For many of us the month of September has marked the beginning of something new. That ‘back-to-school’ feeling, the end of another summer and the start of a new season with leaves soon to turn orange, and evenings getting just that little bit darker. It’s time to reflect on a summer well-spent and prepare to face what’s ahead with renewed grit and determination. The turning of a new leaf, fresh notebooks, clear minds, and a new season to make the most of.

But do any of us really feel that way anymore?

For most of us in the arts and culture sector the last few years haven’t really felt seasonal – perhaps they never really did but memories are short, and hindsight has a wonderful habit of reminding us of a rosy-tinted past. The concepts of summer downtime and autumnal renewal feel far away, a relic of a pre-pandemic time. We are stuck in a cycle that feels never-ending, never refreshing and always changing. The pandemic represents the time during which we changed, everything before early 2020 represents ‘The Before’ and now we’re in ‘The After’… the never-ending after…

Or are we?

The principles of organisational change suggest that lasting change happens slowly and that we go through three distinct phases when making a change – the before state, the transitional state, and the after state. It strikes me that, as a sector, we have collectively decided that we are now in The After and as a result have put pressure on ourselves and those around us to have solved the issues, made the change, fixed it all.

But what if we’re not actually there yet? What if the Covid-19 pandemic was just one part of our transitional phase. One part of a process of change which takes the sector from where it was to where it could be. Maybe the change started long before 2020 – perhaps it started with the slow decline in arts funding for schools, with the economic crash in 2008, or with Brexit. As outlined with clarity and razor-sharp insight by Artistic Director of BAC, Tarek Iskander just last month, the issues facing our sector are vast. Some have certainly reared their heads as a result of the pandemic, but many existed (or at least kernels of them existed) long before talk of lockdowns and lateral flow tests. It’s likely that there isn’t one specific moment of change that applies to us all but a series of decisions – macro and micro, internal and external – which led to a gradual shift in the sands, a need to renew and refresh. For a sector centred on creativity it’s likely that we’ve never really stopped changing anyway.

Consider this – if we’re still in the process of changing, if the pandemic wasn’t The Change and therefore, we’re not now in The After, then can we give ourselves a break from not having all the answers yet? Can we work together in different ways to make space for the changes we want to see?

At Achates we’re exploring ways to help our friends in the sector change well with resilience, with integrity and by centring audiences and purpose. By reframing our position in the change process as a sector from something that’s a done deal and something that happened to us to one which is still in flux and up for grabs, perhaps we can reduce the pressure to come up with answers quickly and create the space to also centre each other – our staff, our artists, our audiences – in the change process to ensure that whatever change we’re making can truly be one that lasts.

Vicki Grace

Director of Recruitment and Organisational Change, Achates