|Photo from Emma Culturevulture, photo in Backwards Lion's picasa.|
One of the things I have the occasional issue (and rant) about is the idea that the argument, or the debate, or the conversation is a great starting point. It is a great step along the way, but the start of anything is the idea. The conversation elps it along, and I agree with all of that; where I get unstuck is that many people - myself included - don't seem to be able to see past the conversation. Talking endlessly about an idea isn't actually getting the idea done, and so, like so many of my doomed projects, time runs out and you find yourself feeling like a failure, or worse; you forget about the idea. I've been trying to stop myself from endlessly getting 70% of the planning done and then abandoning stuff because it turns out to be a nightmare to get onto the 71% stage, without having even started to execute the plan.
And so, to me, Cultural Conversations seemed a bit like another line in the endless round of meetings and chats over beer and puzzling over spreadsheets at 3am; organising the enterprise without engaging the endeavour. (Plus, they're held during the day at a time I'd normally be at work.) So I wasn't really thinking about going to the one held on Friday, the We Are All Jim event. But, a chat with Emma convinced me to book the afternoon off and see not just what my city could do for me, but what I could do for my city.
I arrived to see a pile of tea & coffee supplied by Shine and the instantly recognisable cakes of Sunshine Bakery, gawd bless 'em all. The rules were set out (want a conversation about something? Put it on the wall and see who else is interested) and so, because of a minor faff about Bake Battle, I put up a request for a conversation about a baking competition in Leeds.
About a year ago, myself, The Secret Underground Tearoom and Lay the Table got together to start organising a baking comp. It went well but we kept on coming unstuck on the final logistics, the "where to hold it" and for one reason or another it sort-of fell apart earlier this year. 70% complete, 71% being that little step too far. Anyway, the upshot is that we decided to keep the ball rolling (the logo designer was paid! In cake, admittedly, but that's the currency we work in) and leave the tech infrastructure in place while we took a step back to see what we could do.
And so, my conversation quickly took an interesting turn, with having representatives from Leeds Libraries, a retail giant and the people who would be interested in having such an event, taking us into a fascinating, enormous project scope that involved roadshows, workshops, community engagement and possibly getting word out into the adult education and school sectors as well. One of the things we wanted from the beginning was a community involvement element and the ideas that came out of my/our chat were making great strides in that direction. What remains, then, is to take the next step and untangle the jumble; who we want to target, which organisations can we help and can help us, the education question, the events programme, what a workshop or roadshow could entail (and getting, perhaps, Leeds Loves Food involved in this would be fun), potential prizes and support. Location may need to be rethought (but I'm now thinking in terms of mobile kitchens, like you see in big marquees on Masterchef and Hairy Bikers, in one of the empty buildings so many arts orgs can find their way into nowadays) and perhaps we should be drawing on food as art (and art as food?) to tap into those elements.
I was able to hand out some of the tasty shortbread Jim'll Fix It badges (again, big happy thanks to Sunshine Bakery for those, as well as Elly Snare, who had to tun out for more ribbon twice) which got me into some more conversations; a joining the dots thing, a database of people who are willing to do stuff, a community cafe. The next thing I felt I could offer a contribution to was a Fab Lab, explaining different ways on how to get kit rather than focussing on the money (I ought to take my own advice, sometimes) and exploring different ways in which continuing revenue to keep such an enterprise going could be generated.
So I left the day with much to mull over; Leeds is apparently the debate capitol of the North, with over 40 groups and orgs whose sole purpose is to talk about stuff (next time I get a spare hour I'll research & make a list of all of them) and a lot of talking went on. How much of it translates into action is another thing, but I did get to talk to many interesting people and got quite a few interesting thoughts out of them. I guess time will tell; the bigger the project then the harder it gets. We'll just have to see whether anything comes out of this.
Oftentimes I'm quite cynical about this sort of thing. I think that this time I am genuinely hopeful. Big thanks to Emma & Mike Chitty for doing the hard work!
As an aside, I did meet some lovely people there who I'd be more than happy to take for a beer one day. Someone needs to restart the (alas, long lamented) LeedsBeer email flashmob list; sign up, and if someone posts to the list saying "Beer?" people can go "yeah, ok" or ignore it. I probably should have brought that up at the Conversations, too.