Short film on 33,000 Everyday Artists Project

This 7 minute video gives a great overview of the 33,000 Everyday Artists project. It includes interviews with various participants and wonderful visuals of people engaging with the project.

Thanks to Nick Hand for making the film.


Survey design

Although a traditional survey seems at odds with the playful and creative intentions of the project, we’ve realised it’s a helpful and efficient means of gathering data from 33,000 Everyday Artists participants.

It’s been challenging writing the survey questions because we want to gather useful and meaningful data but also be short and sweet so as to not put off respondents and in keeping with the ethos of the project.

Whenever writing survey questions, it’s important to firstly decide exactly what it is you’re trying to find out. As such, the objectives for this survey were:

  • To document lessons learned
  • To get a sense of the level of participant involvement
  • To gather data from participants on what did and didn’t work
  • To identify the project’s longer-term impact/sustainability

We used the platform Survey Monkey and the final questions were:

  1. Approximately how many of the 31 challenges did you do? [0-31]
  2. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the below statements? 1) I would have described myself as ‘creative’ before undertaking the March Challenge. 2) I would describe myself as ‘creative’ now’. [Strongly agree; agree; unsure; disagree; strongly disagree].
  3. What did you like and dislike about the March Challenge?
  4. What impact has 33,000 Everyday Artists had on you? 
  5. How did you hear about 33,000 Everyday Artists? [Email; social media; meeting with 33kEA representative; other]
  6. Your profile [student; academic; professional services staff] and faculty? [Arts & Humanities; Dental Institute; Law; Life Sciences & Medicine; Natural & Mathematical Sciences; Nursing & Midwifery; Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience; Social Science & Public Policy; Culture at King’s; other]
  7. Your gender? [Male/Female/Other]
  8. Please share any other thoughts about the March Challenge or the ambitions of 33,000 Everyday Artists (including how it might be continued at King’s) here. 

We also offered the incentive of a £50 Amazon voucher to entice people to respond.

For any readers who have taken part in 33,000 Everyday Artists, please fill in the survey here. The deadline for completing the survey is Friday 8th April.

33,000 Everyday Artists featured in Arts Professional magazine

LOGOArtsProfessional, the UK’s leading arts magazine, have featured a case study article on 33,000 Everyday Artists. ‘A small town of everyday artists‘, written by Laura Speers and Jo Hunter offers a snapshot overview of the project and some initial observations.

Read the full article here.

Is communication key to creating a social movement?

communication-groupOne of the key challenges we’ve come across during this project is how to communicate a message to a group of people the size of the town of Wisbech.

It seems a universal call to action doesn’t work across every constituent arm of King’s. We’ve found that a one-size-fits-all is not applicable to a population of 33,000, nor when the groups are as diverse as young students, cynical academics and diverse professional services staff. Instead, a message tailored to the specific audience is needed.

One of the main challenging aspects of communication for this project is trying to avoid the sense that 33,000 Everyday Artists is a top-down initiative, and is instead a bottom-up movement. Unfortunately emails directly to KCL accounts give this impression. Furthermore, the tone, language and style are of crucial importance.

The various target audiences who comprise King’s have differing dispositions and characteristics so not only does the message have to be tailored towards them, but the platform of communication as well.

For students, official university emails are not read or at least not engaged with. Social media (specifically Instagram and Facebook) have been the best means of communicating to this segment of King’s. For professional services staff, email has been the most successful mode. The hardest group to crack has been academics as email does not work for them because it is viewed a chore and something additional to do.

The one thing we’ve found that applies to the entire population of King’s is that face-to-face communication goes a long way. Hearing the project from a personal angle, being able to associate it with particular faces, and having a captive audience has had a significant bearing on the engagement with and uptake of the project. This is evident in that after a lecture drop-in or staff meeting there is a sharp increase in profile uploads to the 33,000 Everyday Artists website.

Communication has emerged to be a critical aspect of what enables and/or constrains embedding an everyday culture of creativity. More specifically:

  • Audience segmentation, both in terms of message and platform, is essential.
  • Although we have been wary of ‘instrumentalisation’, having some sort of incentive to attract participants (even just that it’s fun) has made a difference.
  • In a large institution where there is sometimes distrust of senior management, it’s important to make your project not be seen as top-down or corporate.

