a network is neither an association nor a federation. A network is an organism, a structure, a way of organising rather than an organisation as such. Its specific value comes form its flexibility, its approach, the process and the spirit of the network.

– Manifesto of European Cultural Networks

They flourish in the gaps between conventional cultural provision and could be seen as natural counterbalances to formal cultural life and ideal. Networking is a synergy that produces a multiplying effect, where information is the currency of self-empowerment and human contact is the means of distributing it.

– Networking Culture: The Role of European Cultural Networks
By Gudrun Pehn, Council of Europe

Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks (2003) discusses shifts of ‘information economy’ which make ‘diversely motivated’ groups and individuals generate and spread ideas. He describes network culture as a mixture of commercial, non-profit, government, education, and amateur cultural production models. In this new culture, production and distribution costs are reduced, and participants are no longer restricted to organising their relationships through price systems or traditional social and economic organisational hierarchical models

As Clay Shirky says, The power of networks to challenge institutions is easier than using that power to create institutions.

The Fence is an international network for working playwrights and people who make playwriting happen – across Europe and beyond.

Initially a collaboration between Writernet (UK), The British Council and Creative Renewal, and in association with the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts – IETM, the Fence was launched with an international writers’ retreat in John Osborne’s old house at the Hurst in Shropshire in October 2003, and then as a Meeting Group at the IETM in Birmingham exploring the practice of contemporary dramatic writing in many culturally diverse European contexts.

The network has since built on the success of this launch by growing to include more than 250 playwrights and cultural operators from over 50 countries, and has held meetings in Budapest, Graz, Belgrade, Tampere, Amsterdam/Utrecht, Graz (again), Leeds, Istanbul, Timisoara, Glasgow, Guadeloupe, Paris/Bondy, Rabat, Rome/Tuscany, Amsterdam (again), Waterford / New York, Prishtina, Waterford / New York (again)Mannheim, Istanbul (again), La Charite-sur-Loire, Rokiskis (Lithuania), Cairo, Sofia and Atlanta. Activities arise organically via relationships formed across the network. Often these are between groups of 2-6 people, so it’s a de-centred model. The Fence can also come together as a group, as it did in 2005-6 to create Janus, a one-year playwright exchange and translation programme, funded by a successful bid to the EU Culture 2000 programme.

CreativePeople was a national network of 140 organisations – across the arts and cultural industries, which provided information, advice and guidance on professional development. As the paid Chair I was seconded one day a week and was responsible for developing the network, advocacy, fundraising and leading the Partnerships Group. I sought to establish cultural diversity and disability as core drivers for the network, supporting two co-ordinators with budgets to create and deliver a portfolio of work.

The Playwrights Network was something of a misnomer as it wasn’t a network of playwrights so much as a network of organisations across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions which championed playwrights. I believed that the best way to avoid the postcode lottery of provision for artists across the UK was to identify regionally and nationally based energies and bring them together in their diversity to learn with and from each other. At writernet I curated New Writing North, North West Playwrights, Yorkshire Playwrights, Playwrights Studio, Scotland, Sgript Cymru, Tinderbox, Script, Theatre Writing Partnership, New Writing South, Menagerie, South West Theatre Writing Network and Soho Theatre’s Writers Centre to do just that.

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