International co-operation take time to flourish.

In these times of hyper connectivity it can be easy to take for granted our ability to travel to the other side of the world for conferences or creative projects. A day trip between cities in Europe for meetings was a common occurrence. Being grounded doesn’t mean that all these connections need to be put on hold but it is perhaps a time to rethink the way we work and collaborate. In this post I’ve put down a few ideas about keeping up creative collaborations when you can’t meet in person. 

Advance what you can, pause where you can

Being unexpectedly unable to travel requires the flexibility to adapt your plans. Creatives across the world have responded quickly, converting their events to online, such as studio recordings presented online, crowdsourced compositions or online book launches and writing classes. But this won’t work for everyone and can be a challenge to monetise. It’s inspiring to see so many creatives offer their work for free or at a discount in these stressful, stay-at-home times, but that won’t be possible for everyone. 

Changing your event or project to online can involve a lot of work and it won’t necessarily work as well. The Emerging Writer’s Festival in Melbourne (who also run a digital festival) has published some great tips about what to consider when planning an online festival, including technical considerations. Developing a marketing strategy for an online event overnight can be intimidating but it can also open new avenues for the development of audience and income, especially if you can treat it like an experiment that doesn’t have to be perfect. When Catalan group Els Amics de les Arts couldn’t record their new disc due to quarantine restrictions they decided to start a YouTube series called Atrapats Aquí (Trapped Here), amusing videos that cross-cut between each of the three band members stuck at home, where they take requests from the public. Although presented to an online audience, it’s also a way for the band members to work creatively on a project and stay connected. Collaborators in a large Creative Europe project decided to run their 60-person meeting in Zoom (they’ve got some great tips about how to make it work here), while organisations such as the Sydney Dance Company has opened up online classes to the public. This could be a chance to share the creative process with a wider audience or to try out new ways of collaborating. 

Use contraints as a creative prompt 

If you do want to think about finding new ways of collaborating across distances without meeting in person, consider the constraints as an opportunity to do things differently. For the past 9 years Bangkok-based artist Varsha Nair has been holding a weekly studio exchange with fellow artist Lena Eriksson, who is based in Basel, Switzerland. Each Monday they exchange a creative idea, bridging the geographical gap through conversation. As they explain on their website, they ‘have created a shared studio space where the powerlessness of distance becomes productive’. They exchange across a range of mediums and touch upon memory, day-to-day life, concerns, past works and the world around them. The open-ended process can lead in unexpected directions and is bound by no set outcome or timeframe. As Varsha explained, these exchanges can end up being more regular and productive than those she would have with local artists in Bangkok and they can be done in less time from within the studio. Without the pressure to deliver and with no set aim, the conversations are given time to develop more organically.  

Keeping up the communication

There are many tools available to help keep the communication flowing while being physically isolated (although internet speeds are struggling to keep up to the increased demand), but it’s not just about the tools. There can be additional pressure to change your plans at the last minute and everyone is under stress, which can lead to hasty communication and difficulty seeing things from other people’s perspectives. Now is perhaps the time to take it slow, especially if it’s a new collaboration where you haven’t yet met your collaborators in person. Think deeply about the collaboration and its aims. Although on paper it might seem like everyone wants the same thing, there can be underlying aspirations everyone brings to a project that vary widely. If these aren’t carefully navigated it could turn into a battle of wills that is never really addressed. This may require many chats, some of them less formal, in order to understand the other person’s context and motivators. As Claire Sung, from Wuturi, Korea, observes in the International Co-Production Manual ’We’ve got to find out and understand what each partner wants. To do so, you really need to take time and make it clear each other what are your objectives and aims. You must have a long term plan to deepen understanding of each other and create a true artistic collaboration.’ It can be much slower to do online, but it’s still possible if you take your time in these initial conversations. Grab a coffee or tea and have a chat over Skype, let the conversation ramble a little. 

Give yourself time to adapt

Even seasoned freelancers who are used to working from home can see a drop in productivity in stressful times. The continual news of the quantity of people around the world succumbing to a pandemic is hard to block out, in addition to the change in working conditions (such as simultaneously looking after kids or not being able to take a break in fresh air). Be easy on yourself. It will take a while to adjust, and there will still be low days that catch you by surprise. Things might well look different on the other side and maybe we’ll discover that it can open up the possibility of wider collaborations if the difficulty of travel is not a given. 

The quote above is from Pirjetta Mulari, Dance Info, Finland, in IETM and the Korea Arts Management Service’s International Co-Production Manual, which shares some great experiences of collaborating internationally. You can access the full report here. 

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