Derby Arts Strategy Literature

By Jacqueline Ford,2014-08-20 22:09
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Derby Arts Strategy Literature


    Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and

    limitations; the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity

    into the various forms which are essential to the work of art

    Rollo May

    1. Where are we now?

    Conflicting arguments can be made about the strength of literature provision within Derby. There is unquestionably an active literature community within the city, offering more writing groups than nearby cities, as well as an enthusiastic regular audience and a range of keen volunteers. There are also a wide variety of writers, from amateur through to published living within the city.

    Despite its grass-roots strength, there are considerable issues in current provision within Derby, particularly within its lack of a strong infrastructure. Most literature initiatives emerge from the holder of the Literature Development post (although Libraries also often put on events themselves) with significant venues often working with literature in no more than a hire capacity. The only independent group putting on regular literature events within Derby is the Flying Donkeys, who host high-quality storytellers each month. Whilst there is no doubt that demand for literature exists within Derby, independent provision remains minimal.

    Another problem for Literature is that of its relatively low profile within the city. The work presented is continually high quality, with excellent responses from audience members, but often falls ‘below the radar’ of people within the city. This is also true of the media, who often do not pick up literature events for coverage. Whilst this is less of a problem for Derby’s two flagship events, it is something to be conscious of in regular events run within the city.

Derby presently hosts two regular literature events the oldest of these is the

    Festival of Words, with the 2007 occurrence the fifth. The Festival of Words offers a range of events, typically run over a course of ten twelve days every

    other October. Its aims are to showcase significant national and international writing talent, as well as showcasing the work that goes on year-round within Derby. The Festival also takes in all aspects of writing as well as offering an opportunity for Derby’s culturally diverse communities to come together at literature events. However, in recent years the investment of time and finances within the Festival has not been repaid in terms of substantial audience development or forward movement of Literature within the city, and as such its future is uncertain for the time being.

    The second regular event within Derby is Alt.Fiction. Alt.Fiction draws together the UK’s best writers of science-fiction, fantasy and horror and 2008

    will be its third year. The event is an all-day event that takes places in late April or early May. The day aims to draw people from around the region and

    the country with high-quality writers holding a specific audience appeal, and has drawn audience from as far as Stirling, Somerset and Northern Ireland.

    The remainder of the programming within Derby is carried out in a more ad-hoc fashion, looking to plug into other significant events regionally and nationally, as well as seeking to fill gaps in provision. On other occasions ideas for events will come from other organisations and have been instigated in this fashion. Each event will often be advertised and organised independently and events of this type have included Eat Your Words, How

    Novel, Dreamcatcher launch, the Poetry World Cup and many more.

    2. Where do we want to be in 5 years time?

    As detailed above, literature in Derby has many strengths and the basis is in place for a strong literature ‘scene’ to develop within the city. This needs to be nurtured over the long-term as there are clearly no shortcuts to the kind of success we would seek. The ideal picture for literature in Derby in five years time would be to have:

    ; A range of venues promoting and programming literature in an

    independent fashion, from theatres to cafes. To an extent, this has

    already begun with venues such Deda’s Cube Café and The Big Blue

    Coffee Company.

    ; A range of groups and organisations also programming literature within

    the city, including the continued existence of the Flying Donkeys and

    other new groups.

    ; An increased knowledge and awareness of literature within the city,

    with stronger marketing and an increase in targeted marketing.

    ; A range of integrated community events, addressing access issues and

    engendering inclusion of traditionally excluded audiences incorporating

    both culturally diverse and disability work.

    ; A continued commitment to literature and literature events with

    particular culturally diverse or disability aspects, encouraging the

    recognition of high-quality work from practitioners within these fields.

    ; The establishment of stronger relationships with various media outlets

    such as Derby Telegraph, BBC Radio Derby, East Midlands Today and


    ; The recognition of Alt.Fiction as an event with both regional and

    national significance, drawing in high-quality authors with national

    visibility and profile

    ; A full review of the viability and current aims/goals of the Festival of

    Words, with a view to either a new method of delivery or ending the

    Festival as an entity if appropriate.

    ; A number of individuals with the necessary skills and capacity to

    organise events and schemes independently or possibly in

    collaboration with the Literature Development Officer.

    ; The engendering of a strong relationship with the University of Derby,

    encouraging Creative Writing and Literature graduates to stay within

    the city.

    ; An increased amount of regular activity gradually replacing the ad-hoc

    approach, with more branded events incorporating joint marketing

    campaigns and increasing the potential for audience development.

    ; The continued support of individual writers in the city with guidance and

    practical support helping them to achieve their objectives and goals.

    ; A sustained and strong ‘grass roots’ literature community within Derby,

    including the continued existence of both large and small writing

    groups within the city

    ; The creation of an environment that offers encouragement and

    progression to volunteers and enables them to see a clear career path

    into arts work in the future.

    ; Programming literature events and workshops that can offer substantial

    social benefits to a range of communities across the city.

    These ambitions are largely focussed on a fuller inclusion and involvement in literature within Derby from individuals, writing groups, community groups and venues. Literature Development should remain at the heart if this in terms of assisting co-ordination of work as well as providing expertise and knowledge to those parties involved. In five years time, ideally Literature Development would be less of a programming role and more of a facilitation and information service.

    3. How do we get there?

    These ambitions will have to be worked at through a number of different approaches. One of the key factors will be strengthening the infrastructure within the city for both individuals (through training and development) and venues (through increased partnership working and guidance on

    programming). In this way we can foster greater understanding and awareness of literature within the city.

    New approaches to programming and marketing within the city will have to emerge from training for the Literature Development Officer, increasing their knowledge and aptitude in marketing. This will also be of great assistance to raising both awareness of literature within the city. This marketing improvement could also be facilitated by working with a freelance marketing expert.

    Several aspects of where we would like to be within five years time are simply continuations of current work but it would be useful to have funds available to increase the level of financial backing available for both writers and writing groups. There are also other ways in which the work of the Literature Development Officer could be made more available including question and answer sessions, group visits and increased advertising of the post and its services. These are both capacity issues, and funding will be a key issue to be explored.

    Alt.Fiction will continue to be developed into a significant event both regionally and nationally through a variety of national networking, developments of relationships with individual writers and the exploration of increased funding opportunities including sponsorship as well as grants and trust donations.

    The Festival of Words will come under an extensive review in the near future to investigate the reasons for both its successes and failures and its future viability and potential new models for its running.

    4. How will we know when we’re there?

    There are a range of measures that can be taken to judge the success in relation to the objectives detailed above:

    ; A minimum of three venues to be programming literature events

    independent of/in collaboration with Literature Development in


    ; At least three independent groups programming literature within

    the city, adding to the activeness of the literature scene.

    ; Regular coverage of literature events going on in the city, with

    an aim to have at least one in two covered by local media.

    ; An increased level of cultural tourism for flagship events, with

    5% of average audience coming from outside the area and

    aiming to draw people from across the UK and beyond.

    ; The running of annual literature training for prospective arts

    workers within the city, in order to increasing their skills and

    capacity in programming events.

    ; The use of an increased number of students as volunteer staff,

    to reach at least ten total.

    ; At least two to three linked series’ of literature events within

    Derby City, linked either by theme, form of writing or genre.

    ; The continuation of a strong writing group scene, with a

    minimum of fifteen groups running on a regular basis. These

    groups will also be offered continued support by the Literature

    Development Officer.

    ; At least 10% of events within the city to have a commitment to

    drawing in culturally diverse audience and presenting high-

    quality work from practitioners of culturally diverse origins.

    Alex Davis

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