Do you remember the image of Jesse Jackson during Obama's acceptance speech last year? Tears of pride involuntarily rushing to the face of this now-elder-statesman of the Civil Rights era, as a man he had sometimes disagreed with achieved the dream that Jackson had dared voice - a black man in the White House. Most people, whatever their politics, must have had at least one 'Jesse Jackson moment' during the Obama campaign last year; a moment when tears welled up as the significance of it all struck home to the heart. I had a few, but the one I remember most, perhaps because of its seeming insignificance, was watching an elderly white woman talk about the campaign a few weeks before the poll. Not long before, the Republicans had had a surge on the back of Sarah Palin's feisty populism. Palin had caused a lot of joy at the Republican convention by mocking Obama's CV as a 'community organiser' and comparing it to her record as a small time mayor. 'What's a community organiser?' she had sneered. 'Is that like a mayor without actual responsibility?' For a moment she had made Obama's career seem small and lost in the language of political correctness.
The elderly woman that I saw speaking on the news was organising for the Obama campaign in Virginia - a state that had seemed impossible for Obama to win until very recently, but which now was now looking like it could go Democrat. The woman in the interview looked like she'd had a lifetime of working for lost political causes and was about to finally get her reward. The reporter commented that Virginia wasn't turning just because of the resonance of Obama's message, but because of the depth of his grass-roots organising. The elderly woman smiled into the camera, her own eyes teary but joyful. 'The Republicans laughed at us' she said. 'They said "What on earth is a community organiser?" They are about to find out!'
It's a cliché now to talk about how Obama energised the web 2.0 generation, but 'community organising' isn't a web phenomenon, it's a way of thinking about society, and how we interact with it.
If you read books like Charles Leadbeater's We Think
you begin to get a sense of a very different way of developing ideas and orgnaising ourselves from the usual clichés of the inspired leader, genius inventor, or lonely artist. Leadbeater looks at how the best ideas are often developed collectively now - whether that involves open source software, inventions like the mountain bike, or 'beach democracy' where people organise space without any property deals or trespass laws.
The arts, and particularly theatre, ought to be great at this group organising: much art, and all theatre, is a communal effort. However, we are very caught up in certain Romantic myths of the artist. We are also hampered, in our organisations, by a fear of being seen as 'unbusinesslike'. A great, if pretty long, speech
by Diane Ragdale of the Carnegie Melon Foundation was just sent to me by the fantastic Dominic Campbell, director of the Bealtaine Festival
in Ireland. The speech was given last year, but it's way ahead of anything else I've read by an arts funder. Ragdale talks about a completely different way of making arts happen under themes such as 'Go Cellular', 'Let the Art Dictate the Space, Not the Other Way Around' and 'Fuel a Fan Base - Sample and Share!' Dominic sent me the article because he'd been taking a look at this website and thought we were following a lot of the principles that Diane Ragdale talks about. I'd agree. And a lot of the companies Ragdale mentions, from the UK's Improbable to New York's Foundry Theatre, are companies that we are hoping to make links with because of the way they work.
There's an opportunity at this moment to re-imagine arts and creativity by using completely different organisational principles. I'd say that a group like 'Dirty Protest' is a good example of these new ways of working. If you have time, take a look at the links to Diane Ragdale and Charles Leadbeater and let us all know what you think we can use at National Theatre Wales. Or point out other ideas and examples.
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has been contributing to the lively 'What Shows Where' debate. There have been loads of exciting ideas (and some lovely photos!). (In fact we are so inspired by the photos we are going to have a summer photo contest - watch this space for details.) Lucy and I will be spending time this week poring through all the input and trying to imagine what the Theatre Map might look like.
Thanks also to the smaller but very thoughtful group of folk that responded to my question about diversity in Welsh theatre. I thought the responses were very honest and useful. We need to find ways to push forward with this debate over the coming months.
This week I am off to the Living Landscapes
conference in Aberystwyth A fascinating range of theatre makers, academics, artists and environmentalists will be talking about the art and performance of landscape. Hope to see some of you there! And talking of trips. Who's going to Edinburgh this year, and do you have any recommendations of shows to see?