What a week. It feels in many ways as though it has flown by, yet I feel that I have got to know the staff at .lkj) Magdeburg so very well, much more than would normally be possible within the timeframe we gave ourselves.
With the support of MitOst, the Memory Box Tandem project has been devised to take the learning of Flo’s Memory Box Newcastle project a step further, to allow us to trial the collection of stories internationally, with differing participants, and languages, focusing more specifically on young migrants or new communities. Stories will be collected based on the theme of ‘home’, more specifically Newcastle, Magdeburg and Arnhem. Content will then be presented both on the Memory Box app, as well as in a more solid form, housed within 3 location specific wooden Memory Box Tandem boxes. These wooden boxes will feature story cards, photographs, maps as well as have an embedded mp3 player. The thinking behind this low tech approach is that the box can then become a physical welcome box that can be shared with new migrants to a city, or in the case of the Newcastle box older, isolated people enabling them to learn from other peoples stories and begin to feel part of a wider community. We very much hope that the content of the box will grow as it changes hands, with new participants being supported to add their own stories.
I’ve been trying to reflect on the experience and the learning that came out of the first of our three way cultural exchanges and I think that there are 4 major things that stand out as well as numerous smaller things.
1) Workshop delivery
The Memory Box Tandem project has very much become a reality this week. Made solid by the time spent working alongside my new found colleagues. The Tandem programme required that we ‘shadow’ our placement partner to observe their work and management processes. But I think we did much more than that. We gave two days over to intensive Memory Box workshop training and although it felt kind of strange to be teaching instead of learning from .lkj) the very nature of the Memory Box workshops meant that, as participants, we got to know each other on a deeper level, and feel much more comfortable working alongside each other. The workshops also meant that we learnt to listen to one another, and got to hear about what is important to each of us about the cities and towns that make up our Tandem exchange.
The other important thing to say is that the first of the Memory Box Tandem workshops were delivered during the placement also, led by the .lkj) staff, utilising their new found skills. The workshop was specifically aimed at supporting young migrants living within Magdeburg, and the group of young participants who took part were so interesting; they are a real mix of enthusiastic young people, ranging in age from 18 – 30, and differing cultural backgrounds.
This really floored me. It would be very hard to engage with such an enthusiastic, diverse mix of young people within the North East of England, and there are numerous reasons for this. But, this mix and enthusiasm was undoubtedly to do with .lkj), the trust that the participants have in .lkj)’s work as well as their vast experience in the field, their key partners and their firm network of political committees and working groups.
Although the workshops in Magdeburg were geared up to bring together young migrants living in the area, the project is designed to not just support them, but to benefit the lives of other young people indirectly via the stories that the first group record and share with us and our wider audience via the Memory Box Tandem welcome box.
By observing the initial stages of the first Magdeburg workshop both Lisa and I were able to learn from tried and tested approaches that .lkj) already have in place to capture the attention and motivation of their workshop groups. For me, the introduction of an ‘energiser’ at the beginning of the session is something that I will adopt. The ‘energiser’ was simple game that got the team working, laughing and moving together, it really helped to change the dynamics of the group and break down barriers between participants and workshop leaders.
The storytelling processes that I introduced the .lkj) staff to earlier in the week was delivered to the young people in the same way, and I was pleased to hear that it had enabled the group to begin to share stories and experiences that they all felt were important to them. Part of me had anticipated that a younger group might not share the same level of detail that an older group might, possibly being more shy and reserved and as such the session might have required additional activities. But it didn’t.
2) The team.
The Tandem team has always consisted of the three of us, myself, Lisa from Kunstbedrijf Arnhem, in The Netherlands and Janine from .lkj) Magdeburg, Germany. But the team grew during the placement, with all three cultural partners introducing new staff members to the project. All of which are key staff, who will play vital roles within the project delivery. This was a really nice aspect of the placement. It made the project feel a lot more real, knowing that the learning and development is being embedded and playing a more long term role within our organisations.
Our week in Magdeburg was a great opportunity to get to know this team better, and Janine and her colleagues did such a great job. We were made to feel welcome not only in the office, but by key members of their cultural sector network and also on a social level. Within a matter of day I felt comfortable and confident enough to arrive by myself at .lkj)and make my way to the office feeling like a part of the team.
I think this level of comfort and engagement with the team was thanks to their obvious closeness as a group of colleagues, as well as their ongoing experience and ability to welcome interns via their Pathfinders work.
This week has been a real test for us, allowing us to explore how and if we can develop a successful programme that is forged from the collective knowledge of the team. The level of experience and insight brought by the .lkj) team during the week has proven that we can.
3) What the word culture means to our individual organisations, and how it influences our work.
As someone from a visual arts background, the word culture always leans towards engagement in the visual arts, and our work at Flo is always inspired by this. But the word ‘culture’ obviously means many different things. For .lkj) culture is about supporting wellbeing and social integration amongst their young audiences. I feel that I have learnt so much from this insight.
4) The realisation of the potential for the Memory Box Tandem project to have a positive impact upon on the lives of people in differing social circumstances.
I still very much feel that the Tandem programme is the first and probably only professional development programme I’ve been on that truly supports the programme managers to reflect, fully embed and share learning. Time is so incredibly important in our roles as cultural managers, to ensure that our future work is considered and implemented in such a way that it can meet the needs of requirements of our audiences and participants. But it is so often a luxury that arts organisations cannot afford.
The exchange process is allowing us, as project managers and partners to hone and refine the project as it moves forwards. We’re already beginning to see and understand the potential for the project.
I’m really looking forward to our next exchange, which takes place in Arnhem in March.
You can find out more about our involvement in the TANDEM programme and the development of our partnerships with organisations in Germany and Holland here.