Jul 132011

Ah, not often I can pun like that and have it actually mean something.

The L in question is in the photo below. The place: Lower Marsh Street, a lovely little micro ‘hood behind Waterloo Station that was recently the scene of Secret Sleuthing. Part of the BIGLOP Festival, Secret Sleuthing challenged teams of young Londoners to find and decode a series of clues planted on Lower Marsh Street that led them to a Punchdrunk-styled hidden location nearby. Once inside, more clues were on offer…which ultimately led our sleuths back onto the high street where they had to whisper the secret password to ‘hidden agents’–better known locally as shop-owners in on the game.

Although Secret Sleuthing finished two weeks ago, we checked recently and all nine of the first letter clues were still there. If you find yourself on Lower Marsh Street, have a sleuth yourself. Here’s a hint: the nine letters spell the name of a nearby street, which in turn led to the hidden location. The location itself is closed now, but we think that looking is as much (or even more) fun than finding…

May 122010

Yesterday, I had the privilege of listening to 13 presentations, in pecha-kucha format,  from some of the most interesting and innovative arts-based companies in London.  This was part of A New Direction’s programme “The Biggest Learning Opportunity on Earth,” already mentioned in our blogs.  The workshop was held in the View Tube, a space overlooking the shell of the new Olympic Stadium. I was concerned that it might be hard to keep my focus in the room especially as £16,000,000 of steel was literally being put up before my very eyes. How wrong I was.

The day was a constant stream of ideas, dynamic in their range and scope, as well as an opportunity to collect other people’s insights whilst sharing my own feedback.  I was introduced to projects that had puppets from another planet, giant sculptures made from recycled materials, clay collected from around the globe, immersive theatre, site-specific ideas using the body as a site, I even found out Arnold Schwarzenegger trained in Canning Town.  Who knew presentations and networking could be so playful!

Being a cultural producer  in a crowded market, and in an even more crowded city, sometimes feels like a very competitive place to be. But yesterday was a healthy reminder that open, honest, dialogue with organisations working with the same aims (and the chasing same pots of money)  is an essential part of our creative process.  It enable ideas to grow, it leads us into uncharted territory and encourages us to be a little bolder, as well as challenging ‘baggy’ ideas.  It’s also fun. Walking back to the DLR, past the stadium, I was once again overwhelmed by the magnitude and scale of the Olympic site.  I wondered to myself: what would happen if all the arts companies working with young people in Camden decided to come together on one project, all the arts companies in Leeds or Edinburgh or the South West, etc? What could it mean? What could it achieve?

In that spirit of sharing, here are the details of two brilliant organisations  who work with young people to make accessible architectural and design procedures in building, and who are also our partners on The Biggest Learning Opportunity on Earth.   Please have a look at what they are up to.

Fundamental Architectural Inclusion is an architecture centre that seeks new ways of communities to participate in the transformation of their neighbourhood.


Rolling Sound creates and runs multi-media courses. Their design courses are being used by young people to create plans and designs as if they were planning their very own public monuments.


May 102010

When its a map….

These images were taking during a project at  Marriotts School in Stevenage

I had my facilitator hat on

and was encouraging Yr7staff and students

to see and use space differently

We armed students with masking tape and asked them to

create a map of their experiences at school.

This map covered the entire floor in the hall.

Over 150 students contributed to it.

This was a very simple idea but the results were fantastic, students worked in groups, negotiating and collaborating.  Spatial awareness was crucial as was developing a visual language together.

Some of the images created had obvious explanations

and some…

were a little more opaque!

Either way,  plenty of things to discuss

and consider.

Apr 152010

Right now, it’s a placeholder page listing more than a dozen visual and sound artists, and that promises a downloadable web tool at the end of the month. And a backdrop of some grass.

But, we can bet that whatever emerges from www.fieldbroadcast.org will be pretty cool because what we have managed to glean is that it’s yet another mysterious, thoughtful meditation on the idea of ‘space’ from our friend and colleague Rebecca Birch. You’d expect something like this from an artist who has been running an ongoing series of provocations using the ledge of her bedroom window, with the resulting work viewable both from within and without.

So for now, it’s radio (or rather web) silence at www.fieldbroadcast.org. Come 8 May, all will be revealed.

