Interview with Culture Bridge ahead of Imagine If….Digital Conference Series starting 15th November.
It’s very nearly time for this year’s Culture Bridge Imagine If Conference – we are so looking forward to it and attending – there is always so much learning and we firmly believe that when arts professionals and educators, come together, some very exciting collaborations, skill sharing and synergy can happen. Our Artistic Director and CEO delivered a keynote address at last year's conference and you can still watch that HERE.
Ahead of this year’s Imagine If Conference across 15 November – 19 November and our opening interactive workshop, Learning environments that support grit and build bounce, we thought we’d sit down with Ellen Johnson from Culture Bridge North East and find out about this year’s conference. Read on to find out about this year’s Imagine If theme, what to expect, the passion and purpose behind it and why, if you work in the arts and/or education with young people, that you need to book your free tickets!
Let’s dive straight in with an introduction….
My name is Ellen Johnson (they/them) and I’m Culture Bridge North East Project Officer and Lead Coordinator for this year’s Imagine If…Digital Conference Series.
What is Imagine If, when is it and who is it for?
Imagine If… is our annual flagship conference for the North East cultural and education sectors to come together and explore a common theme. Before the pandemic, it would be a day-long event with workshops, keynotes and free time to network with new people. When social restrictions began, we knew we needed to re-think the way we do Imagine If so we temporarily re-branded and created the Imagine If…Digital Conference Series, moving it all online. It’s been a huge success and we’ve managed to reach a lot more people from different regions (and countries!) than we usually do.
The ambition is to return to a real-life Imagine If when the time is right but we’ve learnt so much about the benefits of digital delivery, we may look to having a hybrid conference in the future! This year’s conference takes place 15-19 November.
Can you tell me about this year’s theme and why creative bravery is so important to culture and education sectors right now?
This year, we’ll be challenging our delegates to explore the theme ‘Imagine if…creativity gave us the freedom to learn without inhibition and to accept mistakes as part of our life-long discovery’. Our aim is to provide challenging workshop content that will showcase how we can take creative risks without the fear of failing and help children and young people sustain their early creative bravery in life. It will be an opportunity to re-programme our minds to see mistakes and failures as normal markers along the road of self-discovery.
We were inspired by a quote from Arts Council England's 2020 - 2030 strategy, Let's Create, “Learn, take risks, fail where necessary, and finally flourish”. As we come out of era of pandemic isolation and social restrictions, children and young people are faced with the enormous task of the ‘academic catch-up’. Normalising the mistakes we make whilst learning, growing and creating is now more important than ever in supporting pupils and students with life’s pressures and the emotional toll that ‘returning to the world’ after Covid-19 will have on their self-esteem and confidence. Our ambition with our 2021 theme is to provide teachers and cultural organisations with the creative tools to help their young people discover and learn in the face of ‘mistake-anxiety’.
Culture Bridge does brilliant work – bringing together education and cultural sectors – why do you think it’s important that they connect and work together?
Our vision is that everyone growing up in our region and beyond should have a childhood rich with arts and culture.Taking part in excellent cultural education enables children to make meaning, discover connections with others, find and develop their unique talents, and build the confidence, resilience and transferable skills that set them up for life. This isn’t possible without the education and cultural sectors working together with a shared vision and purpose.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve done in the last 12months and what did you learn?
The bravest thing I’ve done in the last 12 months is come out as non-binary. There was a great deal of anxiety and fear in doing so; thinking of how the closest people in my life would react and whether this would be the end of our relationship. Through this, I learnt that I have chosen these people to be in my life for a reason. They have all been so supportive and have worked to better understand LGBTQIA+ experiences.
Biggest mistake in the last 12months and what did you learn?
My biggest mistake has been doubting myself and my abilities. When working from home, alone and during a pandemic, often times your work becomes insular which can exacerbate your inner-critic. You don’t have your colleagues around you to level you out and to reassure you. I worked through this and learnt that when I doubt myself, it’s about my own insecurity and not about my skills. I also learnt that when I feel like this, the best thing to do is reach out to the team for a catch up or even just a quick SOS for positivity!
What can folx expect from this year’s programme and why should they come along to the conference?
This year, we have a fantastic programme of workshops and delegates can expect to be challenged by our thought-provoking content! Our speakers from Mortal Fools, TIN Arts, Cragside Primary School, Into Film, Hotspur Primary School, Newcastle University, Musinc and LEGO Foundation will be exploring creative bravery and risk-taking in the face of failure whilst re-imagining what failure and mistakes actually mean and why they affect us so much. Attendees canexpect to be inspired!
Mortal Fools CEO Kiz Crosbie is delivering the conference opener with “Learning Environments That Support Grit and Bounce” – why did you select our session for the opener?
We’re excited to open Imagine If with Mortal Fools and their workshop. The session has lots of opportunities to participate which is a great ice-breaker for a conference series. The content explores the concept of failing and social context around the building blocks that cultivate creative environments for risk taking, innovation and the celebrating of mistakes. We felt this offered the delegates a foundation of knowledge and a fantastic spring-board into the rest of the week’s conversations.
What do you hope attendees take away from the conference?
Is the conference accessible?
We’ve been working hard to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and supported at our Imagine If conference. One of the perks of having a conference online is it opens up our programme to a wider network of people but there is still work to be done to ensure that digital spaces are open and accessible to all. We have a digital stage manager who is fabulous and will be on hand to assist anyone in the conference space.
We never presume anyone’s access needs and we’ve been in touch with people directly to ask them what they need to make their Imagine If experience a success. If anyone wishes to attend but wants to discuss accessibility further, our virtual door is always opens and they can contact me directly by email via: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sum the Imagine If Conference in three words?
Discovering, challenging, connecting.
How do folx book? Do you have to book individual sessions? Is it free?
All of our workshops are free to attend. We appreciate how busy our teachers and cultural venues are so we’ve separated out our conference week into individual workshop bookings so people can dip in and out of Imagine If when it suits them! You can book on to any and all workshops, you’re interested in via the Eventbrite links found on our webpage: https://culturebridgenortheast.org.uk/imagine-if-2021