use them.’

What was perhaps highlighted again and again was a lack of shared vision for Dover, with many conflicting demands and voices tugging and pulling the town in different directions. Should we celebrate and value the frenetic energy of the seafront, with the freight trains coursing along the road, or should the town aim to create something that is more accessible to all? Is the role of the arts to lead people towards the existent beauty in a town, or is it to draw people towards a wider vision for what a place could be?

A bold and ambitious shared vision for the regeneration of a town was seen by many as important. Victoria Pomery (Director, Turner Contemporary), had seen Margate go through its own journey of regeneration after years of steady decline. Kent County Council, she said, had taken a bold decision to invest in cultural regeneration through the Turner Contemporary. Victoria noted that it was important to engage with the local community and that it ‘isn’t just about something on the surface’; the roots of the movement and the investment need to run deep, with lots of consultation and discussion.

Sarah Dance agreed, nodding towards the length of time that was spent within the Margate community before the Turner Contemporary was built; ‘it has to be embedded in the local community and in the local identity’.

Lucy Jones (Architect and Educator, UCA) spoke of a love for the details of the architectural projects; she loves the Turner Contemporary, but yet more, she loves sitting on the steps and watching the sunset. These are the details created with a wider picture in mind: not just a gallery, but something to directly add to the experience of the town for the local residents.

Dave Robinson (Dover District Council) added that ‘there is a need for a better quality of accommodation and a better public realm and places for people to go. But likewise, Dover has a housing waiting list as long as anybody’s. We have to get a balance: we could build nice houses, but that would keep people sleeping on their friends’ sofas’. Joanna ended:

The brilliance as I see it is to see what is happening and enrich it. I get a little jumpy around masterplans and imposing things on people; we link in, get to know people, see who is in the town, who is doing what, find the young artists, support them and bring in more experienced artists who share with them, all the time working on a web from different directions. Masterplans are often shelved, for the reasons Dave explained so well, and things seem to often grow, bit by bit, rather well and in interesting ways like collages.’

For their final Salon, Clare and Joanna brought artists together to discuss ideas for DAD’s role going forward and to consider how a possible steering group of others might be structured. Louisa Love was welcomed in her new role as DAD co-director and hosted a warm, convivial conversation amongst artists from Dover on 9th September 2020.

First and foremost, the ethics of acknowledgement was discussed: Clare and Joanna have developed an ethos which encourages artists and makers and makes them feel valued and supported. This was exemplified by the ethos in the zoom conversation: despite the digital format, there was a sense of cosiness; the projects that we had each been part of had evidently left a mark on everyone involved.

Gabor Stark said, ‘I have had the pleasure to have been on the receiving end of many DAD projects. As an artist, it was a luxury that these formats existed as you set them up. There was also the added pleasure of meeting other artists; always a bigger group of artists are brought together through a project. This for me embodies the spirit of DAD’.

The projects take time and take nurturing, but fundamentally, they are dependent on the people that are part of them. As Joanna said, ‘It’s important that we don’t get locked into managing projects and forget to take the moment to have a first conversation.  Most projects start from a conversation sometimes on a train as was the case with CHALKUP21; it’s like that, it comes from an idea and then the structure develops. You have to put enough structure in, but you don’t tie it down. Before you start, you don’t know where the expansion is going to be. You keep it as wide as you can without making it sloppy. A plus with DAD is we have a good track record on delivery. We have always delivered; if we have changed money pockets, we have always agreed that with our funders prior to doing so. 

I’m sure that being artists ourselves affects the way we run DAD; as an artist, you know yourself that you don’t want to be confined, you just need somewhere to start. Helen Lindon brought up an interesting point about the parallels between DAD and Extinction Rebellion.

