Can Events Be Inclusive For All?
Diversity, accessibility and inclusion of audiences has rightly become a focus for creative organisations and events to get right. Can you appeal to everyone, or should you? Or is access the most important element, providing enough opportunities to represent everyone's backgrounds, taste and aspirations. Are we destined to a life lived online post-pandemic or do live events still have a place in our lives and hearts?
London-based creative producer Maria Guy, and founder of the events series The Blether shares her experience in her fabulous no-nonsense style. I'd expect nothing less...
Who are you and what’s your story?
I'm a creative producer which I define as a project manager who can work across all artistic platforms. I have produced festivals, live talks, panel discussions as well as theatre shows, dances and currently an online opera all the way from China! It is about having a creative mind but with a good attentive eye to detail, organised (of course), and who believes in the importance of the arts as not only a way of escapism but as a way of life!
I decided to venture into this area of work after working in TV and advertising for years and as much as I enjoyed the creative side of things, I really wanted to commit myself to more valuable work. Doing an MA in creative producing really cemented my feelings of this and I am excited about the future as a creative producer hopefully working for an arts organisation that wants to make some sort of impact and cultural change.
What’s your mission?
I would like to continue to make work that is socially engaged, aligned with my values, and to engage with several communities, perhaps more out of the city of London.
One of your core values when producing creative events is inclusivity. How do you achieve an authentic event that is inclusive for all? Or are events becoming more niche and targeted at specific demographics.
It is tough to make an event inclusive when the initial people who will attend your event are your close network, usually, in my experience, or certainly part of the creative industry you are in. For me, I have learnt that instead of reaching out to different types of people, with the hope of them coming to you, it is about going to them, to creating the space and opportunities in areas and communities where it is easy for people to attend and where they feel it is safe and familiar. One of my biggest bug bears though is companies that just parachute their way into a community, do their thing , then leave. For me, it’s about working together, listening to what is needed and required and wanted, and ensuring a sustainable project is created collaboratively, and a legacy is left behind.
Can any event be inclusive for all?
I’d like to think it can be, but I am not sure if that is true. People enjoy different things, some love to go to the theatre, some enjoy reality tv at home. It is all entertainment and all valid. Can we do our best to create events that welcome all? Absolutely- however it is a matter of location, taste, accessibility and cost. My aim is to create inclusive events, or site specific work that welcomes all walks of life. And that is cheap! Theatre can piss off with their prices. It is possible to make it cheaper, I know it!
You run a series of live events called The Blether, focusing on topics that rouse debate and important conversations. How do you select topics that will be accessible and offer a platform for new voices?
My series of talks stemmed from when I worked in a creative agency and I was managing teams of creatives who were writing copy for adverts and designing branding. I noticed how small the bubble of ad land was, and felt, if I bring in a collection of interesting people to speak, perhaps we can expand the bubble and our minds. This then led to the Blether where I sought to bring in speakers who didn’t always have the platform they needed to get across their views. It definitely brought up a lot of discussion and debate!
The Blether in The Hatch, London
Which productions stand out as fantastic examples of socially inclusive events?
Great question. I know it’s massive but I do think the Edinburgh Fringe provides something for all. However, as we know, the fringe has a very middle class arty farty reputation so perhaps not the best example. I follow a lot of brilliant organisations within London and a bit beyond that provide brilliant community based arts programmes. There’s a great company in Leyton, East London that gives men and boys a place to gather, play board games, have a cup of tea and just chat. It was created after data was revealed that a huge percentage of men of colour suffer from mental health issues. For me, it is small places and thoughtful organisations like this that are essential to our communities and something I would love to help create.
Do you have any plans to make The Blether virtual and less London-centric?
I do not have plans to make it virtual, I love the idea of live events so I don’t want to get down that road yet. I am currently working on another online production so I will see how that goes first! As I mentioned before, I definitely have aims to work in more rural areas, less London - centric definitely.
How do you brand yourself as a creative producer and communicate your mission to potential clients?
I am in the midst of making a website that I hope will be a clear and concise portfolio of my work, and my mission. Apart from that, it’s coffee with people, keeping in contact with my rich network and continuing to remain curious!
You love a good Instagram story. How do you use digital or social media to get your voice heard?
Visuals. I am so visually based. I love art, photography and murals. Lots of colour and bold font. Lots of public art, community initiatives, events, film screenings and my own ridiculous, sweary opinions! Ha ha!
How do you balance your life online and offline, or do you?
I LOVE TV. I love a good series; The Sopranos, Succession etc. Just finished I Hate Suzie which I think was better than Fleabag….don’t hate me!!! I also enjoy exercise, seeing friends, and reading short stories, and southern gothic novels.
What’s next for Maria Guy?
Ideally working for a lovely arts organisation, creating engaging work for communities and beyond. Doing my freelance events and guest speaking nights and just trying not to freak out that I don’t own a home and have kids yet. (WHO WANTS THAT AT 33 ANYWAY!?) I feel very excited about the future and I can’t wait to see how my skills and experience develop.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I couldn’t have done any of this without the wonderful Jordan!
N.B. The last answer wasn't a bribe, honest.