Thank you. Do we say it: often enough? in the right ways? to the right people

Emma Rees, 26 November 2012

Thank you – do we say it: often enough? in the right ways? to the right people?

I called this session because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how ‘we’ can get better at ‘making the case’ for the arts to the public, particularly to people who don’t participate and who probably never will participate. We don’t have to get everyone involved in what we do (though how great would that be?!) but it would be good if we could achieve a better public understanding of why we do it and why it matters.

So, why ‘thank you’? Because I’m hacked off with sounding corporate and worthy, and of sounding like I have to make excuses for what we do that have nothing to do with how amazing it can make people feel. I want to turn that on its head and see where that takes us.

Here is the stream of consciousness from the group, who naturally I thank for being generous, stimulating, challenging, thought provoking and, above all, there....

Many said that on a personal level they wanted to improve on the ways they feedback to people, to prioritise taking and giving the time.
It shows respect.
It can make you feel guilty if you don’t say it but know you should. This can move from
guilty to defensive.

People can be good at general, token gratitude but not take care with the expression and communication. This is important as it changes a general ‘thanks’ to an expression that really means something.
Question whether we have to feel grateful for being given opportunities?
It’s not low status to be grateful.

The arts generally has an issue with saying thank you. As a freelancer you often don’t get any feedback, when the job is done, it’s done and you are cut loose.
In the arts we don’t often do it in a genuine or sincere way.
As artists, we should be grateful for all opportunities that come our way as they are all learning opportunities.

We all know artists who believe ‘it’ is a right and they can get bitter when they don’t get the opportunities they think are their right.
It’s a privilege to choose this lifestyle.
Discussion around the role of society telling people what they can / must do.

We (artists) get to make the choice.
We are getting to do what we want and we should feel grateful but it is a sacrifice, it’s not handed on a plate.
Is one of the reasons we are so crap at saying thank you that we are guilty about being able to do it (to have that freedom or to have made that freedom)?
Does this come across as entitlement?
The public and media can see that as a default setting for artists and we have to find a way to come out of that space.
We are grateful when people go out on a limb, such as lone person lobbying for us at a council grant-making meeting, we feel gratitude to the person who made that happen.

It’s good to feel someone has taken a risk on me and my work.

As (funded or supported) artists we are accountable, therefore not completely free. We must deliver with and for (the) people.
There is a difference between gratitude and obligation.
We can end up looking at audiences as a plaything and that is not good.

We need to really engage with audiences and make work for audiences (with them in mind).
If genuine, there should be continuity in the relationship.
It’s about how artists and organisations go into (any) community and communicate with people. Talk to ‘the community’ person to person and allow, promote and encourage a sense of ownership.

Important to be genuine to break down the divide; this is the work, this is the community it’s made for and with, it’s all one great big, interdependent ‘thing’. Community projects can be invisible i.e. invisibility about what venues and organisations are doing in the community.

Is it symptomatic of logistics / money / being under resourced that we can’t do that work and see it through. Do follow up and properly make relationships with and provide for the community (finish the project and say thank you!).
Ripple effect of sustained investment in work – maintaining the relationship.

Is it something around intention? Build into all stages of a project?
To do it effectively, need time to reflect – none of us have this!
We have to ‘report’ in the dry, stats & impact based ways to justify what we do, use a certain vocabulary that doesn’t communicate well to and with the ‘wider world’. Can changes to how we approach, market and report on the work change this?
Where can we find the excitement in how we report on and reflect the work we do to the general public, outside the stats based stuff?

Passion vs burn out.
Having to report within certain parameters isn’t an effective way of communicating what we do. Does not capture the imagination.
Doing work to lever funding – back to sincerity of offer / communication!
Panels of artists within funding bodies to contribute to setting the agenda, not token ‘artist consultation’ but real dialogue e.g. work made / judged for ‘young people’ but no young people involved in these processes.
Honesty – giving people a voice in the funding process, setting the agenda.
Creative people and places aimed at local authorities and community groups with support from venues – interesting in context of this discussion, building genuine relationships with ‘shelf life’.
Membership organisations, discussion on how Pyramid of Arts try to make sure they are delivering what their members want by recognising that everyone has a voice (and listening!). Give (pointers) themes and aims but not details on how to do it – leave that to the organisation.
At what point in the scale does that ‘break’ – society / democracy?
Essentially it’s all about connectivity.
Contrasts between death of Diana and nationwide ‘grief’ - assumptions made about everyone sharing this (not in my name, Ed) and the 2011 riots - a lack of feeling that anyone (society) cared enough to give stuff (even hope) destroys the connectivity, creates the negative space. Rioters certainly were not saying thank you!
These things happen if we don’t treat each other well – micro and macro.

The apology thank you – can devalue what we have to offer.
We see a hierarchy; we don’t see that we are also seen as part of that hierarchy. There was no money (in the arts) in the ‘70s and ‘80s so we didn’t have to say thank you to anyone.

Now there is and the intention is to fund the best of the best, can get to the point of elitism, or can be seen in this way.
The accountability of the funding process makes us feel like we have to be defensive, to justify and show our value. Danger of parent / child rather than equal relationship, where all work towards a shared goal.

Relationships with ACE Yorks all about empowering.
Form filling-in is hugely time consuming, takes us away from the work / audiences. Can we make the process of tying up and reporting more creative / more engaging / more interesting?
Gloria’s feminism project, they couldn’t just drop the participants and say a blunt goodbye. They felt they needed (to give) a sense of continuing the conversation as part of the evaluation process – built it in.
Easier to say thank you if the people are tangible and ‘there’ (present).
Nothing more powerful than a genuine thanks.
We don’t say it often enough and genuinely enough.
In the arts environment, people can be insincere and tied up with obligation and apology.
We say thanks to keep people ‘on track’ in the rehearsal room, hope to find sincere ways of expressing that.
Are we better at saying thanks if we don’t get something?!
Has thank you lost its meaning? Been trivialized?
Can we better express thanks in our actions and interactions with people?
Every person, opportunity, interaction is a gift – not sincere if viewed as entitlement. How can you be sincere and genuine to those you don’t see / say thank you to people who are holding a door open for you?
Isolation – if makes self isolated, lose connectivity, lose capacity to see / notice and thank.

Saying thank you is different from doing thank you.
Look at how we express it / follow it through.
How do we say sorry? More likely to think we have to do sorry as well as say it. Question of stopping and taking the time (with both), the sincerity of the action.
With audiences, important to be mindful of how we approach, treat and take care of our audiences.
We have a responsibility to take care of people are giving us their time, money and attention.
“Sometimes I think I know the value of the art and I get it, sometimes I forget.” Relationships with the people you bring with you / who come with you. Keeping people together by sharing, communicating your understanding of the value of the art / work / arts.
How do we express gratitude to those who don’t directly engage / participate but have a role to play (non participating tax payers). Giving something, the example of Curious Directive text and time capsule, clean up a building, leave a trail / a positive footprint in your community, spend time with people.
The only way to know stuff (about people, what they want and need) is to ask them! Take time and really communicate.
Important not to spend time talking about the politics and whinging.
Gratitude is vital for wellbeing.
It makes us feel good to say thanks!


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