You’re very inclusive, you’re not hierarchical at all, and it is your reputation as well for high quality and delivering on-time.
The Extinction Rebellion structure is extraordinary, and one might be able to think of DAD in a similar way. There is no senior management in it. It all happens at ground level. People come up with ideas and manage them themselves.
But there are some rules; very strong rules. If you are going to be part of the DAD family, perhaps you might have a set of criteria by which you build your piece of work. That is to follow the tradition of Clare, Louisa and Joanna in the way you behave. There is a set of manners that you’re expected to live by.
That’s a really important part of it, that’s the thing that you have to hand on. It’s keeping your reputation high, keeping the project highly professional and keeping it finished on time, those things’. 

Joanna noted that finding young people and giving them their first small commissions can be so important to fostering an artistic community and carrying the energy forward into the next generation; this re-iterated points that were made by Lisa Oulton (Future Foundry) about the benefits of markets and craftsmanship for building esteem. ‘It’s so important that someone actually wants you to write a piece of poetry when you’ve finished school. Instead of another family member saying ‘what are you doing that for’ it is an adult voice saying ‘keep going if it is what you want to do’.

‘DAD exists through word of mouth, through gatherings, through sharing and exchange’.
— Colin Priest (artist, architect & educator)

Interestingly, despite the architectural interest of Dover Arts Development and placemaking as a whole, a building or central hub was felt to be supplementary, rather than a necessity. As Gabor said, ‘DAD is where the art is. And as we all experienced today again: DAD is where the heart is.’ DAD had evolved without a fixed address, making Dover itself the base. The location is then a catalyst for events, which can bring more people into the artistic community, from the poets at the Park Bench project to the walkers and artists who joined the CHALKUP21 walks.

‘Accessing Dover is an experience. You need to go on the adventure with it to explore it. That’s part of Dover perhaps, and what the artists who come here love, and come back to again and again. The european artists love it and really connect with it. Dover …… you love it because maybe you feel it needs to be loved’.
— Joanna Jones, DAD

There is a quote that I like from Khalil Gibran, an American-Lebanese poet from the early twentieth-century. He wrote ‘You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth‘. Transcribing the final Zoom Salon reminded of his sentiment and it felt very prescient in light of the what’s next? for DAD. With us, we each carry an energy; a light and a presence that we must direct. When this force within us is well-directed, we can illuminate not only ourselves, but help others to find it too.

It became clear that Clare and Joanna had, much like horticulturalists, carefully attended to Dover as if it were a garden, watering it and observing, while appreciating the difference and the beauty of every individual participant or organisation that contributed to the whole. By gradually building friendships and making authentic and meaningful connections with businesses, artists, heritage and tourism sectors, DAD had been able to help people to grow by linking them with opportunities and developing opportunities in their own right through knowing the town well: seeing what would help, and where there was room to grow outward and explore.

Alice Bryant 

 

 

 

Zoom Salon 1 — How has the lockdown changed how we communicate?
Hosted by Dover Arts Development (DAD) and Philip Hutton.
Wednesday 17th June, from 7.30 – 9.30pm.

Salon Guests:

Bruno Cooren — Head of Culture Department, City of Dunkirk
Charles Holland — Architect (Charles Holland Architects)
Clare Smith — Director, Dover Arts Development
Derek Leach — Chairman, The Dover Society
Gabor Stark — Senior Lecturer, University for the Creative Arts
Garo Keheyan — Founder and President at Pharos Arts Foundation
Jon Iveson — Curator, Dover Museum
Martin Rosefeldt — Filmmaker, based in Berlin
Nic Deshayes — Artist & sculptor based in Dover
Petra Riemenschneider — Business Consultant, Linking EU (German) & UK businesses
Philip Hutton – Host & Architectural historian based in Dover

The topic of discussion: 

‘The lockdown has changed the way in which we communicate. As we see less and less of each other physically, we depend on online connections to those we love, enabled by devices unimaginable only a decade ago. Technology is developed by businesses, and by using devices, businesses like Apple and Google open a peephole on our lives – indeed never has a people so willingly been snooped on. Indeed, tech can connect us when crises come up, but its impedance on our senses, seclusion and dignity is less well-known.

