The ember of thinking behind RADMIN was less a curatorial venture than throwing up a tracer or perhaps lighting a bonfire, to illuminate what is out there, &/or who/what would be drawn to the prospect of a festival of Administration. The topic of administration represents only a sub-category of the larger enquiry into how we might do business differently. But by nature being urgent, common, everyday (yet curiously segregated when it comes to creative practice), enveloping of both individual and collective situations (while going often unspoken / unacknowledged in each), socially awkward and determinedly anti-spectacular, it seemed like a good place to start.
RADMIN was devised and delivered over a run-up of 4 months by a core team of two, alongside many others from our larger collectives the long-standing Cube Microplex, the recently assembled Feral Business Network and the nascent Institute for Experiments with Business (Ibex). The process represented a rapid materialisation of some decades of thinking. For me it was a space to lay out a tangle of burning questions, such as,
and in the longer run,
To put these ambitions in perspective, RADMIN should be understood as an initialising event in a 20-year+ endeavour whose objectives include
RADMIN was also and specifically a festival in, of and about the Cube Cinema, crucible of much of this thinking. The Cube is programmed, staffed and governed on an ad hoc basis by approximately 150 volunteers. A foundational intention for RADMIN was to open out the infrastructure, processes and organisation of the organisation, how it is managed and administered, as programme content. An internal operating memo in the form of a festival.
Another more practical trigger was the Feral Business Research Network (FBRN) a proposed academic networking project for artists thinking with business, that despite being unselected for research funding played out anyway across two workshop gatherings in London and Rovereto, Italy in 2018. RADMIN was the third and final network-building event in this series.
The festival format loosely followed a rapid fire structure wherein a volley of short events would act as diverse triggers for thinking, each item lasting not much over an hour, after which participants could be pinballed in another direction, with the surrounding space to strike up new connections and conversations. A scattershot approach, opening on the first evening with a Gala Dinner and a series of 3.5 minute dinner speeches to cast the terrain of what might be considered administration wide (the business school, trade and logistics, monetary experiments, hitchhiking, heritage, plumbing and radical art history).
The Day Two Convention was arranged as a more conventional series of workshops, followed by an Office Party at the Cube. Day Three opened out into delegate-generated content with the Professional Development Bonanza!, radio show, raffle and Trade Show at the Cube, and Staff training session before closing with the reassuringly familiar format of a feature film.
The programme aimed to work both as both a dragnet and a filter, to invite in a broad constituency of interests and gauge where the concentrations and intensities might lie. In the end, the event swiftly self-marketed along ley lines of association, as rapid word of mouth ticket sales kept attendance almost entirely within existing networks (even if as far flung as Malta, Serbia and Hong Kong). This made for an unplanned constraint and the fear of being wedding-like was on our minds. However I would be cautious to describe these interlocking networks as homogeneous or coherent - even bringing an art crowd together with the Cube staff/audiences made for an unwieldy and effective collage.
Most delegations took up the invitation to register as organisations and many attended in pairs or small groups, although some registered under their own names as self-employed business entities. Delegates were asked to submit an organisational bio, which appeared on their lanyards, and together made up the printed programme, the event's main treasure.
Organising through a RADMIN lens
The container of RADMIN had the upside of rendering the usual stumbling blocks and dull administrative grooves vivid and poignant, even if just a performance to ourselves. This included getting caught in each others' spam filters, the online ticket-seller software hardcoding Valentine's Day into the event description, and our out of business hours email habits triggering a starburst of out of office autoresponders. Questions of how to be handbuilt and powerful were vividly rendered in the sub-project of the RADMIN reader, a zine-like collection of short texts and DIY endeavour by design. Graphics students from the University contributed the design and layout as part of their professional practice module. However when it came to print, fold and staple, not passing the 70-unit job over to University Print Services (a design decision) caused an operating logjam played out in the art department printer queue, where I spent almost two entire days negotiating with (supportive) IT technicians, network log-in protocols, office supply enclaves, line-management protocols, (irate) institutional hierarchies, beneficial staplers and the whole situated process of production which was really the entire point.
