Thu 01 Apr 2021

An Atypical Bran Damage, Tianzhuo Chen, Transform 19 – JMA Photography

Last June, I wrote an update on where Transform was at. We were very much at the early stages of grappling with the impacts of the pandemic and the fall-out for artists we work with. At the same time, like everyone we were faced with much bigger questions, trying to make sense of the new reality we were faced with, and considering how we could use this opportunity to think more deeply about the nature of culture and address outdated systems of power.  For Transform, this led us to question the very urge and motivation behind what an international festival might look like and represent in the future.

I wanted to reflect back on where we are 9 months on (has it really gone by that quickly?!), andshare what we’ve been working on alongside some positive news and ideas for the future.

Right now, we are excited to be working with some brilliant artists and creative people to concoct new ideas and projects for our next festival (more on that later). Some of these artists are based locally, some nationally (supported by the Foyle Foundation) and a few are new international collaborations (which we have specifically been able to start developing thanks to the support of Leeds 2023). I can’t wait to share more about these new projects. For now, they are initial sparks and seedling ideas at the early stages of development. Whilst commissions and processes are in motion, it hasn’t yet felt quite right until now for us to start thinking about inviting artists back into rehearsal rooms, but we are nearly there, and have been doing lots of work with partners behind the scenes to plan how we safely start bringing work to life in rooms from May onwards, which we are really looking forward to…

In the lead-up to last festival Transform 19, supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Leeds Inspired, we tested out a model of collaborating with younger people to create performance for our festivals. This was a completely change-making experience for Transform, and sparked all kinds of conversations around how a wider community, specifically younger people, might not only have creative agency within our festivals but also have decision making say in terms of the kinds of artists Transform commissions, and the kind of work we present. We have been doing lots of work behind the scenes to further shape those ideas over the last 9 months, and are beyond thrilled to share that Paul Hamlyn Foundation has now committed to three-year funding for us to further develop and expand on this work. We are now gearing up to spend the next three years building a collective of younger people who will have agency and autonomy within the Transform festivals, creating, commissioning and curating performance. At the same time, we will work to further develop our support for artists regionally at important points in their careers, expanding the creative ecology Transform facilitates as part of our festivals and year-round, whilst exploring and expanding on what an inclusive festival of the future can look like. Our plan is for performance curated and created by younger people to form a pivotal part of Transform 23, in collaboration with the brilliant Leeds 2023 who we are also working with to develop these approaches, which will be a central focus for us over the coming years and beyond. We are also thrilled to have secured support from Leeds Inspired, The Liz & Terry Bramall FoundationBackstage Trust and Garfield Weston to develop this ambitious three-year programme. We want to acknowledge and celebrate these funders for taking a step into this adventure with us, we genuinely can’t wait to see how this work changes Transform as we know it. More soon, as we start to reach out to assemble a collective of 16-21’s to collaborate with us from this summer onwards.

In other news, we have been continuing to work closely with our partners Battersea Arts CentreDance4FierceGIFTand MAYK, supported by Arts Council England, to imagine a different kind of international showcase for England. One that’s kinder, more caring, and genuinely values international exchange and collaboration above marketplace and export. It obviously continues to be a precarious and uncertain time to be planning a project of this kind, and there’s just so much to consider, but we’re getting there, and are gearing up to reveal more concrete details about how artists across England can engage with that project very soon.

We have been doing lots of work behind the scenes – thinking, fundraising, developing our board and team, working on growing a little more as an organisation outside of the pressure of constant delivery. We have also been doing some deep thinking together with our board around accountability and working practises. Inspired by conversations and shifts across the sector we’ve been developing a new Equality & Inclusion policy, and thinking about what anti-racist practises mean for Transform. This has led to us setting out our aspirations in regards to anti-racism, across research and programming, creative processes and the operations of the organisation and creating a plan of action that our team can deliver and uphold as proactive and ongoing learning. This thinking is now being further shaped and developed together with critical friends within and beyond the team. Throughout this process, we’ve been thinking about how an organisation like Transform can hold itself accountable, and how our team and board can make themselves available for listening and conversation with our wider community. We’re working on some ideas and models to make sure that as we get back to putting festivals on, we can still hold space for reflection. More on that soon as that work emerges.

Amongst all of this, we haven’t forgotten that we run a festival… and have been starting to plan when our next edition might happen, and what shape it could take. We’re also thinking about how the festival can happen in a way that still feels true to Transform – in terms of that very particular alchemy and collision that the festival has been known for, of both the local and international. Brexit, as well as the uncertainty of the pandemic, complicates international collaboration and presentation in all kinds of ways. 9 months ago, we were aiming for an Autumn festival, but with each month that goes by that starts to feel less possible for Transform. Right now, we’re leaning into (and excited about) the idea of a ‘slow festival’ that perhaps might begin in Autumn and move through into next Spring, to give us flexibility and allow us to experiment with new ideas. We think the next festival will inevitably be a bit different – slower, deeper, and hopefully more care-led. We want to give space and time to kickstarting projects and ideas that might later culminate as part of Transform 23, whilst also rebuilding the bold programming of artists from across the city and beyond that we so believe in. This is where we’re currently at, but inevitably, things may change and shift. Either way, we’re building it, and it’s on its way, for as soon as feels possible.

In the spirit of that, having been 1.5 team members all year (myself and our very exceptional Administrator Keturah Lewis), Transform is finally now building our team! We have recently introduced a brilliant new Producer to our team, the sensational Ali Ford who has previously worked with Square Chapel and Commonwealth and will take a lead on making our projects happen, and our collaborator Tshayi Hercules (who works with the incredible Getaway Girls amongst others) has come back on board as Project Manager to support our work with younger people.

We are now recruiting two new roles –  Producer (Creative People) a role which is supported by PHF and which will be instrumental in developing our work around co-creation and artist development. This will be someone who is excited about nurturing a new inclusive generation of creatives and change-makers within an international festival context.

We are also recruiting for an Assistant Producer to support us administratively and creatively as we deliver a variety of projects over the next year. This is a great role for someone at an early stage in their producing career, or who is interested in the arts and has built up relevant experience in other ways.

And last but never least, following five years as our founder Chair the incredible Sheena Wrigley will be stepping down in 2021 to focus on other projects and in-line with our succession cycle. This now opens up an exciting opportunity for someone new to oversee the charity. This role is perfect for someone with leadership experience, who believes in the power of live performance and an international approach to inspire change. Our current trustee Toni Dee Paul has written this beautiful letter describing her journey as a trustee and what she thinks we need from this role. Please do give it a read and if you have a moment, share the recruitment pack with anyone you think might be interested.

That’s all from me. This style of sharing is still very new to me, I’ve very much been a head down and get on with it kind of girl for a long while, but I’m getting used to it, and starting to enjoy it.

If you want to get in touch for a conversation – please do –