Ahead of our next Group Think event in May (co-produced with the Barbican Centre), on the subject of collaboration, we've been talking to some of our friends, colleagues and clients about how collaboration fits into their lives and work. So we sent out a little questionnaire and, over the next few weeks, we'll be publishing what everyone told us.
Here's number 6, one of our clients, Mark Williams of Heart n Soul.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Mark Williams and I am the Artistic Director of Heart n Soul. Heart n Soul are one of the UK's leading cultural producing organisations. We make spaces where people can feel safe, creative and free to express themselves and to learn. We work together with people with and without a learning disability.
Why do you collaborate?
The best kind of collaboration for us is one based on a shared sense of purpose, as open a brief as possible and as above the creation of a space where we can all feel safe, creative and free to express ourselves. We collaborate because we want to work with people who know more about certain stuff than we do! We want to learn more, be open to trying new approaches and ways of thinking and together create something far richer and more interesting than we could possibly achieve on our own.
Which collaboration tools do you like and why?
We are experimenting with google plus at the moment for a couple of creative projects and one major international collaborative piece. We like the way that google circles enable a more focussed, transparent and personal/private way of sharing information, photos, audio and film clips, commenting in a chronological way that means everyone involved can follow streams and comments. We are liking Posterous (blog site) as a way of sharing news, influences and milestones in a more public way and Soundcloud for music making and musical collaboration. We are working with ipads as a creative technology and collaboration tool and are loving the speed with which apps can provide accessible, creative and immediate results that can be easily seen across a range of digital channels. Apps we like at the moment are Madpad, Vidrhythm, Video Star, Animoog, ikaoscillator and Green Screen. We are excited about the new update of Garageband which has options for wifi real-time jamming sessions.
In a lateral way, we are enjoying the 'to the side' possibilities of Tumblr - a space where individuals on a project can share and reveal more personal creative sides to them than might be obvious in the main collaboration. By following each other and not being limited by the parameters of the collaboration it is possible to gain additional insights and perspectives around the collaborators which can inform the work together in different and interesting ways.
When does collaboration tend to work best?
When there is a clearly defined concept and lots of creative space to experiment and try things out, learn, improve and combine ideas to make something that did not exist before and that is enhanced by the extended and expanded range of voices and expertise that are shaping the final product.
What framework or rules do you need for successful collaboration?
The space is created by agreeing a set of boundaries and 'rules' that allow everyone to feel ok about trying things out, experimenting, failing and learning. It is important to identify key roles - for example - a concept facilitator who can help guide and inform the rest of the team. Roles and responsibilities are important but again should not be too 'rigid' - there should be plenty of room for left and right turns and clear and transparent ways of keeping in touch with the project (ie google plus) and enough time built in for the right people to meet together with some clear understanding of why they are meeting.
Briefly describe a collaboration you admire and tell us why you think it works.
Hate to blow our own trumpet... but the most exciting, ambitious and very live collaboration that I have ever been involved in has to be the current Dean Rodney Singers. Led by the vision of autisitc artist Dean Rodney, the aim is to explore and create spaces for online and real time collaboration to take place across 7 countries with a mix of 72 disabled and non-disabled band members who together are creating and enhancing 7 dimensions, 23 characters and pieces of music, narrative and dance moves and developing ways that the rest of the world can comment, play and add to the canon of work both online and in a 9 day installation at the South Bank over the summer (during the Paralympics).
It is working because it is coming from a place of everyone believing that it is a good thing to make happen (and that it will happen!); because there is a clear vision mixed with a large amount of not knowing exactly how we are going to realise it (genuinely innovative,creative, exciting and 'on the edge of a precipice' frightening). the people involved are low ego, highly creative, and have a lot of space to experiment in with a clear timeline and simple boundaries.
When has collaboration gone wrong for you?
Collaboration can go wrong when the framework is too creatively restricting and too tight to enable people to do what they do best. This can happen when there is too much direction from the top down and/or a 'box ticking' mentality applied so that a degree of tokenism and looking good in a funding application occurs with out any real authentic substance being allowed to come through.