If you’re like me, in the spur of the moment you take on way too many tasks and then hope that you could have more time to really concentrate on each one.
In my hand I have a printed version of the programme of My House Arabianranta, an event showcasing different residential buildings. It looks great and colourful, and it lists a handful of addresses already familiar to me and more shows and acts than I can count with my fingers.
In 2012, Lahti, Helsinki and the rest of the capital region were some of the World Design Capitals. In autumn 2011 Arabianranta-Toukola-Vanhakaupunki district association, Artova, applied for a WDC status for some of the up-coming events. My House Arabianranta was one of the events that were granted the status.
Looking back, you can’t help but notice how much has changed since we made the initial project plan for the WDC status application in 2011. The initial idea was that over the course of the year we would have five residential buildings introduced by 1) the architect who drew the building 2) the Percent for Art scheme artist for the building and 3) resident/residents who live in the building. Through presentations, stories and anecdotes they would reveal the backgrounds of Arabianranta buildings, how they came to be and what special features they have in terms of architecture, planning, construction, design and living.
Initially, the co-ordinator was supposed to negotiate with suitable housing companies, find enthusiastic residents and those who have drawn the buildings. The designers had to be instructed about what kind of presentations and discussions we were looking for, and the residents had to be instructed how the features of the building have affected the sense of belonging in a community and… well, life in general. Other things co-ordinator was supposed to settle were the timetable, partners and media visibility. And documenting the process in a blog.
But then I got carried away. Soon I had more than 20 people scheduled for presentations and speeches and the event became a series of events. Thus the co-ordinator became a producer who ended up sitting down with the event building residents, planning the programme content in their buildings. The co-ordinator should have pulled back already during the first brainstorming session and provide support volunteers, let the volunteers themselves form groups and decide about the content on their own. It was an accident but there we were all the same: the co-ordinator had become a producer, a publicist and a roadie.
Looking back I can see that different supplementary shows and acts stole much of our attention while introductory speeches and presentations had to make do with less effort. Most of us had no experience in production of culture events, something in the way of a training session in the respect would have been in order. The training could have contained at least the following things: different stages of organising an event, examples of functional allocation tasks, and foolproof lines for the actual allocation process. Such as “if nobody wants to take this task we can afford to skip it altogether.” Or “I need your help”. Or “could you handle this, you’d be good at this”. Over the course of the project I did finally memorise the lines because The Spirit of Artova co-ordinator Janne kept repeating them to me, although I was way too slow on the uptake.
Artova doesn’t lack in knowledge, skills or experience. All those things are also shared actively. The problem is that it’s not easy sharing them and taking it all in. I also learned that one of the most important responsibilities of the co-ordinator (or a producer) is, along with making the schedules, allocating tasks and provide suitable instructions. Delegating.
I learned that it’s a good idea to invest time and effort in establishing right in the beginning how to allocate and share responsibility – as time passes you’ll be able to do it quicker. In the final stages, new tasks are flooding in at an exponential rate, and at that point it will be very difficult to teach yourself or others new ways to do things. One of the biggest challenges for the co-ordinator is perhaps to join people together without being trapped in between as a kind of messenger. The more the co-ordinator can strip his/her own to do list, the more there is space, opportunities and commitment available for others in the working group.
While learning all this I fumbled and experimented, but as our plans slowly turned into cafés, concerts and dinner parties, I could see people assuming new tasks spontaneously and showing initiative time after time. Our final programme would never have been as fabulous without all those people and their contributions.
Translation by Pigasus Translations.