Rewiring the Network - Episode 0: How we will shape the future of the network together


IETM was just preparing ‘Rewiring the network for the twenties’, an interactive trajectory to collectively design a more sustainable future for the performing arts, when the face of the world changed in a matter of just a couple of weeks. Can this corona crisis — which for now is increasing all the pressures on our work — might also be the catalyst, breaking down and phasing out unsustainable practices and paving the way for a more sustainable future? Let’s redesign our Rewiring trajectory in order to find out together.

A couple of weeks ago, you received a double invitation from IETM, in a mailing under the promising subject header: “Shaping the future of our network together”. The first question you were asked was to fill out a brief online survey. The second was to attend a large-scale brainstorm during the Spring Plenary Meeting in Tromsø, on the 2nd of May. This double invitation was to be the start of an intensive trajectory that would last all year long. We would take time to develop an overview of the issues that the performing arts in Europe and beyond are dealing with, and to re-assess the role of IETM as an international network in supporting the performing arts ecosystem, which indeed has changed significantly over the last decades.

With the start of the new decade, the time is right to reflect on the development of a more sustainable future for the performing arts, and the role IETM can take in it. (IETM Newsletter, 3 March 2020)

For several reasons, the timing for such an exercise was right. First, it is a good time to look back. Next year, in 2021, IETM will be having its 40th anniversary. So this is a good moment to celebrate the achievements of a network that  — without a doubt  —  has been a pioneer in international networking. But it’s a good time to look forward as well. Not only because of the symbolic fact that we’re at the beginning of a new decade. But also because IETM will start preparing a multi-annual funding application as a network within Creative Europe. This is a good starting point to assess where we are and develop plans for the future. So the idea was to have a series of large scale workshops during the two plenary meetings and some interactivity online (surveys and reports), in order to engage as many members as possible.

So the IETM Secretariat engaged us - Delphine Hesters, Martina Fraioli and myself -  as a team at IDEA Consult to set up and facilitate a trajectory about sustainability and system change, partly based on our R&D experiences about new ways of working internationally (Reframing the International) and collective experiments to strengthen the position of artists (Do it Together) when we worked at Flanders Arts Institute. The trajectory will  consist of brainstorms organised next May and during the IETM Autumn Plenary meeting, and a series of discussion papers. 


When discussing the title of the project, the idea of rewiring the network ‘for the twenties’ was quite charming. There were all these associations with the twenties of the previous century, which supposedly were roaring and challenging, but also quite jazzy. Little did we expect the ‘black swan’ that would define the start of the twenties: this new coronavirus which — only a few weeks after this double invitation — caused IETM and their Norwegian partners to cancel the Tromsø Spring Plenary meeting. 

The current uncertain situation is putting a lot of pressure on everybody working in the performing arts: artists, companies, presenters... Most of us are going into survival mode, trying to find solutions… In times of lock-down and self-isolation, there is a huge need for connection and collaboration. In the urgency of this moment, the European networks immediately started collecting information about the current situation of their members living and working in different contexts, sharing solutions and approaches. But this time of lockdown means we have to look beyond those immediate actions and start practicing new ways of exchange and communication.    

We have to put our efforts in finding alternative solutions and we are determined to do so. Perhaps, at the end of the day, we will invent new ways of communicating during these unprecedented times, which will prove useful and valuable in the future. (Ása Richardsdottir, ‘Important announcement concerning IETM Tromsø’)

At this moment, IETM members are exploring alternative ways of exchange within the network. Fittingly, the ‘Rewiring the Network’ is to be part of this exercise. 

Partly, this is a challenge, because setting up brainstorms with large groups of people is of course best done in a real live setting. Doing it online will be quite an adventure. There are a lot of tools for digital collaboration at hand. But is there a system that can host large scale brainstorms online? A recent experiment has shown that brainstorming remotely is indeed challenging and there are a lot of technicalities to take care of. The experiment in the context of the (Creative Europe) RESHAPE project proved to be successful. In this bizarre context, everybody is genuinely interested in exploring alternative solutions and approaches for connecting and collaborating. 

So, while the current need to rethink our way of communicating is a challenge, for a trajectory that aims at ‘rewiring the network for the twenties’ and reflect on more sustainable practices in the future, this is also a gift. When we sent out the questionnaire and asked the members about where in the sector they saw ‘unsustainable practices’, the first response was this: ‘IETM situating a plenary meeting in a place only realistically accessible by most by plane (Tromso)’. So we’ll grasp this opportunity, together with you, to set up an experiment for a large-scale networking brainstorm. Of course, we will need to tweak and redesign some elements of the trajectory we had previously set up, and change our tools and weapons. Here’s the new timeline. 

