It soon became apparent after a couple of nights of New Art Social that the social element is important to writers. The time given for authors, poets and audience members (whose roles often switch from night to night) to mingle is key. One way to erode the buffer that stops people sharing their work seems to be through the simple act of offering them some praise. I noticed that many of my students had simply never had their writing praised before. Not even by a friend or family member. I even attended one or two peer-to-peer workshops to see how this was done, and was at times horrified to see first year students tearing apart one another’s work. Useful as this may be on a technical level, I advise against it on an emotional level. So my approach is different- a genuine and complimentary word here or there, and the chance for the audience to offer more of critique once the tone has been set is all attempts to obliterate this buffer once and for all.
A trickier element to the night has been the panel discussions.
It seemed to me that if you have a room full of writers then giving them the chance to unpack their experiences and blow some misconceptions about the publishing industry out of the water would be useful. As New Art Social has progressed we’ve reached beyond featuring internationally published poets and authors like Andrew Crumey and Tony Williams. We’ve have had panel discussions featuring musicians like Freya Wilson (who performed musical versions of William Blake poems) arts curators like Sheyda Porter, Movement Directors like Patricia Suarez and fashion designers like Louisa Rogers and Nandini Kedia.
What struck me was that whether we were talking about getting your work published, getting the clothes you’ve designed sold, or getting the dance production you’ve devised off the ground, the similarities across fields are striking. They often concern engaging people, overcoming entry barriers for various demographics, and making money for being creative. In fact, in the last panel discussion in June we blended an activist and author (Alex Lockwood) with New Writing North’s award representative Will Mackey. In became clear to me that creatives rarely work in one field. I myself have strayed from music, into fiction, and know of other novelists who have once been poets. So it seems that the challenges for creative people to get their work out of the bedroom and into the hands of audiences (having been hopefully paid) are strikingly similar.
Trying to strike the balance between having a big enough audience for it to feel worthwhile for an author, whilst it being small enough to generate warmth and feedback has been a tightrope to walk. It has helped having a local artist- Roberta Louise Green- design some rather iconic posters, which I have taken to pasting around town in the rain. It also helped to have local networks, such as New Writing North mailing lists, and social media retweets from performers- to get the word out there using hashtags and word of mouth.
Perhaps we are all still a little unsure of what New Art Social actually is. It is this moving feast, this shifting entity: an idea in flux. Maybe that is not such a bad thing.
(Author photograph by Rebecca Burdon. Poster by Rebecca Louise Green)