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On Artists and Organisations (On Interdependence and Care)

Wed 25 November 2020
David Harradine

Co-Artistic Director of Fevered Sleep and Yorkshire Dance Board member, David Harradine, has offered up some beautiful words in this blog that reflect on the impact of the pandemic on artists and organisations. His words call for the united spaces that artists and organisations can frame together in this moment and the practice of listening to one another with care and respect. As a staff team, his words resonate greatly with us and we wanted to share them more widely with artists, organisations and those supporting dance who may be struggling at this time.

I want to offer a reminder that when we talk about ‘organisations’ we are actually talking about people.  Not ‘them’ but ‘us’.  And also ‘I’ and all the individually variable versions of the ‘I’ who is talking, or who is leading, or who is dancing.

Last month, I was invited by Yorkshire Dance to facilitate a two-part workshop that brought together independent dance artists with producers, programmers. The workshop was a chance to meet, talk and consider new ways of working, new practices and new collaborative relationships between artists and venues that might unfold in the context of Covid-19.

In the first session, the conversation picked up on a really important discussion that has been happening this year, about the relationships between independent and freelance artists and funded organisations. Covid-19 has revealed the untenable vulnerabilities of freelancers and the fragility of the whole arts ecosystem as a result.

This blog post is an adaptation of an introduction I made to the second session, which was my attempt to move the conversation forward, away from blame and division and towards solidarity, hope, and love.   


I speak here in the only way I can, as an artist.  

That said, although I speak as an artist, I also speak as an artist who co-founded and jointly leads an organisation that’s in the Arts Council National Portfolio.  An organisation that supports my work as an artist, and the work of other artists, whom I collaborate with, and commission, and support.

I would like to say something about ‘them’ and ‘us’.   

I would like to say that ‘we’ have come together in this space to think together about the future.

I would like to say, as an artist, that I see, and I share, the profound sense of injustice and exclusion and fear and rage that is being felt by artists everywhere right now.

I would like to say, as an artist, that I want to see structural and systemic change too, that I too want inequalities and inequities being raged at, and dismantled, now.

I feel an opportunity for change, and I hope change comes.

The change I would like to see is one that centres interdependence and care, not division and blame. 

I feel and see a level of uncertainty that’s frightening and destabilising, and I also feel and see that this same uncertainty might yet lead us into a future that’s full of joy and wonder.

I would like to say, as the leader of an organisation, that many organisations want to see structural and systemic change too, that we recognise interdependence, that we care about care.

I want to offer a reminder that when we talk about ‘organisations’ we are actually talking about people. Not ‘them’ but ‘us’.  And also ‘I’ and all the individually variable versions of the ‘I’ who is talking, or who is leading, or who is dancing.

I want to acknowledge that I have a platform that enables my voice to be heard, whether that’s through my company, or through this invitation to host this space (or indeed, now, through this blog post).  

I want to acknowledge my privileges as a white, British man in his late 40s.  And to give voice to my queerness and my rural working class Northern heritage, to the unseen aspects of who I am that also characterises the position from which I speak, and that have meant, in ways that are not always visible, that it’s been a hard slog and a fight to get here.

I am maxing out on this platform I’ve been offered for my voice – sorry – and I want to acknowledge that for some, this space we’re in together might be the first platform from which their voices have been heard since this crisis began.  

I want to acknowledge again the fear and the pain and the rage that has surfaced this year, and for us to value any space, such as this, which allows for that reality to be seen and to be heard, as it was seen and heard last week.

I want to say that artists are seen, and heard.  I want to ask organisations to continue to listen, with compassion and with care.

And I want to say that people who work within organisations are not somehow different from artists, although the nature of their practices might be different.  In fact, like me, they often enough are artists, or started out as artists, or decided to make that leap from artistic practice into organisational leadership, or to take up organisational roles.  And sometimes we forget to see that.  And sometimes we need to work hard to remember.  And seeing and remembering is a practice too.

As an artist who leads an organisation, I would like to say, transparently, that this year, when so many artists are in states of deep fear and panic, financial crisis, and grief for lost ways of being, I have been both safe and secure.  

And, at the same time, as the leader of an organisation, I have faced unprecedented challenges, financial prospects that threaten to unravel everything I’ve worked for for 25 years, the challenge of supporting colleagues who are fearful for the future of their jobs, their organisation, their creative opportunities, and their industry, and levels of stress and anxiety that I didn’t know I had the resilience to come through.   

And I would like to say that I know that leaders of other organisations have felt the same, including, I’m sure, plenty who are reading this now.

I would like to acknowledge that for organisations to have an appetite for radical, structural change, they first have to survive a crisis, and many are still deep in crisis management, with as yet no end in sight.

So I don’t know who ‘them’ and ‘us’ is when it gets reduced to ‘artists’ and ‘organisations’.  We are people, and we are all here, together, because we hope, because we know we’re interdependent, because we want to create, and to create change, and because we care.

I would like us to use our skills of listening and seeing and hearing, and openheartedness and open-mindedness, to remember that we are people meeting people, not a ‘them’ and an ‘us’, but a ‘we’.

I want us to aspire to be open to fear and pain and rage.

I want us to aspire to be open to compassion and kindness and solidarity.

I want us to see what happens if we avoid blame and instead lean into hope, and trust, and mutual interdependence and care, and the fearless openhearted possibility of adventure and of love.  

Because I really believe we are all here because we care, about dance, about art, about people, about love, about how to survive the overwhelming reality of now, and how to be open to being overwhelmed by the adventures of a future that we can perhaps come together to invent.

So.  Why are we here?

We’re here to imagine that future.


David Harradine is C0-Artistic Director of Fevered Sleep   www.feveredsleep.co.uk 

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