I. The first three chapters: past, present and future of our network

In the next couple of weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts about the past, the present and possible futures for our network.

  1. This is the first episode, introducing the project.
  2. In the second episode, we will first flash back on past achievements of IETM since its misty origins in the early eighties, until now, and the conditions for the success. In what context did the idea for an international performing arts network actually pop up? What did  people want the network to do? What were the promises of international networking, and what have been its achievements?
  3. In the third episode, we will discuss current pressures on the performing arts ecosystem. We can safely say that there have been important achievements in our ecosystem, but that pressures are increasing, both within the performing arts and as a result of external trends and circumstances. We will map these pressures on the basis of your input provided via the survey.
  4. In a fourth episode, we will focus on the weak signals of what might be a more sustainable future. Also on the basis of your input for the survey, we will present interesting ideas and experiments for more sustainable practices. Based on the pressures you identified, we will try to look for interesting approaches. 

On 19 May, we will introduce the project and share the results of the survey during a webinar for which you can register here.

II. Designing transitions

On May 19th, we will gather online for a large-scale brainstorming experiment, designing the transitions that we would like to see happening in the worlds we live and work in. 

In this session, we will briefly recap the results of the survey, before breaking into different working groups that will design and discuss possible transition trajectories for the performing arts ecosystem – moving from the current system to a more sustainable future. The working groups will focus on the sustainability of our performing arts practices with regards to the different value frameworks that are relevant for our work:

  • Human valuesHow to create a future where the human fundament of our sector is strengthened, in the face of the multiple pressures being put on individual artists and art workers? 

This group will discuss how to strengthen the people in the ecosystem - the artists and art workers - with regards to the development of their careers, their socio-economic position, their working conditions, inclusion, access and recognition. 

  • Social values How to break out of our social bubbles and develop sustainable and long-term connections with people outside of our current networks? 

This group will brainstorm on how to get out of the bubble and strengthen the social connections of the performing arts, focusing on  several co-verbs - to connect, to collaborate, to co-project, to co-create or to common, as well as on the societal impact and the way we develop relationships and networks with communities and audiences…

  • Artistic valuesHow to create a future in which the intrinsic artistic and cultural values are widely regarded and respected as factors for personal and societal development? 

This group will not only look into the intrinsic values of the performing arts for society, but also the necessary conditions for artists and organisations to develop and create this value. 

  • Ecological valuesHow to create a future in which the ecological impact of our work is respecting the boundaries of our natural ecosystem?

This group will not only examine the impact of the energy and resources that we use when developing, producing and presenting our work, but also the need for a vision on the boundaries of what we do in a broader, planetary context.

  • Economic values – How to create a future  in which the economic resources in our sector are fairly distributed, creating the proper conditions for all these other values to flourish?

Joining this group, you can discuss not only funding and other forms of public and or private support of revenue. You will also discuss the way we distribute and redistribute these resources among ourselves in the performing arts ecosystem (fair or unfair remuneration, sharing of spaces and infrastructure…)

  • Open space How to create a future  in which we start seeing that all these so-called value frameworks are in fact interconnected? 

Last, there will be an open space for those who think our reality is way more complicated than this: for those who want to discuss issues that can not be captured by the value frameworks mentioned above, and for those who think it’s a bad idea to separate all those issues and values. 

III. The role of the Network in these transitions

In the last phase of this project — after the summer break — we’ll focus on the role IETM (and other art networks, projects and forms of international collaboration) can take in accelerating our transitions towards more sustainable practices in the performing arts. What the world will look like at that point is of course unknown, but let’s assume we will be able to discuss all this in a large Plenary Meeting in Belgrade, accompanied by real life handshakes, hugs and drinks.

At the end of the year, everything will be wrapped up in a final publication.

Join us on this trip

So, we hope you’re willing to join us on this journey. This opportunity is as  urgent as it is historic. International networking since the eighties has been quite - even very - successful, but  in the last decade  pressures have been particularly increasing. So many of us are working on interesting, sometimes radical alternatives that might one day be the prevailing practices, structures and cultures in our performing arts ecosystem. But for now, this is not the case. How can our experiments be more than just survival strategies? Can they be the first initial signals of a future paradigm shift? That is what we are about to sink our teeth into and find out. To do so, we need to shift into experimental mode and try out how digital tools can be useful in co-designing futures.

The future will tell whether this corona crisis — which has had a huge impact on our lives and work so far — might also be the catalyst, breaking down and phasing out unsustainable practices and paving the way for a more sustainable future.

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