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). 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 Culture 2000.
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.