The AEP as a democratic leadership model for the future…
I believe a key component of strong leadership is a focus on a humanness, a sense that good leadership comes from a desire to relate to and connect with people on a human level… I have invested my human nature into the AEP, and that leaves me vulnerable. But that vulnerability and an acknowledgement of the power of vulnerability is part of the process that has led me to this programme… This I believe is the power of independent artists. Their ability to adapt, be vulnerable, change minds and turn sharp corners quickly, makes them a powerful leading force.
The AEP is an innovation in leadership and a radical new model for the the provision of artists development. It is a facilitated, democratic, process and not a directive experience. It is a brave statement made by a group of independent artists expressing their need for change; the outcome and the start of that change is the AEP...
The evolution of the AEP…
Two years ago, when I began the process of developing this programme, I was discontented with what I saw available to me in professional development, and I was noticing a growing tendency or expectation that artists ‘augment’ their practice with CPD that dealt with specificity… a “dance for” model of learning. These models had been deeply honed by other artists and the CPD offered gave an insight into one practice from one artist only.
What I struggled with most was that this model of CPD leadership was so removed from the foundations of my own democratic leadership approach, and one which I believed to be at the centre of community engaged practice. It has a ‘learn from the expert’ style, which is something I don’t believe in as fundamentally I don’t believe we are ever experts in a transient art form which is embodied socially, culturally and politically.
I wanted to understand what impact this notion of ‘expert’ might be having on the shape of artists practice and how ‘evidence’ was impacting artists sense of self-significance. Enhancing the value of the self can enable you to enhance your understanding of the value of others. It is my absolute belief that our practice and artistry can be exponentially improved through a deepened self-respect and confidence, and the AEP seeks to offer this for dance artists.
So I undertook considerable research and development which involved observing practice across a wide range of settings. What I saw very quickly was a divide between classes, led by teachers, observing a model of practice learned from ‘experts’; versus exploratory creative practice led by artists, with curiosity and interest in the dancers in front of them.
What I deduced from this was that the quality of engagement was so much higher for the dancers involved in the exploratory and artistic practice. It enabled them to be heard, have agency, be accountable and equal co-creators of their own experience. Fundamental values behind my own practice and the notion of what I understand community dance to be (for more information on this research please get in touch).
So in my next phase of R&D, I set about talking to a cross section of independent artists whose practice I felt really did sit in that artistic, co-creative place; to find out what their values were, what their inspiration was, why they felt there might be this divide in practice, and what they felt needed to be done to address it. I called this Artists’ Conversations, and this strand has been fundamental to the development of the AEP.
Core themes / values emerged from these artists conversations, and they formed the backbone of the AEP development process. I was saddened to hear that levels of resilience were low, artists felt a lack of value placed on their contribution to the dance ecology, they felt the pressure of the multitude of roles they had to embody and that their curiosity for and about people / humanity, was compromised – there were many who felt close to burn-out. These dance artists are changemakers; leaders of the future, but they did not feel heard and they did not feel that there were any support systems in place for them. They felt they had fallen into a gap in provision.
Most notably, there was nowhere obvious where these artists could see their own values reflected back at them. This felt isolating. The values that I feel are essential to my work are mirrored by the other artists that I work with, but artists I spoke to were sadly seeing less and less of these values in the organisations that they worked for.
So ultimately, the AEP came about in order to provide a democratic space to champion artists skills and support their development; independently. I brought artists together who aligned with the values of practice that I saw in my research, and who I felt could offer me and each other, something that existing artists development was not offering.
The AEP is a support system that exists without organisational bias and can support ultimately from a values system that mirrors the creative practice of the artists involved – supportiveness, equality, democracy, voice, curiosity, attention, empathy. It might seem radical to suggest that an independent group of artists can offer more for one another than industry leading bodies, but that radical stand is empowering and provocative, and this is exactly what a democratic, community practice is all about – pushing buttons which make us think differently about what is available to us, and scratching on the surface to make change… The AEP artists are all change-makers and I felt I could make a brave step knowing that I had a community of artists backing this programme and that ultimately it would lead me to be able to support others.
What will you get from the AEP…
The AEP isn’t a model with an evidence base, and it doesn’t offer a take home structure to be replicated. But it does have a unique template – I like to think of it as a score which remains fluid and ensures that everyone in the process is heard, and held. The AEP is a team approach – the team all understand the collective goal to support one another towards an empowered change. The model acknowledges the importance of:
Active Listening (really listening!)
Engaging people (being heard and considered; contributing to self-worth)
Empowering and activating (feeling you are supported inspired action)
Purpose (understanding your worth and what you are meant to do)
The AEP is a Skills Exchange programme – that doesn’t mean we swap ideas and take them away – the AEP is not right for you if you are looking for someone to offer you specific tasks, or lesson plans to replicate. Instead the premise of this programme is that we reflect in artists development, the same values and processes that we as artists use in our own leadership practice. In our facilitation practice we are activists, breaking down hierarchy, making space for voices to emerge and potential to unfold. In CPD this should also be the case. A traditional model of one voice leadership works no better in CPD than it does in community dance practice. That’s not to say that a directive approach isn’t useful in certain phases of life and career. But for those artists at the ‘mid-career’ level, this approach is not satisfying our professional development.
AEP founded on values of humanity and artistry – all the artists involved came from a socially engaged, community practice, and thus the conversations and foundations of the programme emerge from a fascination with people, curiosity, desire to interrogate, perseverance of spirit and dedication to improvement. And from this we could see that by working together, a better self could emerge for the benefit of our work. And that a better work meant a more engaging artistic process for the dancers we work with.
What I’m conscious of is that it could sound like a collective back patting, but in fact it is hard, it is interrogatory, the AEP involves vulnerability, conflict, questioning, answering, being without answers, running at issues head first and knowing that in this vulnerability was a powerful force and a truth that we were able to wear as an amour and support ourselves to make change, for ourselves, for our dancers, for our audiences…
To take part in the AEP process is to reach out for a change…and find what you want next.
And if you do join in, you are guaranteed the following:
A carefully crafted experience which supports you to feel you can learn and contribute in equal measure
We will all dance together
We will all stimulate discussion
You will be encouraged to remain forward focused
You will take away a sense of acceptance
You will be seen and heard
You will experience a generous spirit of investigation; this is a sharing process, not a battle ground
You will feel rejuvenated; an oxygenation of your practice
You will be stimulated artistically
You will feel a surge of confidence, resilience and trust in yourself
You will take away a support network which is powerful and can be your catalyst for great change
If this sounds like it’s for you: Join in..!