Working across two venues served to extend the concept of the Cube, its operations, administration and self-image, well beyond the building. It also stretched our organising capacity and human energies to the hilt. As a determinedly all-volunteer workforce, preparation and delivery of the event was woven into and around other occupations: painting and decorating, studying, lecturing, telephone sales, archiving, public speaking, parenting and not ironically admin roles.
While RADMIN steered away from economy as its main focus, money surfaced with persistence in the programme as an organising technology. Of which to observe,
I The budget is the content. The budget was both an organising input and a featured artwork at the event, printed and distributed as an A3 poster. In accordance with the economy of the Cube, the event was run entirely on ticket sales, supplemented with substantial personal/organisational resources. Budget decisions (keeping ticket prices low, not paying fees to the many contributors/presenters and not seeking project funding) were central to the event design.
II The festival was designed to demo a wealth of resources, counter to a litany of monetary scarcity that surges through many conversations in the arts (as elsewhere). These included a feast, a mansion, several outbursts of cash and the richness of innumerable projects and lives' works. In the end, life rather than money loomed over the programme as the scarce resource, as a slew of health-related events caused a number of last minute absences and interruptions. Conversely two days of brilliant winter sun set the scene well beyond our ability to stage-manage.
III The Viriconium Palace money experiment, which opened the festival, inflected proceedings more than expected. The reactions, some of them quite strong ran a pervasive seam of charge and disturbance throughout 3-day gathering.
IV The Business Experiment Raffle, announced at the gala dinner, had an equal and opposite effect. A manouever in dissociative funding. Raffle entry (one ticket per RADMIN delegation) was gated by requirement to be present at the Day 3 Raffle Draw, where each entrant was obliged to deliver a 30-second plan or dream for a business experiment to the assembled room, after which the £2,500 prize was randomly drawn and issued to the winner with no strings attached.
From the hindsight of an array of debriefings, the following points came into focus.
There was something enabling about the event that encouraged many to feed back their reactions and highly individual criticisms in great detail!
This might reflect a determinedly decentring impulse in the event organisation, where organisers (both from RADMIN and The Viriconium money experiment) did not seek to issue explanations or reassuring commentary. A source of both discord and generative insights all round.
Form followed function.
A general division in reception. Many attendees reported feeling fed with a dazzling array of inspiring inputs while for others - primarily those thinking for decades in these areas already - that the programme was nowhere near hard, deep or business enough, crystallising a desire for deeper work to follow. This also provokes questions of: how to still speak to the street / bring in business / not alienate those already 20 years in to the the process / and still keep the peripheries open.
A general request: for more takeaway actions, radmin tips and tricks to apply for life. More administrators and fewer artists!
How to engage (or not) with lines of conversation that circled back to 'privilege', 'struggle', ' exploitation', 'clique' and money. Also, how the psychological/ spiritual level may trip up politics (and aesthetics) and how that encounter could be managed/valued.
How to get the right kinds of diversity in the room, in recognition of the different forms diversity can take, while still not stretching the consensus so far as to breach the possibilities of real communication. Recognising how deeply embedded assumptions about 'art' and 'business' often are.
A programme constituted by actual research - rather than content delivery for an audience - is contributory also in that where it fails to work smoothly, it offers up opportunities for all round learning.
Along similar lines, radical decentering as an organising technique instinctively adopted by RADMIN organisers (in part through experience from running the Cube), will throw people off balance but likewise opens real space for conversation.
Having seen who a bonfire-lighting approach brings in, how to organise the next stage of the conversation.
A switch from a network/spectacle phase to deeper workgroups for day long investigations. Potential schedule: A 3-5 day event in Summer 2020. Lines of enquiry to include:
a) Legal b) Administrative c) Vegetal d) Psychological / coaching e) Organisational portraiture f) Creative accounting (not present at RADMIN, but critical) g) Activities transposing administrative thinking into other realms (personal training, hitchhiking, music etc) h) And critically the role of artist/practitioner in all this. How to both be resourced and have agency, which brings themes of scarcity and abundance questions together. Lines of enquiry from RADMIN that lead into this include the artist-tradesperson double identity (PlumbMaid, Feral Trade) and an understanding of the value of the art practitioner in a interdisciplinary context (the Incidental Person, for eg).
An immediate task to organise around, the post-RADMIN reader.
Assemble the raffle pitches in transcription
An annual retreat
An annual counter-capital raffle!