Backstage to the Future is our flagship youth technical skills training programme, happening now in the Caribbean. Cultural Skills Director Simon Dancey gives us the lowdown on the project.
What is Backstage to the Future?
Backstage to the Future riffs off the idea of “backstage” technical skills. We wanted to do something playful and memorable with the title as well as focusing on developing future skills for participants. It’s essentially all about the skills you need when working across performance and live events: stage management, sound, lighting and all the logistics you need to make it an event happen!
Does this programme focus just on the tech side?
Our detailed global research and conversations with the industry has shown that there needs to be a combination of three elements for successful skills building in the cultural sector, firstly technical elements of how to create the work and support the work, sound, lighting expertise for example and secondly how you also need those “softer skills” - how to communicate, cooperate, plan - get people to share your vision and work with you. Its only when you bring these two together that you get a rounded approach to this kind of work.
Finally, this is an industry that thrives off of networks – who you know, how do you connect. What we are also doing here is bringing people together from across the Caribbean and the top of Latin America into a network where they meet likeminded people and form long lasting connections.
Why here in San Andres, why the Caribbean?
The Caribbean has for the past 500 years been the pivotal crossing point for nations across the world – a collision of people, cultures and histories. What it’s left us with is people stretched out over a vast area – there are lots of islands small and large with incredible, talented groups of people. Our job at the council is to make connections, share understanding, develop cultural relations.
We initially conducted research in the region that looked at skills gaps, potential partners and operational models. We took this evidence and used it to shape a regional strategic approach across a number of countries. We wanted to look at the whole – bring people together from a wide range of countries – including Colombia (Providence & San Andres Islands), Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela, Cuba. We’ve based it here because there’s a large festival here which is an ideal space for what we call experiential learning – learning by doing something. The way to learn about live events is to work on live events. This is a core principle of our Cultural Skills work. The Green Moon festival provides an opportunity for this to happen. It’s a real situation and they can apply the skills they have learned. They are spending 10 days before the festival with UK and local practitioners learning and then putting those skills into practice in a live situation.
Who are the key partners and how are we working with them?
Our work at the British Council is about sharing and learning – sharing UK expertise with the world and learning about the approaches in parts of the world. We want to do that in a sustainable way – not just a one off project – rather longer term partnerships / relationships. This is an example of that in the area of culture and skills around the world. Here in the Caribbean we are working with governmental institutions like the Ministry of Culture as people who run the festivals – the Green Moon festival, as well as other BC offices in each of the countries we mentioned who all have their own networks and connections. So you get this multiplier effect, it’s almost like a crystal growth of the British Council’s influence, out through people, communities and the cultural sector.
By working across countries we’ve been able to scale the impact up – it’s looking at a longer term sustainable model – drawing in funding from other places, partners from other places and bringing these things together.
What does a sustainable model look like for this kind of intense youth training programme?
We have to develop trust and long term relationships for cultural relations to work. Our approach is a mixed model, testing new work and leveraging funds in from partners and donors based on what we have shown can be done based on initial research and pilot programming. In this case working with the ministry, local government, as well as more widely with our global work corporate and private funders too. The aim is to make meaningful sustainable cultural relations and that’s what this project is about. It builds trust and changes peoples lives. We’ve carefully built in evaluation and monitoring of the whole approach, to provide further evidence to shape and influence further work.