Monday, August 30, 2010

#gb10 - Why I Wasn't Excited...

(or, why I wasn't as excited as I should have been, but still was a little bit excited really).

Well, I managed to keep me trap shut until Greenbelt Festival 2010 has come and gone (almost), out of respect for the fact it can be a very tense time in the run up and preparations, and genuinely did want to add any perceived negative vibe to something many folk hold so dear. Including myself.
But its time to get out in words how I feel about my current relationship with Greenbelt, without vitriol or malice, and hopefully with some honesty. Stuff I need to get off my chest. Because I do give a shit.

I have been following online the vibe, photos, videos and blogs this weekend, and much delight to see weather has been pretty darn good, and huge amount of positive stuff is emerging content-wise. For the festival punter it looks like a great success, which is fantastic, numbers look very good too which will please Business & Finance no end (wonderful humans :)

So why am I being old grumpy-drawers? Well I'm not really.... I can be. Huffy bastard if you really piss me off. Today I am not Mr Grumpy though.
I think I am learning through time that Greenbelt really is not just one entity. It is sooo much more...
Its more about relationships and collective mini groups of people, and individuals, coming together in a kind of modular way to create something incredibly special, Unique is a term over-used, but greenbelt is most certainly unique in its' make-up when it comes to any festival (or other organisation for that matter), I have ever come across.

With every organisation, for it to succeed, it has to have people who make decisions, otherwise things would never get done. Brilliant ideas would forever just whirl around like gas, and eventually disperse into what-could-have-been...

I think one of the reasons that Greenbelt has lasted so long, and made it through good times and bad is that it has always come through by appointing good decision-makers in key areas. What I suspect these folk have been able to do well over the years is to allow growth and encourage 'ownership' of the festival right down to its' grass roots level. The Punter, the Volunteer, the Worker, the Trustee - all have assumed ownership of parts of greenbelt and this is the heart of its existence. Every individual or small group naturally wants to pull the festival as a whole towards where they are coming from, but the trick is, or seems to have been, for the Decision Makers to assist the balance of the mix of every part and thus instead of pulling itself apart Greenbelt historically has been able to draw together the whole.
I am sure that over the years many wrong decisions have been made, but overall the fact it is still around, and flourishing, tells one that inherently, the mix has worked. Most of the time :)
So its the decision making process that makes or breaks. Note the word process.

Top Down or Bottom Up.
Both can work.
Top-down - corporate, business-like, professional, manager-led.
Bottom-up - community centered, emerging from, group-led.

It is my assumption that historically Greenbelt has been the latter, but it seems that this has changed in recent years moving away from that philosophy and crept up towards the more Top-down approach in its decision making process.
Has that been a Trustee-led (who are ultimately responsible for the overall direction and mission for GB) active decision to go that way? I am not sure. Knowing some of them as I do, I would think that would it be unlikely. But viewing things from my perspective primarily as a volunteer, this is certainly the direction that the decision making process is heading. Or even has already arrived at. Evolved into.

It is clear to me that now, all decisions on any ideas that come forth through the grass roots now have to go through the Top-down led channels before they can proceed. Trouble is with GB being what it is, this means a very small number of people have to deal with a very large number of ideas.

So what if you have little or no relationship directly with the Decision Makers, yet have the most brilliant idea ever, the skill to carry them through, and would like to offer these up to add to the melting pot. Well, get in the queue. You might get lucky and the idea may find its way through, but only if it falls into line with what the Decision Maker has already decided, and only if they have the time or inclination to actually address your fabulous scheme. Or you just happen to be very good mates with them... (this is not always a bad thing of course, we all need close friends who we can talk things through with and listen to, but one must always be consciously aware of perceived cronyism).

The danger with choosing (or evolving into) the Top-down led style of organisation is that now what has been traditionally a grass roots culture suddenly coming up against the bottleneck of backed-up, stuck ideas and beauty-filled-notions-awaiting-decisions. At best, this way of working with something like Greenbelt (is there anything like Greenbelt?) can only serve to slow down and stifle and at worst become an absolute killer for creativity, inclusiveness and participation.
Also, it puts a massive amount of pressure on those who find themselves in the Decision-Makers role. My feeling is what that could lead to (if it hasn't come into being already) is the creation of and 'Us and Them' setup, whereby Decision Makers withdraw into authoritarian behavior and self-preservation and those awaiting decisions, or those who have had decisions made that they do not like or agree with left feeling completely devalued. Not a recipe for healthy growth.

I do have some thoughts and ideas as to what an alternative infrastructure might look like, but still in formulation and may find their way on to these pages soon... or they may just fade away...

So this is my gaze over greenbelt currently,. Trying to make that gaze beautiful, but not willing do so through rose-tinted spectacles. I have never been afraid to tell it how I see it, so i ain't going to start now, and am aware that expressing these opinions may not go down too well with some. Tough titty.

This is not what I want Greenbelt to be. I want it back. If I have to steal it then call me Robin Hood. I don't wish to keep it, because I know that it does not belong to me exclusively. I belong to it.
Her. We are lovers and we have had a strop, and thus she is spending the weekend at her Mothers'. I did call around to check She was ok, and outwardly She is having a wail of a time on the Town.

I hope that deep inside though She hurts as much as I do, and secretly looking forward to the kissing and making up part as much as I am. This time though, I am going to wait a while to allow Her to make the first move.

Love you honey xxx


Jacqui H said...

You're a moron for posting this whilst the festival is still happening ad people are still slogging their guts out to give people a good time. It's a shame that you don't have the maturity to let things settle and then review in the cold light of day. It shows an immaturity and lack of respect for the thousands of people who work hard to provide greenbelt. Go be a jerk elsewhere next year.

bigjohnblog said...

wow, pretty strong words there Jacqui H. Which bits do you find upsetting so? In fact, did you actually read beyond the title? I have nothing but respect for everyone who is at greenbelt, it is such a shame that you don't seem to have any for people you deem as morons for not being afraid to express their own opinions. I suggest you read again, and let me know where I am being immature and disrespectful, and I will happily look again and discuss. Methinks you have already decided it would be too challenging for you. Shame about that. Jog on.

Dave E said...

Sometimes in life you have to be be centred and stand tall - be honest. A brave post John - I know how much you love the festival and the work you put into it.

Not in my humble opinion a damaging post - far from it - one that asks questions - because you confess yourself to not know all the answers.

More disturbed by the comment you got than original post - it is through the bravery of souls who question and challenge that has helped enabled Greenbelt to be the success it is. Maybe BigJohn has a point worth listening to, or maybe not. It is there to discuss. More gets said about Greenbelt by Greenbelters during the actual festival time than any other. Historically the festival has welcomed comments, good or bad, because it is founded in a belief that it must never stand still.


Anonymous said...

John, I was interested to read your comments about the latest festival and the changes that have happened in the structure of decision making. Been a Greenbelter for years, and it is a special place for me too, so can understand some of the frustrations you feel.
Jacqui H - if GB stands for anything it is listening to other points of view, John has some valid points, and surely a discussion can take place about this without using aggressive language.
Anyone for a chat about it at the Tiny Tea tent in 2011 ?