Fielding (2006) argues in his book Effective Communication in Organisations that there are different levels of communication in organisations. These include: organizational; mass; small-group; interpersonal; public; and intrapersonal. Furthermore, communication is made up of the following elements: sender; receiver; message; code; medium; and channel.

Going forward with the project, or reflecting on how we might have done things differently, it is potentially worth thinking in terms of these communication ‘levels’ and ‘elements’ to gain the impact needed to harness 33,000 people.

What factors enable and constrain embedding an ‘everyday culture of creativity’?

Based on a preliminary rough and ready analysis of data collected so far in the project, it’s possible to delineate potential answers to the question of what enables and constrains embedding an everyday culture of creativity in a university context.

Data collected thus far includes fieldnotes, personal reflections by Jo and David, records of meetings and conversations, research literature, observations and various iterations of documents (comms, research notes, excel file) that are stored on dropbox.

Enabling factors

Non-hierarchical – a flat hierarchy where people ditch their titles and badges and simply be themselves is an important feature of a play space. Though of course, this opens a can of worms regarding what being your ‘real’ or ‘true’ self is.

Communication – this is key. How you talk to people and tailor the message to them makes a big difference. Linked to this is a significant issue around trust. Furthermore, communicating with each other, encouraging dialogue and ‘developing communicative tolerance’ is a crucial step in the process of enabling ‘social creativity’.

Counter-cultural – this does not necessarily mean being subversive and rebellious but rather just the opportunity to challenge the status quo. We need to be reminded that culture isn’t fixed, we can question the ‘rules’ and what ‘normal’ is.

Physical space – it’s important to have a space and the freedom to stop and be able to sit and just think and reflect.

Permission and legitimisation – giving permission has re-emerged as an important feature of a play space. Permission to just ‘do it’, permission to be themselves, permission be open and honest.

Non-instrumental – in order to be successful in developing creativity we need to ensure that the goal is holding the play-space open and not doing so for any extrinsic instrumental, goal-driven purpose or intention.

Vulnerability – being part of a play space and truly being open to experiment and takes risks requires a great deal of vulnerability and honesty.

Toleration of uncertainty – although very challenging, we have to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity and let ourselves play without knowing where we’re going.

Courage – we need to take risks, dare to question and experiment. It appears lots of people are scared and intimidated to do this, either because of a fear of failure and not getting it ‘right’, or because of a sense of apathy and not wanting to participate.

Facilitation – it helps to have people who can encourage and empower others to be open and share their passion. Support is a general sense is also connected to this.

Champions – it’s really helped to have people who ‘get it’ and communicate the project to others and also can support and facilitate others to get involved. This has ranged from KEAS, to supportive Deans and people we’ve met in meetings.

Make time – sounds obvious but unless we make a space in our hectic schedules then creativity is unlikely to happen.

Critical reflection – being able to both collectively and personally reflect on the process and feeding this back into the play space is a significant aspect in self-renewal and also innovation.

Praise and encouragement – it seems that when individual inputs are recognised and celebrated, people feel validated are more likely to continue being involved and getting others to participate.

Parameters – although this might seem like a constraining factor, we’ve noticed that setting parameters can be enabling in creativity. The parameters can encompass a shared purpose and managing expectations.

Constraining factors

The following have been identified as factors that inhibit embedding a culture of everyday creativity:

Hierarchy – based around issues of job positions and titles, top-down leadership, qualifications, competition, and ego, unsurprisingly stifle creativity. This power imbalance is not conducive to creating and sustaining a play space. Furthermore, power issues can result in defending the party line and also lead to a resistance to change.

Limiting beliefs – there appears to be a widespread feeling of a lack of agency. Many people feel as though they can’t do anything and are stuck. This is linked to an overwhelming sense of stress and pressure that people feel under. Limiting beliefs can be both real and imagined.

