Emily Labhart

thinking about dance, arts management and cultural representation

#ProducerLife : 2020

2020 was not a typical year, to say the least!

After Producing the incredible Popcity UK vol. 5 at Shoreditch Town Hall with Fiya House in January, I was full steam ahead working on MOVE IT‘s 15th Birthday – due to take place at the ExCel Centre 13-15 March.

Popcity UK vol.5. Photo by E-Visuals.

However, following WHO’s classification of the Coronvirus as a global pandemic, on Thursday 12th March (the day before the show was due to open) the Immediate Media team took the difficult decision to postpone MOVE IT 2020.

On Monday 16th March, after the PM’s announcement of social distancing measures and the closure of pubs and theatres, I took the decision to cancel Dancehall Origins Edition 6 – which was due to take place on 4th April with Kemar Optimistic and Shorty Dancer Shine flying in direct from Jamaica.

Dancehall Origins x Queens on Top 2019. Image by Tashon Reid-Palmer.

On Tuesday 17th March, the executive team at DanceXchange postponed Birmingham International Dance Festival 2020 – scheduled to run 5-21 June.

In less than a week, all of my Spring/Summer events were either cancelled or postponed. Suddenly, I had a lot of time on my hands!

Here’s a quick run down of what I got up to as a freelance Creative Producer in 2020:

DX’s Dance Insights Online: Autumn Series – Dance of the African Diaspora

  • I joined DX’s Focus Group that seeks to tackle Anti-Racism through bi-weekly sessions sharing resources, inviting guest speakers, undertaking training and being a safe space for conversation and learning. As part of this, I delivered an Unconscious Bias training session for the full staff team and contributed to the organisation’s Black Lives Matter commitments – available to read here. This is something I am incredibly passionate about and strive to influence everywhere I work. I’m grateful that DX have been so open to this level of advocacy and are actively making positive changes as an organisation. Stay tuned for their upcoming progress update!
  • I’m leading on the Gallery37 North (G37n) co-commission between DanceXchange/BIDF, Punch Records and Saathi House called ‘Roaming Dance’. One of six G37n commissions, Roaming Dance is an incredible opportunity specifically for Hip Hop dance artists to receive a £17K commission to devise a new work linked to the communities in North West Birmingham. There’s also an artist development strand, where a local artist gets the chance to enhance their skills and learn what it takes to deliver a production of this scale. From writing the call-out brief, to facilitating the selection process, to managing partnerships and building relationships with artists – this is a dream project! Read the full press release here and check out the promo video for all six G37n commissions below.

  • I’ve delivered mentoring and consultation sessions for independent artists and Producers, covering everything from: fundraising; company strategy; event management plans; understanding contracts and Intellectual Property; and demystifying the artist/Producer relationship. It’s incredible what a difference just talking about an idea with someone else can make! I love having these sorts of conversations and to see people have light-bulb moments in our sessions is so rewarding. I’m hoping to do more of this in the future.
  • I’ve been working with Birmingham-based Breaker Jamaal O’Driscoll on new creative projects that will come to life in 2021/22, some of which I can’t talk about yet(!) but one I can definitely share is Disruption. A collaboration between Jamaal, spoken-word artist Sipho Eric Ndlovu and visual artist/filmmaker Anthony Shintai – Disruption includes a period of research and development through interviews, workshops and online events exploring themes related to black male identity and toxic masculinity. This R&D will lead to a short film featuring bespoke Hip Hop choreography set to brand new poetry, all captured through innovative filming techniques in sites across Birmingham and the West Midlands. I am buzzing to be working on such an important project, and to be highlighting the inspiring creative practitioners that the Midlands has to offer. More details will be released soon, visit the links above to keep up to date.

ONE% by Jamaal O’Driscoll at Birmingham Weekender in Digbeth 2019. Image by Verity Milligan.

  • Finally, I’ve successfully fundraised over £31K from the likes of Arts Council England and HomeGrown31 for independent artists to deliver a range of creative projects, including: digital/online activity; strategic planning and thinking time; and devising new work for future touring. With such high competition for resources, I’m really proud to have been able to secure much-needed financial investment for artists to keep doing what they do best. Here’s to more fundraising success in 2021!

Despite not delivering any live events since January 2020, writing this post has shown I’ve still been able to take on a number of projects and work with inspiring artists to make things happen.

My year has been much slower that it usually would be, but I’ve been glad for the change of pace and I’ve allowed myself to only work on things that align with my values – aka things that make my soul happy!

It’s also given me more time to fix that work/life balance, which I filled with:

  • watching 30 films I hadn’t seen before
  • reading 20 books I hadn’t read before
  • starting weight training (home workouts) five times a week
  • building the Lego Hogwarts Castle (over 6,000 pieces!)
  • calling/FaceTiming/Zooming family & friends near and far

Although we’re looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror, so far 2021 hasn’t quite been the ‘return to normal’ that we were all anticipating… That being said, I’m looking forward to finding out what this new year will bring, to building more Lego(!), and to seeing more brilliant projects come to life. I hope you stick around to see what I get up to!

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