Making it Work – How can we sustain and develop careers in spoken word and poetry?

In many respects the spoken word and poetry scene appears to be thriving but is it actually possible to sustain a career as a spoken word artist and if so, how? When public funding for the arts is dwindling and competition for resources is becoming more and more intense, how can artists sustain a viable living, access career development opportunities and maintain integrity doing what they love?

Phrased & Confused has been an active force in spoken word since 2004 when we were asked by ACE to investigate barriers to attendance at and promotion of live literature events. Over the last 15 years we’ve seen a lot of positive change and development within the spoken word sector. However, we’d still like to see many more and better opportunities for artists and producers to innovate, develop and earn enough money to live on.

Our open space event Making It Work on the afternoon of the 29th June at the Albany, Deptford, is an opportunity to bring together artists, promoters, venues and support agencies to look at how we can all play a part in developing our sector.

All of us at P&C have attended and facilitated Open Spaces before and they are a great place to (as Phelim from Devoted & Disgruntled says) “engage with the stuff… I only knew how to complain about before”.


Why Open Space?

Open Space is so-called because the agenda won’t be set by the organisers (that’s us!) It will be set by the people who come along. It is a very democratic process that acknowledges that we are all responsible for tackling how we can develop a more sustainable spoken word sector. We – that is the poets, promoters, managers and support bodies that make up the sector.

Open Space creates time and space on an equal and democratic footing to explore, discuss and identify how we can affect real and lasting change.


So what’s going to happen?

The process will start with a circle of people, people who’ve come along because they care about more and better opportunities to make a living in spoken word, a circle of people that’s unique, and who have never and will never again be together in exactly this grouping.

Open Space ‘technology’ is simple. It’s people. At the outset of the session there’ll be a chance for anyone with a burning issue, big question or great idea to timetable a conversation about it. You’ll post a topic on the wall, it will get timetabled, the agenda for the event will come together, and over the course of the event people will join the conversations that ‘speak to them’ the loudest. It’s people power in action.

At any one time, there might be 2, 5, 8 or even more breakout conversations going on at the same time, with people in each one working hard on the topic at hand. The ‘law of 2 feet’ (or of ‘personal mobility’) means that you can dip in and out of conversations as you want; you might sit through 3 from start to finish, or move like a bumble bee between loads more than that, adding a few ideas to all of them as you go. The choice is yours. The responsibility is yours. Then, at the end of the event, everyone comes together again, to share their reflections, learning and the actions they want to commit to after the event. We end as we finish, sharing what’s important to us all.

More than just a talking shop, the aim is to get things and people moving

At ‘open space’ events all of the thinking, all of the ideas, all of the actions get documented in some way. Because we want our event to feel like a beginning of something not an end in itself, we’ll be producing a record of it – an almanac if you like – that shares the thinking and actions coming out of it. We’ll share this with you electronically and with key funders and strategic decision makers.

‘Open Space’ isn’t about any one person or organisation taking control or promising to solve everything; it’s way of bringing together people who want to address a complex issue, by focusing on what matters to them, making essential connections, and doing what they think must be done. It’s about a culture of shared responsibility through which ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things. .

We hope that by the end of the afternoon you’ll go home with some new insights, some new potential collaborators and friends, and perhaps even some clear action points to keep you busy and connected in the weeks and months that follow.

So, if you have ideas about what could make a real difference – whether that’s about individual entrepreneurialism, collective support, education, new networks, or something else entirely – it would be great to see you at Making it Work.


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