Field building as a practise

Partnerships and multiplicity 

Partnerships across disciplines have always been core to the practice of Audience Labs. All the work we undertake is rooted in collaboration. We get most inspired when working with diverse teams who will enrich and inspire what we are doing. For us, partnership goes beyond a mere exchange of skills or pragmatism. It‘s about aligning values, directions of travel, kindness, care and mutual respect. 


We have found such partnerships among fellow theatre makers and artists, among cultural organisations trying to enact change, and importantly among curious people in other sectors, such as technology, social change makers, system-thinkers, futurists and academia. We have worked with cultural giants like the National Ballet of Canada and ground-breaking individual artists like Dennis Osadebe, with tech giants like Google and organisations like GUAP – a youth-led new media platform dedicated to emerging & underrepresented creatives & communities. 

Through the multiplicity of our work, we form constellations – connecting the old and the new, the radical with the comforting, the big with the small, the intellect with emotions, forms with content. We like to synthesise concepts from all kinds of places to form new insights and ideas. 

When Audience Labs moved to Kings College I wanted to look at how to take this approach to artistic practice and build on it: moving beyond partnerships on individual projects towards an enduring constellation for meaningful, intentional coordination.


Learning from other industries 

To learn more about how other sectors create alliances for change with ethics, equity and inclusion at their heart, we commissioned research from Cassie Robinson. From the Library of Things to Civic Square, Cassie looked at the approaches and methodologies of organisations involved in making change happen. 


These organisations are moving beyond traditional ways of working to build more intentional cooperation and collaboration. They are ‘structuring their end goals, leadership, and means to become more movement-like’, and ‘generating impact through open and social models of adoption and adaptation [that are] distributed and autonomous, globally networked but deeply embedded in place.’ 


The key finding from Cassie’s research was that we could make use of a practice called field building. Multiple definitions exist, but in essence field building means creating collaboration among diverse, interdependent organisations towards common goals –  whether to solve a shared set of problems, establish new insight and knowledge, or advance and apply common practices. Field building can happen on both small and larger scales, and is the work it takes to connect and convene the multiplicity of collaborators, to formulate a shared vision and to help the network act on that vision to create change.  


Beginning the work

Cassie’s research identified the first steps for successful field building. To begin, we need to delineate our field. What falls within its boundaries and what lies outside? Who makes those decisions? What binds the field together? What common goal, or north star, are we working towards? In April, we will conduct a series of round tables looking at ways of working together to promote a thriving creative ecology – including exploring these questions about building our field. 


Ilya Prigogine, the physical chemist and Nobel Laureate, said, ‘When a complex system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos have the capacity to shift the entire system to a higher order.’ With these first steps, we hope to create that small archipelago, or constallation, putting us on a course to build a more equitable, inclusive, innovative and imaginative creative ecosystem together.