Could we say no? Should we say no, how and how long would we keep going? To switch off our phones sounds like heresy. Secondly, do we mind being snooped on? Indeed could a simple life be enough? 

No one could deny the benefits of open communication. The question is if by living online we abandon the solitude which accompanies a less hectic life.

The salon welcomes all thoughts and ideas on communication, life, lockdown, and beyond. 

Notes from DAD: What Next? The First Salon: Life after Lockdown
what next? salon#1 notes

 

Zoom Salon 2 — Fair exchange and the ethics of invitation.
Hosted by Dover Arts Development (DAD) and Louise Webb.
Tuesday 23rd June, from 7.30 – 9.30pm

The topic for discussion:

“What role does the act of fair exchange and the ethics of invitation have with art organisations?”

We would like to gather different perspectives from local art organisations who approach the aspect of invitation (Who do we invite, why do we invite, how we facilitate this invitation and what do we offer with our invitation?). We will discuss the greater need of diversity and the current pressures (for example social distancing, and financial difficulty) that are affecting the act of invitation with growing use and current need of technology (online seminars) and its benefits and disadvantages. We look forward to exploring new ideas on how to interact with our local communities and to create stronger dialogues with each other and with the numerous and growing art organisations in the south east.

Salon guests:

Cheryl Pierce – Theatre (Independent)
Clare Smith — Dover Studio Collective/Dover Arts Development
Diane Dever — Folkestone Fringe
Dominic Pillai — Touchbasecare
Joanna Jones — Dover Arts Development
Louisa Love — Artist/Curator
Louise Webb — Artist
Nicola Dunsbee — Artist/Curator
Petra Matthews — Crow Ceramic Art Dover (CAD)
Lisa Oulton – Future Foundry
Sarah Dimech — Future Foundry


Notes from DAD: What Next? The Second Salon: Fair Exchange and the ethics of Invitation
what next? salon#2 notes

Zoom Salon 3 — Is Architecture a Luxury Product?
Hosted by Dover Arts Development and Charles Holland.
Tuesday 23rd July, 7.30pm – 9.30pm. 

“Is Architecture a Luxury Product?

A discussion of we place a value on buildings, places and placemaking and whether we want to conserve old ones, commission new ones and all points in between.”

Salon Guests:

Peter Halsall – Developer and Chairman East Kent Sustainable Homes Ltd.
John Orchard – Director of Albion Inc.
Victoria Pomery – Director, Turner Contemporary, Margate
Edmund Harris – Architectural Historian and Conservationist based in Canterbury
Dave Robinson – Growth and Business Development Dover District Council
Sogand Babol – Design Advisor & Architect, Design South East
Lucy Jones – Architect and educator, UCA School of Architecture, Canterbury
Sarah Dance – Sarah Dance Associates
Neil Wiggins – IVOPS LTD/Port of Dover
Charles Lynch – Member of the Dover Society and Architect at CALdesign
Joanna Jones – Artist, Director of Dover Arts Development Ltd
Clare Smith – Artist, Director of Dover Arts Development Ltd
Charles Holland – Architect, Principal of Charles Holland Architects and Professor of Architecture, University of Brighton (Host)

 

Zoom Salon 4 — DAD: What Next?
Wednesday 9th September, 7pm
Hosted by Dover Arts Development including the newest DAD director, Louisa Love. 

“A chance to welcome Louisa Love in her new role as a DAD director and hear ideas for DAD’s role going forward. DAD will continue to be artist-led and we would like to consider how a possible steering group of others might be structured”. 

Artists attending:

Simon Bill
Kate Beaugie
Nic Deshayes
Gabor Stark
Colin Priest
Helen Lindon
Richard Bundy
Joseph Black
Joanna Jones
Clare Smith
Louisa Love

Notes from DAD: What Next? The Fourth Salon
what next? salon#4 notes