Author: Stacey Anne Bagdi
Prior to starting the Culture Reset programme with cohort 1, I had a first taste of being mentored. This was something I knew I needed at this point in my career. I had a free 1-1 session with a senior Curator in a Museum offered through a Museum sector mentoring programme.
The one thing that struck me from that session was that my mentor, after hearing my journey and my future ambitions to change the world around me, kept repeating the word isolation back to me. This startled me a little – I guess it never clicked before now. That feeling of isolation was the one reason holding me back from appreciating my own value within the sector and preventing me from making changes within my work practices and my life goals.
The Museum sector is vastly well connected, but within the positions I have held so far there has always been that feeling of isolation – no matter how large the organisation is. As an Indian female curator, I was still figuring out my own identity, what I enjoyed about working in museums and what I didn’t, and my own curatorial practice. Then I saw Culture Reset pop up on my Twitter feed I knew it was time to break out of that feeling of isolation. I wanted to see change inside of me, but I also wanted to change the space around me. I was severely seeking inspiration.
I feel deeply privileged to be part of Culture Reset. I have had the pleasure to have met such inspiring people within my cohort group. After our first session, it almost felt we had known each other for years. The mutual understanding of the arts and culture sector, our own individual passions and determination to make change, share knowledge, learn, unlearn, and grow together, enabled us to connect from day one. Our facilitator Shreela was exceptional at making us feel comfortable and provided us the safe space we all needed to open-up and share our personal journeys. Each week brought new rays of hope for resetting culture within us, and within the world around us.
We all recognised that together we can all do better. After week two we soon realised there were many themes that tied our individual questions together – issues we wanted to explore further, collectively. Therefore, I set about asking my cohort members to suggest topics and issues that we could prise apart together, outside our weekly cohort meetings. Led by those who suggested the theme, using our dedicated Zoom channel, I organised bi-weekly cohort lunchtime chats on everything from cultural activism, equity and joy to missing voices, and decentralising the white European gaze. My initiative to start these cohort chats came out of my personal need to feel connected and my passion in bringing people together to share experiences. Every conversation I had with my cohort inspired me to reassess my questions around relevance within Museums and to curate a new path for change.
The weekly tasks were thoroughly invigorating for the mind – sparking new ideas, debates and possibilities inside my head that I never knew could exist. Although at times we felt the programme was a little too intensive, with the tasks slipping by the wayside before we had a chance to experiment with them in depth, we all thoroughly welcomed the inspiring questions, podcasts, provocations, and YouTube videos. We consistently found ourselves going back to key points from the resources to encourage further discussions within the group, each time peeling back a new layer of inspiration. I, for one, was extremely excited to hear Nina Simon was on the podcast – I have listened to it at least three times already!
We all either changed our question completely or, as the weeks progressed, polished them intensely to reflect the learning or unlearning we had done as a cohort – I know I did. Some of us decided along the way that staying in the arts and culture sector was mentally draining. For them, real change required a reset from within the communities they all know and loved, using their own passions to drive real tangible change rather than waiting for their organisation to do it. Some of us decided to stick within our organisations and open our hearts and minds to exciting partnerships we could have within Culture Reset or within the communities we work with. Overall, we all realised that the arts and culture sector is never just about theatres alone, or Museums alone, or artists/freelancers feeling alone– collectively we can reset culture if we work across the arts. In addition, we recognised in order to do this, we needed to give up the power and bring in new voices to that decision-making table.
Regardless of what path we may or may not take after Culture Reset, our individual values and passion to create meaningful shifts within the arts and reset our practices remains the same since we started. I personally have undertaken a lot of learning and unlearning and looked inwards into what I wanted to see happen within my sector – not what the sector was informing me to do. The most valuable factor I have taken away from participating in this programme is connectiveness – I no longer feel isolated. That to me is priceless and yet something I often take for granted. Making new connections within Culture Reset has been a shining light whilst we have all grappled with working from home and battling with that feeling of isolation. Resetting the arts may take longer for some than others, especially when we want to create legacy rather than short bursts of moments. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that, thanks to the Culture Reset programme, I am now more equipped, confident, and supported to start my journey to create my own change within the arts. The bonus of the programme was making lifelong friends and generating a long list of new exciting possibilities.
By Stacey Anne Bagdi, Collections & Exhibitions Officer (Curator) at Headstone Manor & Museum, Harrow, London.