Accelerator Insights: Feb 2021

Three round tables with people sat around them talking

JB and Arts Council England’s Accelerator is a cultural sector support programme that cultivates the skills, knowledge and aptitudes for environmental action. It helps cultural organisations embed sustainable practice through a combination of training, peer exchange and mentoring from Julie’s Bicycle and other leading experts in the field.

In 2020, we welcomed our second cohort of Accelerator organisations, covering a range of cultural disciplines and sustainability challenges, such as artist and audience mobility, circular economy systems, renewable energy infrastructure, and audience engagement.

Marking the half-way point in the Accelerator programme, we asked our participants to share their activities, learnings and reflections so far.

Challenges and Opportunities of Covid19

The pandemic has presented multiple challenges for the Accelerator cohort – shared by organisations across the arts and cultural sector. The group has grappled with numerous uncertainties, including changing budgets, shifting organisational priorities and furloughed staff, all of which have made it harder to progress their project plans. For some, the impacts meant changing the scope, or nature, of their original Accelerator proposals. Despite these setbacks, the pandemic has also created an unprecedented break from the norm, in which some have had more time to reflect on their practices, and develop their environmental knowledge and programmes. One organisation described this time as an ‘enforced period of slowing down and reflecting on our practice generally’.

“The programme so far has been hugely enlightening. The early zoom presentations from leading experts were hugely inspiring and thought-provoking. Getting to know the other Accelerator organisations and projects has also been inspiring and widened my sphere of knowledge and understanding for the sector.”

Collaborating and Sharing Knowledge

The 2020/21 Accelerator training was delivered entirely digitally over several months. One benefit felt universally by the cohort was having regular check-ins and the opportunity to share knowledge and learn from different approaches. This was particularly important in a context of remote working and associated feelings of disconnection. As part of the Accelerator project development process a number of new consortiums have been formed in order to address shared challenges and find new creative solutions.

“The main reflection I have is the importance of sharing knowledge and ideas with others, both internally with other staff and with other members of the Accelerator programme.”

Case Study: Live Art Development Agency (LADA) and Gasworks, Emergent Ties: Actioning Climate Justice

This consortium is looking at the cultural sector through an intersectional lens, understanding how class, race, sexuality, age and gender shape the experiences of artists and organisations – their resources, opportunities and structures – as well as society as a whole.

Working with their large network of organisations, LADA and Gasworks are empowering their partners to reach those individual staff and audience members, artists or organisations who may be most affected, oppressed or displaced by social and climate injustice and ultimately readdress the balance of power. They are working together to capture and share knowledge and approaches, monitoring progress in order to develop a lasting model. As part of Accelerator, organisations work with leading mentors who can provide specialist expertise and insight. LADA and Gasworks have chosen to work with Ama Josephine Budge – a Speculative Writer, Artist, Curator and Pleasure Activist whose work includes climate change and more specifically climate colonialism and justice.

New Confidences, Skills and Knowledge

By working together, deep diving into principles of sustainable practice and gaining inspiration and knowledge from leading experts, the Accelerator organisations have reported feeling better equipped to face sustainability challenges head on. They have also reported gaining an array of new skills, for example: techniques and methods for capturing data, evaluating projects, carbon foot-printing, organisational and behaviour changes.

“Due to confidence from being in the Accelerator project we have successfully secured a full-time PhD funding under the title ‘How does an arts organisation transition into a more equitable and active climate constituent?’”

As my particular project has evolved, I have found myself becoming more knowledgeable, confident and bold in terms of the breadth and depth of the investigation and where it can go and how it can reach an audience.”

Accelerator organisations have also reported a greater understanding in the breadth of climate and environmental work happening across the cultural sector, which “widened our sphere of knowledge and understanding for the sector.”

Contributing to a Green Cultural Recovery

Julie’s Bicycle has been working with the sector to pave the way for a just, green cultural recovery. We wanted to understand from our Accelerators how they felt their involvement in the programme was helping them to contribute to this movement. The Accelerators captured in their responses how developing new models, new processes, practices and networks would support the sector and wider society to support this sustainable transition.

“With a new sustainable transport model for international working, the sector will be able to have a template for implementing in the wider cultural sector. Having differently scaled organisations in our consortium, this affords us the opportunity to make a responsive toolkit which could be used by a breadth of organisations.”

(The programme) “can help organisers to feel more locally focussed, and face directly towards their communities and place. To work more collaboratively with colleagues working with different members of their local community, and to create networks of both previously known, and previously unknown partners to inspire and share knowledge and experience.”

“Embedding sustainable practices and material choices into the design process throughout, meaning that our future community of makers will consider this a priority or necessity rather than an afterthought, and anything that is designed and manufactured with us moving forward will factor in its environmental impact as equally as its financial cost…the development of networks and relationships with others trying to achieve similar things means that we are working towards a culture of mutual support, knowledge sharing and best practice across the creative industries.”

Case Study: Fast Familiar, Abandon Normal Devices and Arts Catalyst

This project is building awareness of the hidden environmental impacts of digital – revealing the often complex systems that sit behind platforms and creation of tech equipment as well as helpful ways to mitigate this. Dan Barnard from Fast Familiar was a guest speaker for JB’s recent webinar on Digital Sustainable Creativity, and featured case study in the accompanying sector briefing, where he talked about the work they are doing. Fast Familiar’s first carbon-neutral project blog also explains in detail the steps and practical actions being used to address the carbon impacts of digital work. As part of their Accelerator project they are developing an online emissions calculator tool and online toolkit.

“Being able to do the work together has been much more rewarding than if we were trying to do this alone.”

  • Header photograph: Accelerator workshop participants at The People’s History Museum in Manchester, photographed by Priti Shikotra