ACW Stabilisation Fund – application

Project Title
Critically Speaking: The White Album

Project Start Date
27/07/2020

Project End Date
24/05/2021

Total Project Cost
£9912

Total Amount Applied for
£9912

Access Support Costs
£500

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Tell us about your proposed project or activity.
As well as a brief description of the project, explain to us the artistic and/or creative idea for your project or activity. Tell us why you wish to do it, and why now (if relevant)

Firstly, I want to express my outrage at the situation we find ourselves in when approaching this application. Categorically this application should be in Jafar Iqbal’s name yet, once again, institutional racism is a barrier to access. The 50% freelance income rule, regardless of why it exists, means a barrier is placed that will disproportionately affect those who already face the white dominance of our industry. Statistically, a freelance creative of colour in Wales has less opportunity to meet this arbitrary rule due to systemic racism in our industry and in society. I hope you will see flexibility in your structures and allow me to use my undue privilege to apply at this time. 

Jafar is an important cultural and critical voice in Wales, as well as an artist in his own right. This work, and the podcast he proposed to me in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, feels urgent and necessary. Coronavirus is not the only virus we face; racism has long deeply infected how we operate. Jafar wants to combat this directly through conversation and also through creative responses.

This podcast will bring together conversations with the white leaders of prominent venues and arts organisations, giving them the chance to speak openly and honestly about their thoughts on the arts scene as it stands, where they’d like it to go, and how they plan on using their leadership to contribute to this change. It will encourage difficult and necessary conversations about the arts in Wales, focusing on issues surrounding systemic racism and white privilege. At the end of each podcast episode, we will platform an artist to voice a creative response to that discussion. 

Many organisations have committed publicly to having these types of dialogue, and we hope to capitalise on this moment to ensure it’s not just a social media fad, but a genuine learning experience for the whole industry. Up until now we have never seen meaningful and decisive action, and we believe accountability and transparency are key to catalysing necessary change. We are certain many audiences in Wales would welcome hearing these dialogues, especially those who have consistently felt let down and unwelcome by our sector. A black square on an organisation’s Instagram does little to change the whiteness of our industry or build trust with unserved audiences; an honest dialogue could. It’s important now more than ever, in what is arguably one of the most transformational moments in world history. 

This project is an opportunity to: 

  • Create deep levels of learning and understanding about structural racism and whiteness in the arts and society. 
  • Shine a light on the current understanding at the highest levels in the arts in Wales. 
  • Develop a platform for a wider variety of creative voices, especially those from artists of colour
  • Develop the art of having these conversations
  • Develop Jafar’s confidence in his own professional development as an important cultural voice
  • Develop and deepen the presence of Jafar within the theatre sector in Wales.

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Tell us briefly how COVID-19 has affected your freelance income due to the cancellation of existing and future work.
Tell us whatever you feel you’re able to about what has happened to your income as a result of COVID-19. We’re not able to support you through this fund if your change in circumstances is not related to losing income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jafar – As an artist of colour, I was already disproportionately affected by a lack of income from the arts, before COVID-19. Studies conducted by Arts Council of Wales show that the number of artists of colour working in the industry is extremely small, with very little done to address that disparity. Since the spread of COVID-19, funds such as this one have sought to help artists who were already earning an income from the arts. This means that white artists, who make up the enormous majority of monetised artists, are disproportionately more likely to receive funding. That’s why this application is under Shane Nickel’s name and not mine. I must also be frank and state that prior to the Black Lives Matter protests I was beginning to feel that I should leave the arts. Opportunities for me to progress as a creative (or a critic) in Wales have been almost non-existent. While I believe I have a respected voice in Wales, every step feels like a new start, of me getting a ‘foot in the door’. I am dangerously close to running out of feet.

Shane – I have seen a reduction in my income, and instability and uncertainty as a freelancer. It seems that my own situation could worsen as we head towards the end of the year. I am currently working part time for yello brick, which will be ongoing, but the company has been impacted by COVID-19. We’ve lost significant work and have had frank conversations about the possibility of our future. It’s also clear that, if I do not take time to better understand how to work with artists in socially distanced ways, I may find myself irrelevant in the face of coming challenges. 

COVID-19 has mostly affected my passion and made me seriously question what there is worth producing at this time. I believe creative fatigue is a real problem for our industry and how we combat that is something I wish to take time to think about, develop and share. Process has always been a passion of mine and I have an understanding of artist development and digital creative processes that I think I can draw upon and apply, sharing any knowledge and success with the wider sector.

It is almost certain there will be a second wave of COVID-19 and, potentially, a second pandemic in the coming years. I’m yet to see a strategy formed by our organisations, the only tactics seemingly are to delay or hurriedly stick work online. I worry for our long term resilience. If we do not learn better socially distanced practices now we will continue to repeat the same mistakes in the second wave, which could be the point much more of our industry collapses.

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Tell us about your track-record of working in the publicly-funded arts and culture sector.

