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Over the past few years the heart of our production centre has been the office in Helston, where ISTA staff have been based. Historically, the home of ISTA has been quite simply the place where the CEO has lived. For many years Jo and I worked from home and this suited ISTA at the time. However, in 2010 as ISTA continued to grow and we began to take on more staff, all hired locally, we felt it was time to 'grow up' a bit and all move into one central office. Over the following four years staff came and went and yet the office served us well as a base and as a centre for our operations.
During this period we felt that the position of Operations Manager was our key to success; one person who would successfully manage all of our events, with the help of a team of Arts Administrators, thus taking me out of the day-to-day and enabling me to begin to fulfil my CEO duties. Due to a number of different factors this role hasn't worked for us and rather than sticking to a model that proved unsuccessful I felt we needed to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch - examining the ideal infrastructure that will suit ISTA now and into the future. Thus we called an additional trustee meeting in December focused on answering this challenging question.
We all decided a bit of bravery was needed. We couldn't try to fit ISTA around existing structures but started with a clean sheet of paper and said in an ideal world - what infrastructure will suit us best.
Because event production is at the heart of what we do we have decided to hire three part time Event Coordinators. One person for TaPS and IB workshops; a second for Middle School festivals and a third for High School festivals. Through our discussions it became clear that our branding is key - thus having one person responsible for each of the three distinct types of events appeared to be the right solution. This team of three will steer events both individually but also as a collaborative team - sharing good practice and ensuring that consistency is apparent across our entire core business.
So our staff infrastructure moving forwards will be:
Freelance consultants who are already in place delivering non-event tasks for us. These consultants currently include Debbie Kidd (pedagogy, project development), Kristen van Ginhoven (programming), Liane Campbell (branding, artist training), Rose Robinson (social media, website and design), Jo Doidge (design).
Our next discussion point was whether the office in Cornwall would serve us well as we move to our new infrastructure and look at effective models. While the office has played a crucial role in our work over the past five years we questioned its role moving forwards. As an international organisation, with international values and high standards we all felt that it is paramount that we hire the best people for the new posts without the constraints of whether these people could a) be found in Cornwall or b) would be willing to relocate to Cornwall. As we mulled this over it became clear that developing a virtual office would be in the best interests of ISTA.
When Julia left us last year and I resumed responsibility for the production of all events, I hired a number of freelance consultants to help with my non-event work and this model has proved enormously successful. These people all have a strong history with ISTA, are passionate about the organisation, are able to work independently and are largely self-directed. Through regular email correspondence and skype meetings we have demonstrated that effective work patterns can be established and all of these individuals have made a significant impact on the organisation in less than six-months.
Many organisations today have virtual offices for a number of very good reasons and this will be our way forward. Our staff will mostly work from home, wherever they live and this will ensure that we can hire the best people for ISTA.
As of May 2015, the ISTA office will cease to exist as a centre of operations and will continue simply as the place where Jo works. Our address and phone number will still be the same and so posting cheques and contacting us at this address will remain unchanged.
Finally, let me turn to the most exciting aspect of our forthcoming changes - the appointment of our Event Coordinators. Ian Pike is already on board and working from home in Cheshire, UK. Our two festival Event Coordinators will be hired in April to begin working in June as we begin our new ISTA year.
Why Event Coordinators?
I have touched on this briefly but our decision rested on a number of observations. Back when we created the office in Helston we felt at the time we wanted someone to manage events and have that person supported by Arts Administrators. This was a prudent move in terms of distributing the ever increasing workload but over the past two years has proved untenable. As a group of trustees/senior management we are no longer comfortable with the implied hierarchy this creates. And as ISTA continues to grow with more hosts, teachers and events it has created too much confusion, lack of clarity with roles, uncertainty about who to email about what and mostly a duplication of work and an unnecessarily complex system for both communication and the production of events. Our Arts Administrators have worked tirelessly and professionally to deliver their tasks that's not the point. Kathy, Beth, Tom and those Arts Administrators before them have contributed significantly to the organisation and moved us forwards in leaps and bounds. The point is that this current system will not be in ISTA's best interests interest in the future.
So we have reverted to our original concept that one person will be responsible for one event from start to finish. As hosts, you will have one person and one person only to work with. As visiting teachers - the same will happen. You won't have to email person (a) about registering; person (b) about content; person (c) about deadlines - you will all have one person to liaise with from start to finish. As an organisation that cares about your process, your journey, your job to either host an event or organise a trip - we feel this will improve your experience across the board. We know this because we have witnessed the confusion, the uncertainty and the frustration. With the advent of Event Coordinators the planning and execution of your ISTA experience will become more efficient, clearer, less time consuming and therefore more rewarding.
By implementing a virtual office and these new roles ISTA can find the very best people to take on these roles, individuals who care about ISTA, who have a history with us and who understand us and what makes us tick. We are somewhat idiosyncratic - we always have been but I feel strongly this is part of what makes us so special as an association of young people, teachers and artists. Producing an event isn't just creating a schedule or making sure timelines for visiting teachers are clear - it's about the intangible jobs as well - trouble shooting, solving problems, creating support systems, listening, being able to be flexible. Finding the right people to be able to deliver on all aspects of event production is a hugely exciting prospect.
I know many of you will have questions and possibly doubts as is inevitable with change but let me give you a couple of reassurances. We have always been an organisation run by teachers for teachers. We are not about to become a global organisation that cares more about bureaucracy than personal service and as such we've thought about these changes from your perspective. What will make a teacher's life easier when it comes to ISTA? What structural and personnel changes within ISTA will provide the best service we can offer? And as an organisation that values keeping costs low as well as providing an outstanding experience and service - how can we 're-group' ourselves to deliver both?
The idiom that the only constant in today's world is change rings true at this moment in ISTA's history. We could have made the decision to plough on regardless but I have always been immensely proud of our honesty - the recognition that certain things aren't working and what are we going to do to put our house in order and get things working well again. I feel so very lucky that we have the group of trustees on board that we have and that we do not shy away from difficult discussions. Through those and the combined wisdom of this very special group of people a new vision of how we structure our organisation appeared and I have all the support I need to put that vision into place.
I look forward to our next phase of work, to implementing these changes smoothly and to the increased success and effectiveness of ISTA as a result.