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7th August 2018 Jemma Green

My AMA conference 2018 Experience — Victoria Larkin

Victoria Larkin, Deputy Director, Oxford Contemporary Music

The word play is a familiar friend. At OCM, we regularly describe our events as “playful”. But it’s easy to fall into the mind-set that play isn’t something we do in our behind-the-scenes work. When I saw the focus of this year’s conference, “The Power of Play”, it really resonated. What if we could inject more playfulness into our marketing? Couldn’t that both communicate our work more effectively and nurture a richer relationship with our audience? Would it allow us to be more agile in the communication of our range of events and presentation contexts? What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d leave the conference aspiring not only to make our marketing more playful but to embrace play in an holistic way; using play not only as a tool but contemplating the profound impact that a playful mind-set in general could bring.

Serious play

I’ll admit, when I’ve thought about the use of play in a work context in the past it’s often brought to mind either an over use of memes or the kind of ad campaigns that only big corporates manage to pull off. In his beautifully eloquent keynote, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp instilled the idea that “serious play” is not to be dismissed; in fact it’s necessary for our future. Then I was humbled by the case studies in how to use play as a vehicle to challenge the status quo from Alice Proctor’s keynote (The Exhibitionist & Uncomfortable Arts), and from Museum Detox’s “The White Privilege Test” (I got almost full marks; the session was a good tonic).  And I got my masterclass in how the corporates do it from Tom Rainsford (founder/director of Giff Gaff). His side splitting, compelling keynote demonstrated the incredible power you can harness if you realise that “play can be smart…play can have a point”, and the encouragement to make play a part of our internal culture, not just a feature of our comms.

Playing with form

Debora Williams (The Creative Diversity Network) absolutely blew me away! She swept aside the conventional keynote speech format and instead played the part of a white middle aged man to deliver some searing satire; she played with form to shine a light on the current discourse around diversity and equality. Playing with form cropped up in many of the sessions I went to over the course of the conference. The Art Fund gave a valuable case study in how to have fun with your crowd funding campaign, and PatronBase explored taking an iterative approach to web design with the ICA’s extraordinary new website. While Elizabeth Heague presented the Liverpool Philharmonic’s ambitious “Leap into Live Music” model in audience development with genuine impact; “leave the building” is still ringing in my ears.

Play and harnessing creativity

It turns out I’ve been neglectful. I’ve neglected the fact that in order to use play I’ll need to nurture my own playfulness to release creativity.  Jake Young (Young Design Studio) gave some superb tips on how to harness your own creativity when you most need it. I’ve already put some of his advice into practice (and I’m not a graphic designer!).  And then there were two incredible women whose words have buzzed around my head for the last week. Emma Rice (Wise Children) showed us how to tackle the enemies of play, the biggest of which is fear. She talked about our need to re-learning how to play, how to create a different work culture with different reward systems, and value of leaving some space for your own curiosity and creativity. Then Tatiana Simonian spoke about using mindfulness in leadership, nurturing relationships (not connections) and empowering others. In her keynote she spoke about using mindfulness to be a better, healthier human and to be more creative; slowing down, getting away from your inner censor, giving your mind the space to think creatively, and practicing gratitude. I felt genuinely privileged to have heard these two women speak in person. I’ll be aspiring to follow their advice, both in and out of the office, for the rest of my career.

My AMA conference 2018 Top Three

— I gained the inspiration and conviction to harness the power of play in an holistic way

— I met some lovely, brilliant, inspiring people and possible collaborations are already being discussed

— I experienced a little of wonderful Liverpool – I’ll be back!


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