Apr 102010

Growing up in Midwestern America, amidst the trailing moral vapors of its Puritan origins, I was consistently trained to be on guard against hubris. Any form of braggadocio, so it went, was catnip for bad fortune, an invitation for a wrist-slap from god, a hair-trigger for the sky to fall. We learn only later, of course, that this is bollocks: some of the most powerful, most successful people on the planet, whether good human beings or not, also display a clear penchant for bigging themselves up.

Still, if you’re schooled from the cradle to hide your light under the proverbial bushel, it can be hard to celebrate the good stuff…even (gasp!) to brag about how great it feels when things are going well. But sometimes the bushel simply can’t contain what it’s meant to hide. Sometimes, ya gotta just say, ‘Huzzah for me/us!’ and disregard whatever existential jeopardy might ensue.

It’s been a banner few weeks here in the jolly Nimbleverse, said banner-ness coming after many months of furious creative activity. We’ve been running this way and that, developing ideas, cajoling creative friends, explicating concepts, enthusing upon themes…the usual, in other words, except more so because we’ve just been a-brim with new stuff of late.

It’s fun to be so in the flow, to have the ideas just a-comin’ and a-comin’. Arguably the only thing better is to have several ideas grow into projects, which is the happy situation we’ve found ourselves in of late; either because we’ve decided one way or t’other that they’re viable, or because someone has decided it for us and is giving us the resources to make something happen (resources are always nice, of course…). Both results feels really, really good…so good, in fact, that we just couldn’t resist shouting, ‘Bully for us!’

We’ll talk more soon about the specifics of what we’ve been fortunate enough to put into play of late. But today, share with us a big ‘Huzzah!’ and a virtual glass of fizz. (And knock wood, of course, that the Fates take our joyful outburst for what it is. We’re a humble bunch here. Honest…)

Mar 312010

This may be the only entry in the blogosphere to offer a creative comparison of the mega-blockbuster-smasheroony film Avatar and the economically more humble yet equally riveting French school docu-drama The Class. This is not a film review, though. It’s a consideration of high-stakes creative risk-taking.

Starting with Avatar, which I saw only last night, being surely among the last cinema-goers in the world to do so. A long New Yorker article published last year offers the best overview of the new film-making technology and processes invented–not adapted, invented–to create the wonderfully visceral world of the film. Of course, incredible sums of money were applied to making Avatar and we now know (as the article didn’t) that incredible sums of money were returned from adoring cinema-goers around the world. Fair play, really.

Say what you will about Avatar creator James Cameron, he took some remarkable risks to make the film, and to make it in such an uncompromising way. The New Yorker piece points out that Cameron hadn’t done a film in more than a decade, since the titanic Titanic. But that story, being practically legend, almost sold itself; by contrast, the eco-fantasy of Avatar was totally unfamiliar, with leaked early screening feedback making it sound like the extraterrestrial lovechild of Dances with Wolves and Mogambo (my favourite early review: ‘Smurf porn’). The money, the tech, the weird alien world with its decidedly terrestrial references…as a risk of, er, titanic proportions Avatar could have gone horribly wrong. It didn’t, but Cameron and his backers didn’t know that at the start.

And so, to The Class (warning: spoiler alert!), a risk-taking exercise not about technology but around narrative development. The film’s process began with a non-fiction book by former teacher Francois Begadeau, which chronicled a year in the life of a challenging school in the Paris suburbs. Director Laurent Cantet then worked with Begadeau to adapt the book into a fictional script to be filmed for the big screen So far, so Dead Poets Society.

But then Cantet decided that he wanted real students, without any acting experience, to play the part of students in the film. He engaged an average (meaning, not BRIT School) French high school in the project then ran devising workshops that riffed on the script…and of course, ultimately changed it. The students became, in the film, devised versions of themselves, hence the film’s enigmatic blurring of documentary film and high-quality fictional drama. Begadeau also played a version of himself, and the teachers in the film are teachers at the school…although not necessarily, in the film, playing themselves.

The Class didn’t earn Avatar‘s billions at the box office but it did earn the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (the first French film to do so in 21 years) and has become almost required viewing for educationalists across the planet. It represents a different kind of cinematic thrill ride, a different kind of story.

Seeing both films recently reminded me that only by stepping off the creative ledge does one generate the potential for bringing something really new into the world. But stepping off the ledge isn’t enough: once over the abyss you can’t afford to look down, lest like Wily Coyote you realise just what you’ve done and proceed to fall painfully back to earth. In this sense, both Avatar and The Class are not only about risk-taking; they’re about total commitment to the risks taken.