Monitoring – many people feeling as they are under constant surveillance and are under pressure to meet goals and targets. The corporatization of higher education and concerns with branding, PR and image also feeds into this sense of monitoring.

Apathy and/or cynicism – negative attitudes significantly inhibits the creation of a play space. We’ve found this manifested either in a sense of apathy and low morale, or suspicion and skepticism of the project.

Lack of space – lots of people have commented on the lack of communal spaces to hang out and meet, and also quiet spaces to just sit and be. Everyone is on the go constantly but not connecting with others.

Instrumentalisation – focusing on goals, outputs and success negatively impacts play, experimentation and risk-taking.

Professionalism – this is connected to hierarchical issues but is slightly different. We’ve found lots of people hide behind their titles and badges and are reluctant to be themselves. This leads to a lack of honesty and authenticity which impairs an everyday culture of creativity as people are not being themselves.

Project reflections

Artists in residence Jo Hunter and David Micklem, who are leading the 33,000 Everyday Artists project, write reflections at the end of each day they’re at King’s. This helps capture what has happened, any important decisions and progress that has been made.

The reflections are also a great personal response to the day’s activities and conversations which are often far more revealing than ‘hard data’ in a quantitative or list form.

Two months ago, David summarised the project in these three overarching ways:

1 Contention We contend that there are already 33,000 passionate everyday artists at King’s A website / digital artwork / online repository
2 Action Do – we need to take the energy behind these passions and apply it to everyday life A month of challenges through March
3 Reflection We want to observe what’s happened because of 1 and 2. The research

He went on to reflect:

A day of meetings can be exhausting. Especially when you are having versions of the same conversation over and over again.

But the consistent moment of energy in these meetings is when we ask about people’s passions. When we give permission for people to come out from behind their desks, to lower their guards, to be a bit more human, to show a little more of themselves – that’s the moment of excitement. The Dean becomes a competitive dinghy sailor; the librarian a rock guitarist; the historian a war games aficionado. We ask the question and the atmosphere changes in the room. Something a little bit magic happens. This is the essence of our project.

Recurring themes emerging from the project thus far indicate that features of an everyday culture of creativity include permission, openness and honesty which is linked to trust, and facilitation in encouraging people to be themselves and share their passion.

Cultural creativity and dialogue

It is useful here to quote from the social philosopher Martin Buber’s work on ‘cultural creativity’, which addresses this thorny relationship between creativity and culture directly (albeit not in the context of a university):

There are two aspects of culture: creativity and tradition. On the one hand, all cultural life is based on personal creative production. Culture derives its vitality from the plethora of creativity, and when in any culture the flow of innovation ceases, its power is annulled, since that culture lacks any power if it does not have the power of innovation, the power of constant renewal: or self-renewal. But on the other hand, none of these productions succeeds in developing a social character; that is to say, does not become an integral part of that culture, unless it enters into the process of give and take; if it does not become material which can conveniently be passed on and be joined to all productions created throughout the generations to become something paradoxical: a form of generality.  There are two sides to culture: revolution and conservatism, i.e., initiative and routine existence. Each one alone has great historical value, but only the two together have cultural value. (Buber, 1962: 383-86, translated from the Hebrew)

As Buber goes on to observe, we should be particularly concerned about the possibility that the ‘state’ (for which we might also read any organisation or institution wielding power) might come to dominate the forces of social and cultural spontaneity.

headsBuber highlights the importance of ‘dialogue’. As Eisenstadt (1992: 8) observes: “The central characteristic of situations producing creativity is the existence of a dialogue, of communicative openness”. It is interesting here to make a connection with the literature on ‘social creativity’ (Wilson, 2010) and the university ‘in the age of supercomplexity’ (Barnett, 2000). These emphasise the importance of ‘developing communicative tolerance’ as a key step in the process of enabling ‘social creativity’ – defined in terms of “our relational consciousness towards others and with the ‘other’” (Wilson, 2010, p. 373).

Other key steps include a) enabling interdisciplinarity; b) supporting collective critical reflection; c) facilitating engagement; and d) applying alternative methods. These themes represent an important backdrop to the development of the research design for this project.