A few weeks ago, our Senior Producer, Laura Beddows, had the incredible opportunity to visit the Flynn Centre in Burlington, Vermont, to learn about their approaches to Audience Development and Community Engagement.

Laura spent time meeting with key members of the team including Jay Wahl, Executive Director, who has many years of experience working with art in public spaces and is increasing the amount of outdoor work under his directorship, and with key partners who work with the Flynn to get a well-rounded view of the work they do.

Laura’s reflections on her time away: “I found the experience incredibly rewarding and inspiring; despite the different contexts many of the challenges we face as arts organisations were actually very similar and it was refreshing to share how each organisation faced those challenges or had different ways of working."

The trip took place over four days as a part of a staff exchange supported by the InSitu network; Freedom Festival Arts Trust is one of just two UK partners in this Creative Europe-funded network for artistic creation in public space. The network is made up of 19 partners, mostly from across Europe but including the Flynn Center in the US, who through artist residencies, commissions, and international collaborations, support the creation and presentation of art in public space. Over the last twelve months, each partner has sent a member of their team to visit a partner in a different country on a staff exchange to share and learn about how they approach working with audiences. The Flynn is a beautiful 1930s theatre in Burlington which has been at the heart of Vermont’s cultural landscape for 90 years. They have a main theatre space, a studio, an exhibition space, and workshop/rehearsal spaces and take work out across the state. The programme at the Flynn is wide-ranging; from commercial theatre, comedy and music to school matinees, summer camps for young people, an annual jazz festival (part of which takes place outdoors on the shores of Lake Champlain) and a large programme of education and community work.

"The art in public space/outdoor arts sector in the US is very different to Europe; across Europe there is a long-standing tradition and history of this type of work so that it is an established art form. From chatting with Jay, I learnt that isn’t the case in the case in the US, there are some artists working outdoors and some organisations doing great work, but it isn’t widespread and often isn’t recognised in the same way, which means often audiences are unsure what to expect or how to engage with the work at first. However, it was very clear that when art in public space is presented, it still has the very powerful effect that we see elsewhere. As an art form which is democratic in nature, anyone can encounter the work out in the street, park or shopping centre. It is an important way in which the Flynn reaches new and potentially diverse audiences.

It was a fantastic opportunity to share knowledge and make connections with a partner in a different country. It’s great to know that Freedom Festival’s impact and reputation stretches over to Burlington, Vermont and vice versa and that we can continue to help and support each other going forward. I’m coming back to Hull with a fresh perspective and lots of maple syrup in my luggage.”

Being part of the InSitu network puts Hull and Freedom Festival on the international map and makes us a key player in the international discussions around art in public space and its future. The report Laura is writing about the staff exchange, along with all 18 other partner’s staff exchange experiences, will form part of a publication illustrating a portrait of the network at a specific time with valuable perspectives on how we can increase and make the most use of our collaborations.