Spark:Ignite 2021 online conference review.
The first Spark conference in 2020 was a moment in galvanising the future, tapping in at a point when intersilient was poised to become serious in its intent. Started off enthusiastically and the impetus proved useful with plans made for many ideas. Exhibitions booked, tickets to Art Fairs bought, plans to support artists and reviews of established interests arranged. How were we to know that a Global Pandemic of coronavirus Covid-19 would thwart all these endeavours? Visits to Art Fairs in early March were achieved, but the constraints of the pandemic were beginning to show in finding it frustrating not to shake hands with exhibitors as was usual, and soon the doors were closed completely. Plans to exhibit artist Bryan B. Kelly with Exhibit Here Maze of Colour Exhibition at Bargehouse London were postponed and we are still hopeful it may re-emerge in the future.
The forced change by the pandemic from an in person conference to an online one, Spark:Ignite 2021 has had its drawbacks. Not seeing people in the flesh has made the experience rather lonely at times. Feeling as though no one else is experiencing the same event at the same time was strange, even knowing the audience was 7 or 70 people didn’t seem to help the isolation. The few opportunities to meet up, albeit via the technology, were useful, but limiting. The discussion subjects were understandably loose and the direction of the conversation hard to second guess, consequently the significance was lessened. However it was great to see real faces and to be challenged by the discussion. The obvious advantage to the online experience is that the talks that made up Spark:Ignite 2021 were all recorded and are now available through YouTube and can be accessed here. This also means that whereas last year the talks overlapped in the day and there was a necessity to prioritise and attend the most appropriate, at least this year all the talks can be enjoyed by everyone attending and those who may not have been aware or were too busy home-schooling! Covid-19 has a lot to answer for!
The hosting of the conference was friendly and fluid, Bronwen Alsop, compere, was personable and proficient dealing with any unavoidable difficulties with a smile. Closed captioning and accessibility problems were dealt with where possible and a desire to confer with the Spark community to improve the service was noticeable. Johnathan Branson, having confidently sorted the subtitles, was thwarted by the technology at the last moment. Thankfully all the talks on YouTube are now subtitled or transcripts available.
Learning new things is the joy of this kind of event and although it was different in style I certainly learned new things. I was alerted to the necessity of being aware of “ableism”, a phrase that had passed me by I am afraid to admit, however not the sentiments and difficulties it raises. Ableism is the intentional or unintentional discrimination or oppression of individuals with disabilities and I learned the importance of remembering the person comes before the disability. I tried in future meetings to be more mindful and will look further into the philosophy and my own practice. I was intrigued at introducing oneself with a description of my surroundings, clothing and personal features, being aware of those attendees not able to access the visual medium. I learned about photogrammetry and photorealistic virtual reality environments, with RiVR, 3D imaging of historical buildings and archaeology which was extremely interesting. I also learned of a new model for office working at No.1 Mill Street with Nigel Shanahan which is inspiring in itself, providing comfortable work stations with a friendly coffee bar environment, or one-off rental of meeting space. One thing that the Covid-19 conditions has brought to the fore is an exploration of a new model of working, the policy of working remotely whether from home or an environment such as Mill Street provides is a glimpse into the future.
The plans outlined last year for the Creative Framework 2020-2025 for Warwick District Council have materialised and many changes have come to fruition. The document can be downloaded from here and moving forward interested parties are invited to join the Creative Compact and the accompanying Creative Forum to drive the vision forward. To register your interest contact Johnathan Branson, Projects and Development Manager (Arts) here.
The Creative Quarter in Leamington Spa discussed at length in Spark 2020 has also begun and the consultation process has progressed. The response to the consultation can be found here. The updates on Coventry City of Culture 2021 plans have been affected by the pandemic restrictions and government guidelines, but plans have adjusted accordingly. The events may have been delayed, but plans are in hand for an exciting programme making the most of the City and its neighbours. The latest news on events is listed here and the welcome additions of the Turner Prize and the 2021 International Booker Prize adds to the anticipation of a brilliant programme. Last year the beginnings of a plan for the Commonwealth Games 2022 in Birmingham was part of Spark 2020 where locally Royal Leamington Spa will host the Lawn Bowls and Para Lawn Bowls competition. The far-reaching fingers of the virus are so far not impacting too much on plans, but the pandemic may have other ideas. Hopefully the Games will continue as originally planned and the world waits to return to normal, even if it may be a new version of normal.
The camaraderie of last year was missed and the opportunity to chat over coffee and to eat together, usually a vital element of a conference, was definitely lacking. Sitting at a computer with a Marmite sandwich was not quite the same as the delicious food and sociability candidates enjoyed last time. I know there were people there I knew because of the Whova App used by the conference organisers. Looking at the attendance list there were many names I recognised and would normally have spent time catching up with friends and colleagues as well as making new connections. Strange that I didn’t see, or was not aware of, any one of these people at the same talk as myself, sad that we did not share the experience. Last year I struggled with my unfamiliarity of the Whova App, but this year was better. I had a newer phone, included the app on my laptop too, and my wi-fi was more reliable which helped, but being forced to use it to access everything did make me fathom out the intricacies a little better. In fact the opportunities to engage and the comments, polls, competitions, image galleries etc were so vast I know I missed a lot. Pleased to learn the Spark:Ignite 2021 event remains live on the app for a year. So complaining at the lack of interaction is only in person and depends on how comfortable you are with being online and virtual, because the opportunities were there.
The consequence of attending this Spark:Ignite 2021 was not quite as energising as Spark 2020, but it served a purpose of rekindling the impetus gained last year, of inspiring others to be involved, of the chance to update on progress and to ignite a renewed enthusiasm for the creative heart of the Midlands. The future is intersilient-suddenly obvious and needing investigation. Thank you to the team at Warwick District Council for not giving up and for working round a problem; a model that all in the creative industry have demonstrated and need to follow in these difficult times.