ISAN CONFERENCE 27/28 November 2017 Milton Keynes
When I go to a conference I go because I want to engage, be engaged with, learn, be challenged and maybe have a bit of fun. I applied and was successful in getting a ‘New Faces’ bursary for the National Outdoor Arts Conference (Independant Street Arts Network). Essentially this meant that I got to go to the conference at a reduced rate. I was also being supported to go by Shape Arts/Unlimited as part of my professional development. This was after all my first year of working at festivals so i thought i may have lots to learn and it would be interesting to explore this new to me world.
A delayed flight meant I arrived at the first break. I was met by a wall of people and a tsunami of indecipherable white noise as I entered the venue. I immediately had to turn around and leave and stand outside to begin to acclimatise. I gradually eased myself in and found myself in the main auditorium listening to my first presentation.
Over the next two days i heard a lot of presentations and went to a number of break out sessions. However I left feeling unsatisfied, thinking that this world wasn’t for me.
The conference was well organised and well ran and there was a party on the monday night with music and food. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves. But there was something lacking.
As a new face i thought that might have meant something. I thought i might have been welcomed, introduced to people, maybe have a key person, hosted. I think hosting is really important. Instead I was left to flounder alone, vaguely knowing one other person there. I couldn’t find a way in, there were lots of people who knew each other, who were catching up, planning, feeling all a bit exclusive. I couldn’t find a way in.
I left feeling like i had not really learnt anything either. All the presentations were about how successful the projects were and how fun it was and how the people engaged. It all seemed like a bit of a smugfest. Where was the inciteful critical discourse? I learn by reflecting on what went well and what didn’t, what could have been done better, how could it have been improved? It also left me wondering about the parachuting in and parachuting out method of working, the contribution this middle-class approach makes towards gentrification, the real difference it makes over a long term and what happens to the people when the circus leaves town. The position of the visual arts in outdoor arts similarly seemed to be unaddressed, which would confirm my experience of being a visual artist at festivals during the summer of ’17. A real hierarchy of art form. Another ‘new face’ said they felt like the weird kid in the playground who no-one wanted to play with.
I guess i have been spoilt really by my involvement with Unlimited and the disability arts world. To me that seems like really genuinely inclusive, that hosting feels important. It is the first time i have been to a conference in a long time and not seen any ‘access’. This makes me wonder how diverse ISAN really is if they can manage a conference with no audio description, palintypists or sign language interpreters.
I realise that my experience will be the minority. The conference was smoothly run. Everyone else seemed to be getting something out of it. Perhaps it just isn’t my world.