‘Neither Forever Nor Instant’: Rejecting Best Practice

Georgia Attlesey
Blog
25/01/2022

'My biggest learning throughout the programme was that there will never be a version of accessibility that works for everyone simultaneously.'

On New Year’s Eve 2020, I set myself a challenge like no other. Fueled by the dizziness of Langston Hughes and espresso martinis, I scribbled a single ambition for the year ahead: ‘make it ambiguous’.[1] Some of that, I knew, would be out of my hands; curbed by the pandemic and with the launch of my organisation Pudding on the horizon, instability was already primed to dominate the agenda. But I wanted to get comfortable there and learn how to lean into flux. Guided by Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde’s urgent text on activism and art, I wanted, too, to find ‘places of possibility’, and understand that ‘possibility is neither forever nor instant.’

This brings me to Inclusive Cultures. To quote Adele, I’d been ‘feeling some big feelings’ as I submitted my application for the programme. With the first three glorious months of Pudding under my belt, where we’d satisfied audiences and organisations alike, I’d felt frustrated by the lack of progress we were making on our offer of equity of access to spontaneity. Pudding’s intention is to create ‘a seat for everyone’ in our post-event forums, and we weren’t quite getting it right. I was determined to create a space that wouldn’t require individuals to commit to attending months in advance before they’d even seen the work - let alone decided whether they wanted to chat about it afterwards- in order to be accommodated. I grandly claimed in my application that I wanted to create a best practice for equity of access to spontaneity. Reassured by the credentials of the programme and the possibilities for peer learning, it seemed eminently possible.

Once the programme started, it didn’t take long for me to reappraise my ambitions. The programme’s provocations on the messiness of anti-ableism, mistakes, and interpellation demonstrated to me the need for pluralism of thought. Meanwhile, participation in the coaching sessions and the use of action learning set techniques decentred the idea of authority. I was particularly excited by the provocation that the person asking the question already has the answer, which evoked Solnit’s claim in Hope in the Dark that ‘what we dream of is already present in the world’.

The programme afforded space to experiment, play and dissent. ‘What is the most radical thing you could do next?’ we were asked repeatedly. Rejecting certainty and fixity became the urgent call. Fixity, with its assumptions, definitive narratives and predetermined needs leaves little room for imagination and digression and instead demands a universal standard that serves us. A demand that is in fact untenable.

My biggest learning throughout the programme was that there will never be a version of accessibility that works for everyone simultaneously. What we can do instead is encourage a compassionate environment for dialogue that affords individuals space to challenge when environments don’t work for them. We can create spaces with care and welcome alternative approaches to improve, enhance or adapt to individual needs. We do the work knowing that we will iterate, adjust and improve. There is no such thing as best practice, there can only be better practice. And the comfier we get knowing we’ll never arrive at an endpoint, the easier, and more rewarding the journey becomes.

As Rebecca Solnit writes, ‘Paradise is not the place in which you arrive but the journey towards it[…] victories must be temporary or incomplete’. It’s this lesson that I’ve felt throughout Inclusive Cultures. Pudding will continue to challenge assumptions, encourage empathetic dissent, and always commit to being porous and warm in our approach. We’ll operate in a permanent state of ambiguity and take comfort in our incompleteness. It’s this alone that will propel us towards change.

Two months on and the results are already speaking for themselves. The proof is in the Pudding. From our work around brave and safer spaces to our wellbeing systems for facilitators, we’ve seen a shift in approach and our impact since the programme concluded. There’s indisputable evidence that this approach is the right one for us. Stakeholders feel included, valued and crucially, always able to critique. They’ve strapped in for the ride with us. I’ve learnt then that possibility is neither permanent nor instant, just as Audre suggested, and that it’s hope, a tireless belief in things improving, that will sustain our approach. Armed with the brilliant support of colleagues and peers restlessly fighting for the same change to keep us hungry, I’m excited about the unending road ahead. We’ll be able to keep making it ambiguous. I’m so grateful to Clore Leadership and Diverse City for affording me this experience.

[1] The reflection you’re about to read is not a hysterical tirade on expertise. Some ways of doing things are unambiguously more equitable than others. There are countless examples from within our sector of brittle, dispassionate approaches creating harm and alienating audiences.

 

Georgia Attlesey FRSA is a creative producer, public speaker and the founder of Pudding. Having made big ideas more accessible through culture for organisations including Poet in the City, HowtheLightGetsIn, Julie’s Bicycle and London Film School, she founded Pudding in 2019 as the sweet spot between organisations and their audiences. A Roundhouse Creative Entrepreneur alumni, she mentors for I Like Networking, Arts Emergency and hosts a weekly drop-in office hour for young creatives. She lectures collaborative practice and creative facilitation at BIMM, facilitates for organisations including Inc Arts, and is the host of the Confluences event series for Penned in the Margins. More info about Georgia here.

Pudding is a post-event forum that enriches audience experiences and demonstrates organisational impact.. The sweet spot between organisations and their audiences, the unstuffy discussion forum enriches audience experiences of live events while delivering valuable insights to organisations. Through its playful approach Pudding ensures organisations connect with their communities when they're most inspired, deepening engagement and demonstrating impact. To get the full scoop and book a first taste visit pudding.org.uk @puddingevents