Lydia Ashman at Tandem Europe Partner Forum in Milan 2015. Photo by Constanze Flamme The Journey of a Mug and an Idea In October 2015, the Partner Forum in Milan kicked off the first round of Tandem Europe. Representatives of 44 organisations from 17 EU countries came together for five days and took first steps in the direction of many innovative Tandem collaborations. One of the participants, Lydia Ashman from Bowarts (London), shares her reflections about the event and her journey to Milan. Tandem Europe in Milan. Photo by Constanze Flamme The adventure began at 5.30am on Sunday morning; a slumbering London, lit by street lamps, flew past. To Milan and the unknown. Though I’d studied my fellow 43 participants’ profiles, looked closely at the agenda, and even been on a Tandem Partnership Forum back in 2014, it was impossible to know what to expect. Tandem Europe in Milan. Photo by Constanze Flamme I’m a project manager for Bow Arts’ education programme, which connects professional artists with schools. The programme is well-established and financially sustainable. However, we rarely have the time and resources to step back and interrogate our successes and failures and work with others to test out more experimental approaches, which is why Tandem is so appealing. In Milan, I was keen to find a collaboration partner who wanted to create and test a model which explores the full potential of artists’ capacity to effect change in European institutional contexts. For this mission, I took the seeds of this idea and a treasured bear mug from the Bow Arts office, both of which proved great companions for the intense five days ahead. The majority of the Tandem Europe Partnership Forum was held in the Ex-Ansaldo in Milan, a former factory and vast, beautiful space. The Tandem team had carefully configured the room to include the agora, a makeshift ‘garden’, an essential tea and coffee station (the mug came into its own here) – and numerous flexible working options. Tandem Europe in Milan. Photo by Constanze Flamme Throughout the five days, we participated in a number of activities to get to know each other (no mean feat with 44 strangers from hugely varied organisations in 17 EU countries), grow our collaboration ideas and create space to reflect on our own activities. These included: a mammoth Pecha Kucha session; World Café discussions on topics such as public space and cross-sector collaborations; Appreciative Inquiry to dig deep into people’s experience of collaboration; and provocations about the ambiguous nature of Social Innovation. There were also plenty of opportunities for informal chats over delicious wine and food. For the next few days, I found connections with many people: Raluca from M3 Culture in Romania and I share a passion for advocating the value of artist interventions in schools. I immediately hit it off with Inga from KINSKI and we started comparing the political situations in Denmark and the UK. Myrto from Athens’ State of Concept and Cristina from Lettera27 and I discussed our commitment to supporting artists to realise their potential. Vicky from Creative Scene knows my former boss. Finally, I discovered I’d seen Urban Therapist Phil Wood’s daughter’s band, Submotion Orchestra, at a festival this summer. Though the chats had helped me reassess and focus my idea, my instinct was telling me that I hadn’t quite found my Tandem collaboration partner. On the first night, I’d had a lively conversation with Breg, a Belgian architect based in the Netherlands who collaborates with Gert-Jan Stam, a theatre-maker, in TAAT Projects. We found common ground in our belief in the importance of creativity and experimentation in schools and wider society. I was really interested in TAAT’s do-it-together, non-hierarchical approach which linked to my own ideas about facilitating child-led and enquiry-based projects and our chat lingered in the back of my mind. We picked up the conversation again on Wednesday morning, and our common ground and idea seedlings quickly grew into Playground – an interactive space we want to build together which accommodates learning, dialogue and experimentation, and which uses the complementary strengths of our approaches and organisations. The playground can operate at different levels: between us as individual collaborators, between our organisations, between artists and schools and other societal contexts. Working with an architect, we weren’t content to draw diagrams or write lists and I’m pleased to report the mug took a starring role in our physical prototyping of the project on the floor of the Ex-Ansaldo. Lydia's mug in Milan Breg and I are currently working together to complete a collaboration proposal, an interesting process in itself to really get to grips with our idea. We obviously hope to be accepted onto the year-long supported Tandem Europe collaboration programme to see our playground come to life, and work with other Tandems as they realise their ideas. Either way, my idea, the mug and I have really benefited from going on the Tandem journey.