First Coat – Round Two
Toowoomba VS Brisbane
Last weekend I attended the inaugural First Coat Music & Arts Festival in Toowoomba (Yes, Toowoomba, you snob;) about 120km west of Brisbane. I thought I knew what to expect after last years event – great art on big walls – but it was only the first year of the festival, after all. My expectations weren’t nearly as high as they’ll be next year. The caliber of street artists this year was as great, like last, but this year it seemed the whole town was in on it which made the experience so much cooler. Bakeries and cafes were supplying artists’ lunch; every hotel/motel provided rooms to travelling artists; there was a poster in just about every shop window; and the ‘country hospitality’ all-round delightful. Plus, the launch party was off the hook, boasting Brissy legends Regurgitator (who hadn’t performed in over 2 years) and a bunch of other great acts. What I especially enjoyed, alongside the amazing art, was seeing so many older locals and young families getting around to the sites – and absolutely loving it. Smiles and good vibes everywhere. It could be easy to assume, having lived in Brisbane for 15 years, that regional Toowoomba would be even more culturally dry than the state’s capital (n.b. Brisbane has bred some of the World’s best artists; but most live elsewhere due to lack of opportunity). Turns out even rural Queensland has adopted the modern world’s approach to street art, openly and organically – without the need to control the medium, size, content, audience etc., etc., like our Nanny-Council tends to do. (I could rant here but that’s not going to help anyone and I have heard whispers of change, not for the first time admittedly). Let’s just say I’ve found it frustrating in the past seeking (not necessarily monetary) support from BCC for cultural programs involving anything that might be linked to graffiti – or underground music for that matter. (It’s 2015! So much for Cambell’s “New World Brisbane” whatever that means). It’s frustrating especially as public art (of varying forms) has clearly had great economic, community and cultural identity benefits for many other cities, world over.
Here, in First Coat we have a great example of a viable arts program that doesn’t cost much and creates so much joy (which should be enough) as well as great economic benefit (tourism, retail, jobs) for the community. I’ve been in discussion with a few Brissy art champions for a while, regarding a mural festival for Brisbane, but I’m not willing to battle Council anymore so we’ll see – stay tuned!
Anyway, I had so much fun at First Coat I thought I’d write a little shout out. I’m so excited to have a weekend destination, so close, with so much to see and do. I never considered Toowoomba much before. But with it’s beautiful heritage buildings, markets, parks and gardens, good coffee (didn’t have a bad one all weekend) and now world-class street art around every corner – in hidden alleyways, car parks, and just about every big (non-heritage) wall in town – it’s definitely worth the easy hour and a half drive from Brisbane.
Mega props to Festival Coordinator Grace Dewar, extended First Coat and Kontraband crew, the 20 amazing artists, and the City (according to Wikipedia) of Toowoomba, you should all be very proud!
A recent guest blog (repost) I wrote for http://roadmender.net (an excellent site dedicated to collaboration):
Collaborative Visionary Leaders – holding the flame and sharing the warmth.
Firstly I’d like to thank Jelenko and the team for involving me in this exciting project – ROADMENDER Spark. Everyone has great knowledge to share, I feel hugely honoured to be a part of this. Thank you.
For this blog I have focused on the role of visionaries as leaders within collaborative environments, particularly visionaries of creative and community based projects where there is sometimes little or no direct financial remuneration.
Using collaboration to grow a person’s vision obviously requires good leadership; and this can be the case with shared vision too. In my opinion, good collaborative leaders are often skilled and passionate visionaries. In my experience a good visionary leader (a skilled ideas person) needs to passionately believe in their vision but be open to the creative process, be self-interested but fair and transparent, and, in the case of collaborative leadership, should be skilled at creating space for sharing and providing and receiving support. I have also realised good leadership needs (not only deserves) rewarding, whether financial or otherwise – it’s only human.
I have broken down some of my experiences and lessons from several collaborative projects where I have held a visionary and or leadership role.
To start with, the largest and most complex collaborative project I have been part of to date, The Fort Arts Hub (The Fort). In 2008, my partner at the time (Pete Gorrie) and I started a very special arts project aimed at fostering creative projects, businesses and innovation through collaboration and exchange, on a large scale. The concept was a one-stop-shop of creative services, a centre for developing and presenting art independently (no Govt. support/criteria) hosted within the beautiful Bell Bros. Building (1000m2) in Fortitude Valley. By the end of 2011, around the time of it’s unfortunate demise (see attached statement at the end of the post). The Fort had several thriving creative spaces and businesses including an art gallery, music and art supply shop, artist studios, designer suites (graphic and fashion), a film and photography studio, a state-of-the-art recording studio, a community function and concert space and more. How did we do it? You can be sure it wasn’t alone!
Pete and I developed our vision, measured its viability (best we could), then sought about engaging others keen to share in and contribute to manifesting it (through leasing and sub-leasing spaces, joining our NPO, partnerships and sponsorships). My ambitious, perhaps slightly naive notion in the beginning was that the two of us (and our growing team) would develop the concept and systems for implementation then hand it (the vision) over to a non-hierarchical, ever growing body of equally excited individuals who would all do their part to realise the collective vision and their own, and we would all live happily ever after in a free-thinking, democratic and financially viable creative heaven. For the most part it worked (believe it or not) but what I did learn is that big creative, community and collaborative visions like The Fort need visionary leaders to hold focus through the creative process, and inspire and motivate collaborators to pursue the vision. Perhaps I was so caught up in creating a completely new blueprint for collaboration I convinced myself that management or anything slightly hierarchical was unnecessary for this project. Profit-share is a viable and wonderful business concept but I do see the importance (for the vision) of people being paid and appreciated fairly for their work (what is fair? That’s another blog, but on a side note, over the years I have noted a recurrent theme with creative collaborations, in Brisbane at least, that nobody gets paid until everybody does).
