International Networking: Opening New Horizons

Large group of people standing in a room talking in smaller groups.
People networking at IETM Valencia. Photo by Emily Crowe.

Unlimited has teamed up with the British Council to provide travel bursaries to disabled artists and producers to attend the next IETM meeting. IETM is an international network for the performing arts, which our Project Manager Clara Giraud has been involved with for a few years. We’ve taken this opportunity to ask her what these ‘meetings’ are all about…

What is IETM?

 It’s an informal network for cultural practitioners, with a focus on performing arts (though the conversations often cover subjects that go far beyond art form borders). It is membership-lead, and has an online platform, which includes forums and resources, as well as many opportunities for networking and exchanging in person. IETM plays a major role in fostering cultural dialogue, collaborations and lobbying for the importance of culture in Europe and around the globe. You can read more about it here.

How have you been involved with IETM?

 I attended my first meeting in April 2014 in Montpellier, France. I arrived a day late, was entirely confused and baffled by the whole experience, sticking to the British peers I knew. I relaxed when an old-timer from Bulgaria explained that he started really getting to grips with the network after attending his 10th meeting… ‘Stick to it, it gets better every time’ he said, and he was right! I went on to attend as many of the meetings as I could; there are two a year, but there was also a satellite meeting (which was much smaller), in Beirut last autumn, which was just brilliant. I mostly self-funded these trips; occasionally I went to represent Unlimited, and sometimes I received bursaries from other organisations.

What makes you go back again and again?

Loads of reasons! Here are a few…

  • They give unique windows into other local cultures: you get to meet a lot of local artists, and see work that is made in that region. When I self-funded the trips, I’d see them as cultural holidays – a great way to get to know a country through the arts sector.
  • They start cross-cultural and cross-sector conversations: IETM meetings are attended by about 500 people, but they’re organised to enable a lot of conversation in smaller groups and workshops, to exchange skills and experience. It’s a unique environment, bringing together very different cultural actors working in hugely diverse range of contexts – an opera dramaturge from Holland, a comedian from Lebanon, a funder from Canada, a museum curator from Spain… Everyone rubs shoulders and brings their voice to the dialogue. Cultural differences can sometimes be challenging, and that’s a core element of international exchange.
  • They’re an opportunity to gain perspective: it’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind, and grumble about the systems and structures we have to work within – and often battle with – to do our jobs. The IETM meetings give me a chance to step back, and hear what things are like in other countries, placing my work within a wider framework and enhancing my understanding of possibilities. I usually leave inspired and with a spring in my step!
  • You can meet new friends and colleagues: most of all, they’re very informal and friendly environments. The meetings are not conferences, they are a gathering of cultural workers, and the best conversations I’ve had have been at bars, over meals, and even on the steps of a theatre in the middle of the night. People are generous, curious, open, challenging and provoking. It takes self-confidence to delve in, but once you realise everyone’s there to meet each other, you can relax and get to know a new friend with whom you share a passion for culture.

 

If you are a UK-based disabled artist or producer interested in attending the next IETM meeting in Brussels, from 23 to 26 November 2017, have a look here for more information about bursaries from the British Council, in partnership with Unlimited, which can enable you to attend. The deadline for applications is Monday 4 September at 9am.

Read about previous Unlimited Trainee Emily Crowe’s experience of The IETM Valencia Plenary Meeting here.

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