Roughly this time last week (at the time of writing) two significant things occurred in my life and I want to look at the second one first. On arriving home late last Thursday night, my wife announced she had a present for me. After over 30 years of marriage it’s getting hard for us to surprise each other, but I wasn’t expecting to receive a beautiful hardback copy of the book ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’, by Charlie Mackesy, an artist, author and sometime public speaker we recently discovered. (www.charliemackesy.com)
The book is a beautiful meditation on what it means to be human in a sometimes impersonal world, and is a real treasure. Even better, you can literally read it in around 20 minutes, which gets my vote every time. Comprising a wonderfully illustrated, rambling conversational journey between the four characters, I was particularly touched by page 10, where the mole asks the boy “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the boy replies “I want to be kind”.
It's nice to be kind
It seems like kindness is in short supply these days, and it feels at times that we’ve all had the ability to rub along together replaced by very short fuses. We see this in the media (both ‘social’ and real), in the way we cut each other up in traffic, and in the harsh words and snap judgements that we fall back on in this unstable political landscape that continues to divide us along tribal lines, lines which sometimes cut right through friendships and families.
On to the first significant thing: my reason for getting home late was that I was attending the Allianz Arts & Business NI 2020 Awards at the Lyric Theatre here in Belfast. My involvement with A&B NI and the awards goes back more years than I care to remember, as my business has supported both Arts & Business NI and the annual awards with event branding, advertising, AV and film support each year and we had a big Whitenoise representation there with two guys filming and another three as invited guests along with me.
This year was a little different for me as I was asked to sit on the judging panel to assess and award the successful arts and business partnerships in addition to my usual duties. I found this to be fascinating, daunting and emotionally very moving in equal parts, as we learnt about the partnerships, their work and the impact it had on their various audiences.
A common thread throughout all the projects was how the individual businesses and arts organisations worked really hard to understand each other, mesh together and deliver on their joint projects. Hearing how stuffy accountants and theatre performers, or hard-nosed print salesmen and exhibition curators extended kindness and understanding to each other as they worked towards a shared goal and outcome was inspiring and heartwarming.
But be curious and courageous too
Another common thread I observed as I reviewed the award submissions was a curiosity on the part of the organisation leaders from both sides - to see what would happen when two very different entities merged for a common purpose. But such curiosity would never have had the chance to flourish and become a tangible ‘thing’ if it weren’t for a courageous attitude - for business leaders and owners to be unafraid to invest resource and time into something that may not have an immediately tangible or measurable effect on their bottom line, and for arts professionals not to have their vision diluted, creativity stifled or integrity compromised.
Such is the value of organisations like Arts & Business NI - they posit the big ‘what if’ questions to both the business and culture sectors, and encourage a thought process that takes courage, is sparked by kindness and fuelled by creativity to deliver so much.
Collaboration, by the numbers
Some numbers to consider that we were presented with on the night: 51 partnerships were entered into the Awards… 33 partnerships were shortlisted… these projects generated £326k in cash sponsorship… and an additional £48k of in-kind support… the projects drew 76,000 attendees… and 180,000 viewers of visual arts, across 11 exhibitions and 4 shows… the projects directly involved 1,320 employees in delivery… while 4,409 children engaged in creativity through projects involving schools and youth groups… one of which gifted 4,125 books to children - who got to meet and workshop with the authors!
Speaking as someone who works in ‘the creative industries’ yet remains very commercially aware (wages and bills to pay!) the choice to exercise kindness, curiosity and courage that we the audience saw on stage last night came as a challenge to us all to work together to build a richer society - one not just measured in GDP, but in cultural, creative and artistic growth too - for the benefit of us all.
Arts & Business is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.