During Easter 2013, during Easter, I was in Cornwall for two weeks carrying out research interviews for ‘Cornwall’s Creative Communities and Broadband’, (the CornCCoB project). The project explores the role of broadband use for creative practitioners across the region, with a particular interest in how it impacts on their interactions with communities of practice and place. I spoke with a number of really interesting people and learnt a lot, not just about the ways in which people are using digital technologies in their creative practice, but also about the different layers of community found in Cornwall and how this might differ from one village or town to the next. Initially, the CornCCoB project aimed to carry out a before and after superfast broadband study of creative practitioners. The project partners with Falmouth University, British Telecom and Superfast Cornwall and is framed within the current rollout of superfast broadband taking place across the region. Yet many of the practitioners that I interviewed were not sure what level of broadband they were receiving, or whether they were superfast or not. Many were also unclear as to the benefits that superfast connections would have for them, beyond more reliable streaming of video content. Conversations in the interviews naturally turned to the role of social media in developing communities of practice and reaching wider audiences and clients – something particularly useful in a peripheral location such as Cornwall. Skills and engagement with social media varied across those that I spoke with. However, all practitioners, regardless of level of skill or confidence with using social media, expressed a desire for training, support, and a space for shared dialogue with peers. With this in mind, I decided to rethink the second stage of the CornCCoB project, and organise a workshop bringing together creative practitioners, academics and arts support agencies to co-produce knowledge on the barriers and opportunities presented by social media for creative practice.
In April (2014) I travelled to Falmouth to facilitate the workshop, which was hosted by our partner, Falmouth University in the Air Studio sandpit. I invited my original project participants to come along, along with other participants representing academia and Creative Scotland, a support agency working with creatives in the region. During the first part of the day, participants worked in small groups to brainstorm the barriers and challenges presented by social media as well as considering the potential opportunities. Later, working in a larger group, participants clustered their ideas into thematic areas. Emergent themes were fears; access; knowledge; time; engagement; presentation; marketing; and inclusive/democratic. Some themes pointed more to challenges (e.g. fear; time), others more to the opportunities represented by social media (e.g. marketing; inclusive/democratic).
In the second half of the day, participants worked in small break out groups with Camilla Stacey, from Falmouth University, who delivered social media support specific to creative practitioners. During these breakout sessions, participants were able to consider potential solutions to overcoming barriers and embracing opportunities. During the last session, Camilla created a closed group on Facebook for participants to continue their conversations and provide peer support to one another in engaging with the various platforms available online.
Feedback from participants towards the end of the day suggested that although coming together to share experiences and knowledge is useful, the next logical step would be to have a more hands on social media workshop during which participants would have the chance to play and engage with social media platforms. I will be working alongside Jane Sutherland at Creative Skills to facilitate this workshop later in the year, which will hopefully help our participants to progress further on their social media journey.