Applications are open for the 2018/19 Visual Artist Fellow with the Clore Leadership Programme. It’s 3 months since completing my 2017/18 Fellowship and 3 weeks after our official graduation at Tate Britain where Maria Balshaw, director of Tate gave the opening address and encouraged us, in all the work we have ahead of us “to remember the art”. The art is what motivates me to develop as a cultural leader and knowing that engaging with the arts in all its forms can offer positive transformational experiences individual and collective, personal and social, domestic and political.

Many people have asked me how the fellowship had gone and its hard to communicate in a neat capsule statement. It’s unwieldy, challenging and complicated, it’s also supportive, dynamic and exciting. Even though I had written my own fellowship plan and timetable it was fast paced and at times felt relentless. There were the inevitable times when I was buffeted from a conference to a training event to a coaching session before heading off to my secondment. Within this I found Clore to be a combination of being both in the present: listening, learning, reflecting, and thinking about the future: planning, up-skilling, stretching. I used a coaching session with Fearghus Ó Conchúir to reflect on all the rushing around to explore how “I would like it to be” which turned into an idea of having a Slow Week. This consisted of reducing input from meetings, conversations, reading, social media and WhatsApp and increasing walking and reflective thinking time. As the fellowship progressed I thought how important that slow time was to me.

Each Clore Fellow has to write a Provocation Paper about a leadership topic of their choosing. This usually happens in the latter stages of the fellowship. I had a couple of options but it was Slow which really demanded attention. The cultural sector is under more pressure than ever, delivering more with less resources coupled with a culture of working extra hours to meet both our own and organisational standards, this was a good time to tackle this topic. Published in September, the paper introduces the ideas of “Slow” to recruitment, participation, partnership and leadership with suggestions for practical implementation.

“Slow can be considered to be lethargic, half-hearted, dull, perhaps unspectacular, the very opposite of what leadership is projected to be. I would like to reclaim slow as a positive term that facilitates greater inclusion, reflection and considered action in cultural leadership – in fact leadership in any sector. Slow means to be unhurried, measured and moderate. Working with slow could be more deliberate, steady and sedate. What is wrong with being slow-moving? What if slow, being slow, facilitating slow, accepting of slow, were considered a strong facet of leadership? What if slowing down was considered to be a leadership approach and a skill to be admired?”(1)

It was more than ironic that I wrote the paper mostly in a hurry. It was near the end of the fellowship and with my final report to write it kept slipping down my to-do list. When I did get to it, I felt hurried and rushed so I drew upon a quote from Carl Honore from his book In Praise of Slow:

“The slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. Nor is it a luddite attempt to drag the planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. On the contrary the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast paced modern world. That is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and slow when slowness is called for.”(2)

It made sense to be writing the paper slowly but in reality it needed to be completed within a specific timetable. Waiting for the perfect environment, time, resources and support would have been unproductive. In a similar vein there will never be the right time to test out the slow way. So I issue an invitation to read the paper to think on slow, test some of the ideas or simply think about what slow could mean to you, your organisation and your wider life. The provocation is really a call to thinking, reflection and experimentation.

Writing the provocation paper has raised my awareness of slow and other slow advocates. Speaking at Pivotal Moments: Professional Development Models for Mid-Career Artists Donna Lynas, Director at Wysing Arts Centre said

“I feel like we’re reaching a bit of a crisis moment – who are we doing this all for? Why is everything so frenetic all the time? I personally feel that everything needs to slow right down.” (3)

Jo Moran considers slow reading in the digital age in a piece for the Guardian “Go Slow”.

“Reading is constantly promoted as a social good and source of personal fulfilment. But this advocacy often emphasises “avid”, “passionate” or “voracious” reading – none of which adjectives suggest slow, quiet absorption”.(4)

Post Clore Fellowship I am reminding myself that slow is an option and that pragmatism is the friend of productivity, especially when tasks can quickly expand and multiply. As I undertake my Arts and Humanities Research / The Clore Leadership Programme research project Affective support for creative practitioners working in participatory arts for health and wellbeing I am, having read guides to undertaking research projects, speed reading my way across the literature review territory and slowly working through the survey design and responses from contributors. As ever its the combination of approaches which can prove to be the most productive.

1.Nicola Naismith Slow: ideas for recruitment, participation, partnership and leadership Clore Leadership Website 2018

2.Carl Honore, In praise of Slow, Orion Books, London 2005 p.9