Jafar has been a part of Wales’ cultural scene from the moment he arrived in the country in 2015. Most notably, he has established himself as one of Wales’ foremost art critics, with the distinction of covering Welsh theatre for publications such as The Stage, WhatsOnStage and as an Associate Editor for Wales Arts Review. Quotes from his criticisms have been used by artists and organisations for promotional purposes and later funding applications, demonstrating his importance to the cultural ecosystem. Jafar has also written several pieces on systemic racism in Wales which have led to greater awareness and, in some cases, genuine change. Jafar is also a creative in his own right, in various guises including writer, podcaster, workshop facilitator, programmer, editor, performer and dramaturg. Jafar’s varied work experience has meant working with BBC Wales (TV and radio), BBC Asian Network, National Theatre, Sherman Theatre, Wales Millennium Centre, The Other Room, Dirty Protest, Cardiff Book Festival, Gentle/Radical, Theatre503 and many more. He is also plugged into Literature Wales, notably as an attendee on a Ty Newydd course, and he has performed his work at the Seren Poetry Festival and Where I’m Coming From. His track-record is such that he was successful in his application to become an Arts Associate for ACW and, to date, has sat in on one Large Grants meeting.

Shane likes theatre and art with a powerful voice and innovative vision; artists and organisations who enjoy doing things differently by questioning the establishment and the norm. Shane started out producing work of an immersive and participatory nature but has gone on to work on a wide variety of different projects across theatre, digital art, opera and more. Shane has worked as a freelance creative in Wales since graduating in 2012. Working in the publicly-funded arts and culture sector as an actor, writer, producer and director. Shane has managed several ACW projects for companies and artists such as Dirty Protest, Kelly Jones, Fio, yello brick, Chelsey Gillard, Chris Harris and has advised or been involved with many more. Shane is also an emerging producer for the NTW 2020 season working on developing artists on the located residency programme. Shane was also an instrumental part of setting up Cardiff’s Queer Arts Collective and organising dialogues around the state of queer arts in Wales. This group is ongoing and has led to employment opportunities for many of its members and worked as a support network for queer artists in Wales. The combination of Shane’s digital experience and work in reaching a wider audience in innovative ways makes him an excellent candidate to be examining the issues we currently face and supporting Jafar in his artistic endeavour. 

Shane’s practice has always been about developing artists and building a more equal and inclusive sector. This application is a way to develop practice at this challenging time; continue Shane’s professional relationship with Jafar; and to better understand how we adapt and operate in anti-racist ways, now and always. 

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Tell us what difference a grant from us would make to your work.
Tell us how it will contribute to your development, or the development of others. What outcomes and results do you expect? And what do you think might change as a result of our funding?

For too long the labour of educating white people on the things they too often do not see or forget is unpaid work; it is intensive and exhausting. Paying Jafar to have these important conversations, and paying for input from other researchers or creatives, is vital. The banner of being publicly funded gives this important work the validity it deserves and a recognition ‘the white man’ cannot ignore. The cultural benefits of hearing Jafar have these conversations can’t be overstated – hearing commitments from power and seeing truth spoken to that power could help in healing our sector’s relationship with our oft-forgotten diaspora communities. Trust with current structures is an all time low. Diaspora communities have a long history in Wales, but that’s not reflected in our venues or Portfolio organisations.  We must all work towards changing that. By addressing this, the podcast will signal that the arts in Wales is definitely for all – that we have gotten too much wrong but are willing to commit, on record, to change. We must also reflect on the fact that we are approaching this project as two cis men, a bias that we will acknowledge and discuss as part of the process. We will get things wrong and we will learn from them.

We will also make space in each podcast episode for a creative response to the subject matter. This will platform emerging and important cultural voices of colour who we feel should also be heard. Jafar’s own creative voice will be given space too, something he is not always given the opportunity to share. Too often Jafar is seen as ‘just a critic’ because that is his primary relationship with the sector. This podcast will offer ample space for Jafar – and others – to combat stereotypes and define their own creative voice. 

This project will also enable Jafar more time to think and reflect on his future development as a freelance creative in Wales. Jafar is one of few artists who has proposed work to me since lockdown that I can see the direct public benefit of. This work aligns with my practice and my passion of working towards building a more inclusive sector and calling out injustice. I also believe that, if the combination of structural racism and COVID-19 means that Jafar leaves our industry, we would lose a vital critical and artistic voice in a sector already too internalised and centered on the white experience. I’m also excited to work with Jafar as an artist, helping him explore and showcase his creative voice and writing. I have extensive experience producing in digital spaces and developing artists. I also see an opportunity to develop my practice and processes for social distanced creative working. On a personal note It is also about how I refind my passion for producing and the publicly funded sector and working with artists and managing creative relationships at this time. 

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Tell us how your project or activity meets the Arts Council’s priorities?
How will this money support you to build resilience and sustain your artistic practice? What do you think you’ll be able to do to support the Arts Council in its concern for equalities, diversity, inclusion and Welsh Language.

