So when an urban based practitioner, who manages a national arts organisation, ups and moves their place of work to one of the most remote places in the country - what happens?
Well this will be the next blog entry, but for now I am interested in documenting the many ways in which practitioners can prepare for this transition, how to maintain communication systems with staff, how to keep projects ticking along and also how to be present to where you are and not always rushing off to check your email. How is it possible for us to be working in different locations, having different life experiences and yet also working across multiple dynamics in these places as well?
So i gave myself the challenge of at least articulating the mental, physical and cultural preparation we need to do to work in a remote community.
This is a work in progress.. but at the moment looks like this..
Step 1 - research
It is ESSENTIAL to get as much info as possible from your hosts, find out about clothing, food, your accommodation, what essential services exist, flying doctors and personal health info, do you need to bring medicine, do you need a permit, what other local and / or cultural info do you need, where and when is it ok to take photos, is alcohol permitted, how do you address people, what happens between differently gendered people, the list goes on, Your hosts (like mine) should already have a briefing document ready to go, just ask and then imagine what you can't live without and plan for those uncomfortable times.
Step 2 - change expectations
This is mostly to address any expectations your organisation, staff, family and friends may have of you while you are away. When working in a remote place or on tour regionally, access to phone and Internet can be difficult. If possible preparing your home and work matters before you leave is a good idea. For example direct debits, message bank and automatic email reply is a good start. It is also important that you negotiate time during your working week, to be able to keep up with any ongoing projects or keep in contact with staff and board members while working away from home.
The pace of remote living will be very different from an urban lifestyle. For example in Warburton people went home to eat lunch, as take away meals are not really an option. This changes the days structure. Making set times for certain activities can be easy or difficult, therefore people in your life back home, need to understand that flexibility is important.
An example I had made a time to have a phone meeting with a graphic designer. thinks where looking smooth, then a local artist and Elder appeared at my front door, inviting me to see her paintings. We had tried to do this earlier but plans had changed. Luckily the designer was able to change times and we planned for a new phone meeting. I was also able to start developing a more detailed understanding of the local art scene and see some new work at the same time as learning some basic language. Overall a successful negotiation. However I have experienced much more complex and tense moments.
Step 3 - quarantine your time in the remote location
Working in remote location is stressful for a range of reasons, language differences, climate extremes, living with new people, meeting a range of new people and learning community protocols. It is important to give yourself some time to adjust. This also means allowing yourself to spend time playing with local children, having cups of teas with older people, sitting in the shade while a mural is being painted. Not being interrupted with calls, emails and worries about back home is important. This will also help with de-stressing the experience.
Step 4 - understand people wont' understand
This is something I have had to learn very quickly. Apart from the fact that many photos I have taken while in Warburton are not for public release, such as this blog, it also means explaining my experience is challenging. The subtle moments, the hard times, the ongoing confusion and the great stories, hilarious jokes and complete creativity are hard to convey in writing.
Many people have never worked in a context like this, and so translating the experience is difficult. So I plan to use this blog as a way of unpacking what I was doing out there, professionally.
Step 5 - be clear about your purchase
I was in Warburton to work as an artist in residency at the Youth Arts Centre, to provide professional development to local staff and also to undertake strategic planning. For Young People and the Arts Australia (the company i work for) I was also investigating how we could offer remote service delivery to professionals who work with children and young people.
What is your purpose for working regionally and remotely? don't get sucked into other agenda's and be clear before you arrive so you have some good boundaries in place about what is possible.