Simply listening

Author: Jenny Waldman

We asked Jenny Waldman, Director of Art Fund_, to listen to the second CULTURE RESET assembly and share reflections:

One of the easiest human acts is also the most healing. Listening to someone. Simply listening. Not advising or coaching, but silently and fully listening.’ (Margaret Wheatley)

Thank you for the opportunity to spend an hour and a half fully listening. What I heard was something remarkable. I’d expected brilliant voices and ideas – and there were plenty of those. Ideas that really made me think, voices that excited me. What I hadn’t expected, what really bowled me over, was that this large group of 192 people has, over the course of a few short weeks, become a movement. Motivating, questioning, inspiring one another to make change.

You talked about change being both radical action and long-term commitment, both intentional and sustained. You spoke about power: how to share power and decision-making with greater number and diversity of other voices. And about getting on with it! Yes!

Mary reflected on the cult of the ‘hero leader’ embedded in our institutions and our thinking and asked whether the arts might be contributing to an individualistic society. Several others also talked about leadership and how leadership can be about empowering others, bringing in new voices understanding that we are, as Lucy said, part of an ecology that advances when we all advance together.  She asked us to consider how we’re tending and attending to our arts ecosystem in order that the arts can be a ‘counter-cyclical stabiliser’ building collective social capital and contributing to sustainable towns and cities.

The vision Johny described was tangible: a D/deaf-led café, a cultural hub serving great coffee, run entirely by D/deaf people and exposing hearing people to D/deaf culture. He described his dream of realising this vision within 5 years, with a graduate of his programme being awarded a major commission. Your comments were eager, ready to support Johny in growing his idea and achieving his vision.

Pegasus Opera is creating tangible change – developing and mentoring talent, commissioning new work, initiating difficult conversations with established opera companies. Alison said those companies are now keen to talk. But she asked a crucial question: ‘what will you do when #BlackLivesMatter stops trending?’ She challenged us all to make sure we keep inviting varied people to the table.

Many of the most urgent issues around social justice are interconnected, as Alexa reminded us. She also offered a rallying call of  ‘young people to the front’: young people should be given opportunities to create, to lead, to take responsibility.  Simon’s manifesto included several challenges for funders – and as someone who has recently taken the leap from poacher to game-keeper, I am particularly keen to embrace these challenges: funders working together more, consulting on funding priorities, ending the dominance on form-filling and trickle-down funding.

The speakers were thoughtful, bold and persuasive. Responses were affirming, building on ideas, feeding them with energy and confidence. What a summer you must have had!

 “Nothing has given me more hope recently than to observe how simple conversations give birth to actions that can change lives and restore our faith in the future. There is no more powerful way to initiate significant social change than to start a conversation. When a group of people discover that they share a common concern, that’s when the process of change begins.”

(Margaret Wheatley)