The Arts Council has consistently stated it wants the arts to be ‘for the benefit of all’, and we believe that an important step in making that a reality is to examine the power structures currently prohibiting it. In almost every report conducted by Arts Council Wales it is mentioned that diversity and equality targets, specifically surrounding people of colour, haven’t been met. This project is directly and overtly linked to ACW’s desire to address these concerns. Many of the organisations we talk to will be Portfolio members, who have it in their remit to improve representation. By having important conversations about whiteness and structural inequality with these Portfolio organisation leaders, we can hopefully educate our industry and invite new audiences and those still uncertain if these commitments to change will result in any beneficial action.

As we’ve done in previous work together, we hope to raise the profile of under-platformed creatives and direct people to existing work making a difference. This is not just a flash-in-the-pan response to the current BLM protests – we’d like this to be a long term legacy-building piece of work with conversations spread over a longer period and continuing through 2020/21. The uncertainty of the current climate means this may take more time, due to the varying situations and constraints on our lives, personally and professionally. We also believe rushing to the delivery of work is where often things are overlooked and the bias of our processes go unchecked. We want to work with full transparency in this process so our mistakes can be seen and learnt from. 

To ensure maximum coverage we also plan to release transcripts of the interviews in English, so it’s accessible to those from the D/deaf community. We will also look to the possibility of bringing in an additional host for an episode entirely in Welsh. Whilst seeking additional funding to transcribe every other episode in Welsh which we believe would cost around £520 per episode due to word count. 

This project also gives space and time for Jafar to investigate the ways and means of him becoming more resilient as a freelance creative and build a portfolio of work that begins the process of  him making the majority of his income from his artistic and critical work. Sustaining his artistic practice at this time rather than being forced into other industries.  

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Management of the project
How will you plan to do what you want to do? What planning have you done so far, and how has this informed your approach? Describe the steps you’ll take to ensure that your project or activity is delivered effectively given the current circumstances.

We will aim to make 10 episodes of the podcast, at ~£1000 each. Our exact timeline on each episode is flexible because delays will be a natural occurrence, for two reasons. Firstly, the current climate places new pressures, constraints and fatigues that we need to be cognizant of, for ourselves and for our guests. Secondly, availability is impossible to anticipate, as many will be dealing with day-to-day crises of our sector during covid-19.

The first month will involve planning and further exploring the voice of this podcast and the voices it must platform. This will include detailed planning of the schedule of release, dictated by who does – or doesn’t – agree to take part, and those confirmed guests’ availability. Regardless of who says yes, ten podcasts will still be produced, exploring the current dynamics of whiteness in Wales. For  example, this could be looking into why a certain organisation has refused to take part and how that relates to the wider conversation. We will also look to get additional support and knowledge where necessary and educate ourselves on how best to approach these dialogues. Developing both mine and Jafar’s ability to do this work now and in the future. 

These costs are based on the following estimations, which includes planning, development and administration time per episode:

  • **Jafar’s time – £250  
  • **Shane’s time – £190
  • Contributors time – £150 
  • Research costs – £50
  • **Cleanfeed Software – £15 
  • **Editing Software – £15
  • **Equipment – £30
  • ** Podcast Hosting £9
  • Technical Support – £100 
  • Sound Design – £50
  • Transcription – £50

**costs split across 10 episodes

Jafar’s time will include the writing, researching and hosting the podcast, to ensure a balanced and fair approach to his questioning. He will also be responsible for ensuring that, where appropriate, space is given for other voices to become part of the dialogue

Shane’s time will include helping develop the podcast, administration, editing support and facilitating the employment of any additional creative or technical team. 

These conversations must be ongoing so, rather than rush to release, it’s important that we take our time in creating the podcast. We are therefore giving ourselves a timeline of 10 months. Our initial schedule, once all podcasts are recorded, would be to release an episode every fortnight. However, Shane wishes to take time to research the listening behaviours of podcast audiences and ensure the most informed structure for release is taken. A ten-month time-frame gives us that time to produce something that is not only engaging and transformational in its content, but of the highest quality in its production.

We also understand we are asking for the full amount at a time when funds are limited but we believe this work to be vital and worthy. Nevertheless, if ACW decides to reduce the amount assigned to us, less episodes can be made as a response (but this will mean less dialogue and accountability). We hope to find further funding to continue this work beyond this grant and keep conversations in Wales about race and inclusion in the arts ongoing.

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Access Support Details

We are wondering if we can employ a translator so that, during the Welsh episode, Jafar and I are able to contribute and understand this conversation. We would run this digitally as you would at a conference with Jafar and myself having access to both feeds and have someone live translating to us during the conversation. We think this will enable us to contribute better to this episode and ensure we don’t have to hand off full creative decision-making to another team.

It will also enable us as lead artists within the edit and still be able to identify what we think needs to be in the episode in collaboration with our Welsh team and not require an additional burden on them to be our translators.

I am unsure if this counts as access costs but will also enable us to look at how you can live translate conversations in socially distanced ways. At a conference, we would have the headsets – what are the ways we can recreate this in spaces like Zoom? This knowledge and features already exist but it will enable us the time and means to explore and apply and share findings.

Nevertheless, we still believe we can make the Welsh-language episode happen without this money but it will remove us from the process of making it and require more from those we collaborate with.

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