I recently returned from five days in Rotterdam, which I had the privilege of spending with thirty one other cultural managers from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, alongside the amazing TANDEM team, a baby and a dog. The experience left me physically pretty spent, but mentally energised.
TANDEM is a European Cultural Foundation and MitOst e.V. initiative which facilitates long-term, international relationships between cultural institutions. There are TANDEMs with different geographical and thematic scopes, and this particular round has a focus on community and participation and is open to neighbouring countries in Northern Europe.
The Partnership Forum in Rotterdam was partly about finding a potential collaborator for the year ahead and beyond. For me, this process required balancing an openness to new ideas with remembering the essence of what I wanted to achieve through collaboration. There were a few nice parallels with life to keep in mind throughout: things rarely work out how you expect, you don’t always know what you are looking for until you find it and sometimes it’s best not to overthink!
After a few conversational twists, turns and eventual flowerings, I hooked up with artist Jasmin from The Bookstore Project in Amsterdam. Bow Arts and The Bookstore Project both have the aim of providing artists with affordable spaces to live and work in areas undergoing regeneration, and support artists to work within their communities. Jasmin and I found common ground in our shared interests in what it means to be an artist and how this relates to ‘participation’ (a wonderfully huge and contentious field for us to investigate). Together, we’d be testing different methods around how artists and schools can work together in a mutually beneficial way in our respective cities - I am really excited about exchanging and creating knowledge and practice with Jasmin to feed into our research about supporting risk-taking in education projects. Our next step is to put in a joint application – and wait with our fingers crossed to find out if we’re through to the next stage.
Even if Jasmin and I are not selected to take part in the year-long programme, the Partnership Forum was an incredibly valuable experience in its own right. The whole ethos of the five days was about exploring without boundaries, and reflecting. It felt like a rare opportunity to take a breath, dream and remember why you do what you do. Challenging the idea that action is always equated with productivity, I really enjoyed Urban Therapist, Phil Wood’s, suggestion to Not Just Do Something – Stand There.
Finally, the intensity of the five days meant we really had the chance to get to know each other by chatting, eating, cooking and dancing together. I made many connections – including those with people and places in common (I met Marjolein from Amsterdam who had lived in my hometown, Bedford), or simply being neighbours (as in the case of Nick from the Arcola theatre). Everyone happened to be really lovely and whatever happens, I am determined to return to the Netherlands with my bike to tour around and visit new friends.
Lydia Ashman, Education Projects Manager
Group photo - Credit - tandemexchange.eu