In retrospect, if I had built greater self-interest into my vision for The Fort I might have made a better leader, instead of becoming a somewhat overworked and underpaid benevolent dictator out of necessity. I didn’t want to be the “boss” (especially when some people didn’t think I should) of such a huge collaborative project (not without pay) besides at the time I thought it was important that everyone felt equally integral to maintaining The Fort vision. Plus I had my own creative business to develop and I knew there was very little money to throw at this role with no time to properly develop it. I now realise I also didn’t value myself properly – the things we learn! Everyone was very busy with their own massive contribution – running creative businesses and collaborating amongst each other – and it became clear The Fort vision and its ambitious objectives could not be safely managed by the group mind, at least at first, and though roles were democratically delegated (and everyone was amazing) without a designated leader decisions took too long and I personally felt the vision for the long-term (5-10 years) project could have got distorted. So I stepped up and really started learn how to collaborate and engage in this environment. I worked harder to understand team members’, volunteers’, supporters’ and clients’ needs and interests, and together we achieved something truly astonishing. As the project grew so too did my understanding of the importance of good leadership and its role in collaborative projects. The deep end is where we really learn to swim.
I may not have earned much money as a visionary of The Fort but the experience and respect I gained over those 3 years co-delivering the project will remain invaluable for the rest of my life. Hundreds of successful creative projects came out The Fort, and that still gives me joy. In this way it was a great success.
Since The Fort I have continued to coordinate and collaborate on many creative projects as a freelance PR consultant, and as a singer and manager of soul outfit Bankrupt Billionaires.
Bankrupt Billionaires formed before The Fort and we’re still going and growing. At the core there are three of us who write the music and we collaborate with many other musicians and producers on recordings and as a 7-peice live outfit. Interestingly, with this project I have again adopted an unpaid leadership role as “Manager” (though I have suggested payment many times) because of my passion and vision – or maybe it’s my drive and stubbornness – but now I set limits and better value my personal interests, and since The Fort, I believe I am much better at helping engage a collaborative effort. So now we’re getting somewhere! I have learned that leadership doesn’t mean you should do more than everyone else. In fact, in a collaborative environment, as a leader, inspiring passion and drive in others, and understanding and supporting other people’s needs and interests is key to securing successful outcomes. Everyone’s input should be valued and considered. Some suggestions for visionary leaders:
1. Inspire others with your passion. True passion is contagious.
2. Listen closely to others and develop a culture of sharing – particularly ideas and expectations.
3. Remember (visionaries) it was your idea – don’t expect others to share the workload straight away, especially without pay – but you can try! If your idea is good, and you are open to ideas for manifesting it collaboratively, help (and money) will come!
4. People have reasons for wanting to work with you. Don’t be too proud. Find out what people get from supporting your vision, and nurture and honour that.
5. Stay true to yourself and your vision but believe in other people. There are a lot of amazing people out there. Exchange through collaboration could turn your great idea into something mind-blowing.
People love helping. It’s what we do. When people feel a part of something special, amazing things happen.
Spontaneous collaboration. We (that’s me front and centre) rounded up 20+ singers at a festival recently and
recorded impromptu choir vocals for our upcoming album. The love was flowing.
The last collaborative project I’m going to discuss is BRIS BEST FEST, a community event that featured live music and art, an art exhibition and food and market stalls, held in a car park and adjoining building in West End, in July this year. The idea came about after I was approached by a young artist to help him get permission to paint a privately owned wall. Around this time I was organising a group exhibition elsewhere. At a meeting with the building owners it struck me – all these world-class Brisbane artists wanted to paint a huge collaborative mural on a building owned by community-minded property developers (ARIA), the wall is attached to an art gallery with a cool owner, there’s a huge car park big enough for a stage and stalls, I know lots of people… And so it was. Once we convinced ARIA to provide the space, myself, David Don (the young artist) and James Thompson (gallery owner) got to work organising our mini-festival featuring the best Brisbane talent we know, with 6 weeks to organise and less than $600 budget (all our monies pooled together). Collaboratively we raised nearly $2000 for homeless youth (would have been more without rain), artists were paid, and everyone, volunteers and guest alike, had an amazing time. Over the years I have realised that people love to support and get involved in good things – such as events that are socially responsible, fun and well organised. Most people don’t have time to develop community projects but there are so many people in Brisbane with big hearts that are eager to get involved and support – they just need leaders with strong visions (refer point 1.). My role in this huge collaborative effort was to help organise and oversee the event, incite passion and support, and make sure every single person involved (over 50 volunteers and artists) felt valued and supported. The festival would have suffered without even one of these people, yet many of the lovely volunteers expressed overflowing gratitude to me for the opportunity, I could have cried, and I did.
Admittedly I can be quite precious with my creative visions (which nearly always use collaboration) but I have learned to balance this with other peoples’ needs and I consider this (doing it my way) in the self-interest equation. The passion I have for rolling out the projects I have envisioned has always overridden the need for great financial recompense, as I am often hugely satisfied in other ways – experience, self-worth, relationships. Next step is finding new ways to make all these fantastic ideas and collaborations more and more financially viable, for myself and my fellow collaborators. Surely money couldn’t hurt the collaborative experience, could it?