The value of networks: are networks still relevant and needed?

Convener(s):  Philippa Barr       

Participants: Tom Atkins, Philippa Barr, Isabel Carr, Shanti Freed, Chris Grady, Jon Grieve, Rob Haughton, Sam Howey Nunn, Brian Lobel, Greg McLaren, Rebecca Malby, Ed Rashbrooke, Geri Spencer, Alan Wen

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

To start off with there were only four of us, all of which ran networks (New Work Network, Musical Theatre Matters and Stellar Network) so we were a little worried that the only people that came, were those that ran them! 

5 minutes later…. We were joined by a number of people (see above for participants) who both belonged to networks or had some sort of interest in the concept of networks as a means of supporting their creative and artistic practices.

Differences between the virtues of online and real world (emphasis on face-to-face interactions) networks and interaction were raised- with both felt to be important places for connections. An online tool that enables the intersection between online and real world connections was recommended: Meeting face-to-face is about accessing and opening up places, spaces and connections to people. A suggestion that networks are used as place where artists can meet to show work to each other and that the networks should be helping facilitate this.  

Frustrations were raised by some that ran networks highlighting the difficulty of knowing what the members want when they don’t communicate with you. There seems to always be a small core of active people within any network, and a majority of those on the periphery that don’t seem to engage. Is it because they are apathetic? Too busy? Are we being saturated by networks? An interesting statistic was raised regarding those involved in networks: 90% are inactive, 9% will utilize or be visible occasionally and only 1% is committed and very active participants. It was suggested that when people join the network that they are asked what their motivation for joining. If your network can identify the needs of its membership then it can truly be a network for its members.

The difficulty of demonstrating the importance and validity of networks was discussed. The ‘product’ from networks is often intangible, largely qualitative and not able to fit into funding reporting forms.  It was felt to be important to keep track of the benefits of networks and the positive impacts they have on practitioners work.

People discussed the numerous benefits they had received by being part of different arts networks. From knowing what’s going on, staying in touch with people (in real life not just virtually), not feeling isolated.

Involvement and the motivation for being part of a network can be for numerous reasons- personal (including emotional), professional, convenience and need. It is up to you and how you wish to use the network and not all members seek or want to be ‘visible’ within it. It was felt there is a place for formal networks of varying scale and nature. Networks enable you to access information and advice and are a critical connection point, not too dissimilar to clubs which were raised as a means of existing for survival and belonging. We often think about them in a negative way, when in fact they are useful.

People want to be part of a network that has a certain ‘sexy’ or ‘cool’ appeal to it. It is up to the individual to build their own networks and take responsibility for that i.e. being active or as active as they want to be.