Miranda Ballin

Artistic Director of Sparc (formerly ArtWorks) part of Valley Kids, a community development charity operating in the South Wales Coalfields. Miranda’s practice is focused on co-construction and collaborative practices most recently with Artes Mundi and Trivallis (Social Housing) on an Arts Council of Wales, Ideas People and Places regeneration project receiving highly commended at the UK housing awards 2017. In 2015 Valleys Kids became the first Welsh associate of Tate Exchange, she is a member of the Tate Exchange think tank developing the relationship with over 60 associate organisations. In 2017 Sparc began a collaboration with Wales Millennium Centre funded my Paul Hamlyn Foundation called 'Together Stronger' linking Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys.
Previously a theatre director, performer and youth arts development worker. Miranda has worked with a number of theatre companies including the Theatr Powys, Welsh National Opera and Red Ladder Theatre Company she is the Chair of YANC (Youth Arts Network Cymru).

How the Fellowship impacted me

Through the Clore Leadership programme I was able to identify key areas that I wanted to achieve when returning to my work in South Wales. I didn't come to Clore wanting to change my job or particularly to look at my own career but rather to utilise the Fellowship to strengthen Cultural leadership in a community context. I was deeply concerned with the increasingly divisive cultural practices that isolated rural and post industrial communities from Cities and the concentration of wealth, power and cultural provision in London with little or no benefit to communities like mine. I was wary of the increasing focus on high profile capital expenditure projects at the expense of more small-scale community led work. Rather than resenting these practices I wanted to find small but effective ways to build successful bridges between the South Wales Valleys some of the most deprived communities in Wales and both London and Cardiff, to model how this may be possible in different contexts.

I clearly identified this in my plan and worked with my coach and mentor to implement this successfully. Key to that success was the careful consideration by Clore and Sharon Williams placing me with Baroness Jenny Mackintosh, my subsequent placement at Tate Modern supported by Anna Cutler the Director of Learning and Research for Tate. My choice of a coach in Sara Robinson was equally significant; it is still hard to quantify the impact working with these three women had had on my confidence and ability to implement change although this has been both challenging and overwhelming at times I have grown in the process.

Prior to Clore I didn't sufficiently recognise my own capabilities and agency and it was hard to open doors into worlds so palpably different from mine, through the programme I began to recognise that I had both the skill and ambition to connect seemingly different worlds and that the knowledge I had acquired over 20 years of practice in my context was equally valuable providing a different kind of knowledge base from the more conventional Cultural Leadership models. I am still processing the impact of my time with Clore I would have done things very differently with hindsight and should have paid more attention to my own needs and wants particularly hard was the direct return to work, but I am work in progress and the fact that I have seen a qualitative shift in connecting people from different backgrounds and experiences through my interventions in such a volatile time of change in the U.K is something I remain proud of.

How I am using my skills for change

I have focused my energy in two areas raising the profile of Sparc and creating bridges between cultural institutions from very different worlds.

During my time at Clore I had to submit a three -year application to Arts Council of Wales as part of the Arts Council of Wales Investment Review ensuring I could develop my work with Sparc (formerly ArtWorks). Experienced professionals who were previously young people from the project largely run this project.
To celebrate 20 years of successful practice we rebranded ArtWorks and became Sparc, this process was led by the young people, Sparc team and a wonderful design Company, my leadership role was to facilitate the process and ensure it was of the highest quality. In this process I was mindful of legacy as well as projecting to the outside world the remarkable work that my team and the young people were achieving and ensuring that we raised the profile of their work.

Building bridges with large -scale organisations enabled us to shine a light on communities in the South Wales Valleys by supporting young people and families to share their experiences and stories, ensuring they were shaping cultural policy and moving away from a top down approach to Cultural Leadership. Key to the success of this practice was my ability to raise funds practice enabling us to develop long term and sustained collaborations with Artes Mundi, Trivallis, Tate and Wales Millennium Centre. We insisted in the construction of the partnerships that there was equality and recognition that our communities contain knowledge and experience that is of equal value to those of large-scale organisation.