I met Gillian Jackson at Somerset House a few years ago, but knew of her work at Livity well in advance and have followed her career ever since. I was bowled over by her sunshine energy, enthusiasm, determination and truly impressed by the scale of ambition of her public projects, especially with young people.
She has an extraordinary skill at getting to the heart of the matter with individuals and collectives, creating exciting contemporary creative programmes, enabling skills development and establishing creative careers. She is brilliant at blending grassroots activism, analogue and digital processes and content to address the issues of our time, and generating public and private income to make it happen. Her knowledge and experience inspire me and continue to confirm the furlongs we still need to travel in arts organisations, to connect more deeply with our audiences, produce content with them that is more in tune with their daily lives.
Gillian works seamlessly with audiences, organisations, funders, and brands, to create a deeper engagement with the pressing issues of our time and encourage responsibility in us all. I am positive we will work together at some point, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Gillian Jackson is Director of Engagement at the House of St Barnabas, where she leads the brand, engagement, and cultural experience of its supporters. Previously, Gillian was Head of Engagement at social enterprise Livity, focused on aligning profit and purpose whilst building and strengthening relationships across Livity’s network. She has worked in music, culture programming and events for the last 15 years, leading long-term projects to develop new thinking via the cross-pollination of arts, culture, and technology. She is a Trustee of Culture24, a charity supporting arts and heritage organisations to connect meaningfully with audiences.
What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?
The last few months have been incredibly hard, and I found the need to retreat and get off social media to stay positive. I have been reading a lot and have mixed my reading to find escape alongside educating myself further on some of big issues the world is facing right now.
I’ve just finished Educated by Tara Westover, which explores her spiritual and often physical upbringing alongside her drastic journey into education as someone who was entirely self-taught.
I’ve been enjoying Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe which explores his role in the defining struggles in Britain against institutional racism in the police, the courts and the media whilst providing a localised view of Black British History in London. As a Brixton girl, I grew up knowing about Howe as a friend of my dad’s, so his history feels incredibly poignant to me.
I also really enjoyed Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, by Chad Heap, which is a colourful account of a history that I didn’t know much about. It illustrates the racial history of gay rent parties in the prohibition era in Harlem, and how it helped to reshape the understanding of class and race amongst the cabaret community in New York.
Emerge Festival, London, 2019
How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?
I have reflected a lot on what is within my power to change and have been focusing a lot around two things - diversity in the arts more broadly, and around belonging and inclusion for all. The murder of George Floyd has created seismic waves in all aspects of my life, both personal and professional, and it has made me even more driven as an activist and creative to use my platform for good.
We are also in a digital renaissance and the World will never look the same again as a result. Lots of my practice lives in the physical world, although I have always been driven by how we bring the real world into the digital, so I am finding it a really challenging yet exciting time for change.
During lockdown I started at House of St Barnabas as Director of Engagement and have set out a strategy to reshape their approach to diversity across the board. I have also joined the Board of Trustees of Culture 24 and have also joined their board of diversity.
I also developed a programme of work for Livity called 'Livity In Future', where we got together 100 amazing young activists, creators, social entrepreneurs from all corners of the UK to come together and create change in response to Covid. We have developed an events and mentoring programme and will be working on a digital project together which is exciting.
Lovebox Festival, 2019, Photo @franxisaugusto
What will you do more of?
I will do more digitally, but also, I will consider my digital practice in a new way. Technology was built by a white man, and is one of the most non inclusive forms of creativity, and we all need to ensure we consider how we can use tech meaningfully to drive inclusivity and conversation.
As a Black woman, I have campaigned to open more doors for people of colour in the arts, but this is something I want to do more of and go further doing. I think there is a huge risk that we move to a place of racial capitalism following this movement, where organisations appear to reflect diversity without changing their practices or internal strategies.
What will you do less of?
I am doing so much more now that it is hard to consider what I will do less!
What recurring questions do you return to in your work?
The biggest question I have been asking recently is one around race and what my role is as a Black woman in a senior position within the arts. I still cannot see the perfect arts organisation, or brand that I believe in and I think that most organisations have a long long way to go to change their internal structures and strategies.
Livity Open House Festival, 2020
What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?
My practice involves taking risks and trusting collaborators to realise projects, and often the biggest successes have come with the biggest unknowns. At the end of last year, I worked on a project with Culture 24 called Emerge Festival, which was a museum lates festival that took over several different museums and cultural spaces around London. We programmed a headline venue at Banqueting House in partnership with artist Flohio and had an incredible line up of artists including Gaika, Green Tea Peng, Elheist and Glor1a to name a few. We brought together over 80 young people to deliver the project and trusting the skills of everyone involved resulted in something special.
What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?
Sometimes the biggest successes come from the failures that you learn from. Working with young people for the last 7 years at Livity has helped me to grow in my own practice and understand my craft as a cultural programmer and the risks I have taken have taught me the most!
How would you like your work to lift others up?
I have built a creative practice based on providing a platform for others. At Livity, I am currently working on a project to help to connect 100 changemakers from around the UK to build projects, businesses and events that change the world. At House of St Barnabas, I have access to a space that will provide access to creatives and thought leaders to share their views. Every corner of my work is based on ensuring that I change systems and processes to make the world a more inclusive space for all.
Brixton Design Trail, Photo @marianap.res
Could you tell us about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?
Whenever I get stuck in my creative process, I go for a run, or I sleep on a problem with a notepad by my bed. I find that the best ideas I have come when I am dreaming or running!
What compromises have you made in your work?
If I had all the money in the world, I would set up my own cultural institution. This is a long-term goal of mine. Cultural Institutions do not reflect the culture of their times and do not create spaces for young people from diverse backgrounds to belong in. It is a compromise not being able to make this dream into a reality! This is a five-year goal of mine.
What advice would you give your past self?
Believe in yourself, do not be afraid to be creative and speak out about what you believe in.
London Design Festival, 2019, Photo @sleame69mage
What career hacks or useful nuggets would you give to aspiring creatives?
Go out there and start creating. If you don’t know how then find an organisation that can help you start your dreams. Check out Livity, Create Jobs, Social Fixt, GUAP, Spiral Skills to name a few.
Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?
Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende is a brilliant book about creating Good Trouble and looks at how 16th Century Pirates were the first social entrepreneurs that broke the system to create the change that they wanted to see. I could not recommend this book more.
Follow Gillian on Twitter @gilliantalking @HoStBarnabas @Culture24 @LivityUK and visit https://hosb.org.uk/
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