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Spotlight: Leading from the middle - on the power of the small cog

Kayte Judge is a social entrepreneur who has worked between the worlds of arts and education for 12 years. She has worked variously as a careers adviser, communications officer and curator producer. In 2014/15 Kayte managed the Creative Bedfordshire network and developed the Culture Challenge: a Royal Opera House Bridge co-funded initiative to encourage more schools to engage with local cultural provision.

Here she reflects on the growth of Culture Challenge and the importance of networks in finding the best solution to a challenge.

Quote: we needed to consult and collaborate rather than cajole... we were part of a willing crowd

I have often felt like a child amongst adults in my work in education and the arts. Working in schools and cultural organizations I am usually in awe of the intelligence, insight and sheer volume of bureaucracy required to lead organizations of any size.

I have often found myself working in freelance roles tasked with innovation in and around these organizations, witnessing the challenges and opportunities that these 'large leaders' face and, over time, the cynicism that externally driven new initiatives can bring to those who have seen new initiatives come, and go.

quote: Aside from the big issues of time and money it seemed that a core problem was simply one of communication
Photo: The Higgins 

In 2014 I developed one of these new initiatives, and I knew the risks. I was a freelancer in an arts organization that, at that time, had little dedicated provision for young people, and marginal links with schools but was the only one able, at that moment, to take on the challenge of building a network of cultural providers and schools.  The Culture Challenge was born from these Royal Opera House Bridge seed funded network meetings. Together we looked at the barriers to young people accessing arts and culture through their schools.

Aside from the big issues of time and money it seemed that a core problem was simply one of communication. Cultural providers did not have the resources to market themselves effectively to schools and teachers simply did not know who was out there or where to look, and they just didn't have the time.

Websites have become a panacea for some issues and websites alone don't work… we needed a call to action, a campaign for culture

 A web based solution was obvious, so obvious in fact that that some of the potential funders were wary. Websites have become a panacea for some issues and websites alone don't work. They have to be maintained, useful, social and relevant. In this case, whichever way we shook it, a web based solution was the very best fit. We would create a 'culture map' of Bedfordshire so that teachers could see at a glance who and what was out there for their learners to access. Later, and with the help of our web designers, Bonfire Creative Intelligence we realized that a map would not be a draw enough for schools, we needed a call to action, a campaign for culture. The challenge itself was brought to the fore, a 30 item checklist of cultural activities in Bedfordshire and the project had a name change: The Culture Map was now the Culture Challenge.

culture challenge website screen shot

The Culture Challenge Checklist

 No cultural checklist will ever be complete, there is no one way through the cultural landscape and the opportunities are endless.

The Culture Challenge checklist was developed with young people, teachers and cultural leaders and includes things such as 'sing with others', 'exhibit your art', 'visit a museum' and 'investigate your family history'. Some are broad, some are specific, some are no doubt missing and yet the list itself offers a provocation for us all. No cultural checklist will ever be complete, there is no one way through the cultural landscape and the opportunities are endless. But without a starting point, without a social object to gather around, it is difficult to begin a conversation about cultural entitlement.

Can young people actually do all of these things in Bedfordshire? Yes. Can they easily do them? No. Are we ready for young people to come banging on our doors? Not all of us, not yet. We all need to up our game when it comes to young people.

this is a directory wrapped in a campaign… it is about relationship building

young people
Photo: Sarah's Do Wop Dos 

 A few moments spent on the website will show you that this is a directory wrapped in a campaign. The practical information is there: cultural organizations can be searched thematically, by location, or by challenges and each has a profile containing information that schools need to make initial contact. There are downloadable resources that can be freely used by schools and the challenge can be used as a learning task in the classroom or in support of Arts Award. Used strategically it could also help with Artsmark.

This is much more than a website. It is a network, it is the channel through which CPD can be offered and opportunities brokered. It is about relationship building.

Growth And Long Term Impact

The 2014 pilot ran with 14 development partner schools and in 2015 there were 62 cultural practitioners listed in the directory, many of whom have seen an increase in bookings. Over time, all schools in Bedford Borough will be trained on how to use the site.

The success of the initiative has helped Bedford Creative Arts to create a specific Youth Participation Producer role. The role has a clear remit to champion the rights of young people to experience great art and culture in the places where they live and learn.

Leading From The Middle

On reflection an initiative like this could only have come from the middle. I was a small player with a big network. We weren't leaders in the field of young people and the arts, but rather we were part of a willing crowd. Having very little power meant that we needed to consult and collaborate rather than cajole and ultimately this meant that we came up with something useful and impactful for its stakeholders.

Written by Kayte Judge, Producer Curator Bedford Creative Arts

More In The Spotlight

The Royal Opera House Bridge Spotlight is a selection of stories, profiles and provocations from inspiring leaders in cultural learning across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and North Kent. Explore more…

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