Clore Leadership Programme
Clore Leadership Programme

The Art of Conferences: The Laziness of our Sector at its Absolute Best?

Clore 14 Fellow Lucy Oliver-Harrison explores some of the fundamental problems with conferences and calls for a disruption of the status quo

Lucy Oliver-Harrison
Lucy Oliver-Harrison

The art of conferences…

What is a conference? “A formal meeting of people with a shared interest, typically one that takes place over several days.” (Oxford Dictionary)

Recently, through the Clore Fellowship, I have been lucky enough to attend conferences in London, New York, Wolverhampton, Porto and Manchester. They have generally focused on themes of arts in society, socially engaged practice, arts and tech, and the future of the arts – how the arts can be a catalyst for change, can shape and empower communities and are integral to our lives. From these (and previous conferences), my experience is that:

  • The ‘expert’, or ‘experts’, talk down atyou from a stage, often with a Chair/Moderator with a lot to say who becomes an additional panel member
  • You generally bump into the same people, with limited opportunities for ‘meeting’ new people

There is a lack of diversity (across disability, gender, race, age, class), from the speakers to the audience and they are often inaccessible (e.g. physically, financially).

To me, this doesn’t demonstrate a ‘meeting of people’ to explore, and maybe even develop, our ‘shared interest’ in the power of the arts and cultural sector. Rather, this is a structure that is fundamentally boring, hierarchical and inherently uncreative. As the ‘creative’ sector, is this conference structure we use not the antithesis of the conversations we are trying to have and the industry in which we exist? If so, then why do we have them? Do they represent the laziness of our sector at its absolute best?

I want to call for a disruption to the status quo, rather than our continued reinforcement of it. In this paper I will be exploring some of the fundamental problems with conferences, the need for a space for people to meet, and what conferences might look and feel like in order to be representative of our sector, and maybe even progressive.

My hope is that by shifting the way we ‘meet’ and talk about our ‘shared interests’ we can reinvigorate not only the way conferences are run, but also our sector. We have a wealth of expertise and opportunity to break down these structures and reimagine them, together.

To read or download the full provocation paper, click below. 




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