Dear readers, apologies on the lack of poetry this week, but y’know what they say, poetry is pretty damn political. Below is an open letter to the soon-to-be-elected President of the Queen Margaret Union. The QMU has been the home of Aloud over the past two years, and I figured with the election approaching I ought to offer some words of advice on how to interact with events organisers that work with the the union as their venue of choice. I hope you enjoy.
To The New President Of The QMU,
Congrats on your appointment! I feel a little bad bringing business to your door so early in your reign – I mean you won’t even be elected for another 3 days – but I figured sooner might be better than later. I write as a pretty pissed-off events organiser.
The QM’s got problems, that’s for sure, and I’m not here to list them out like an oddly-specific-Buzzfeed article. All I’ve got is one organiser’s experience of working with the union for the last seven months since I took over the literature open mic, Aloud. While that might not seem like all that long, I hope I can offer some advice on how you might want to proceed when dealing with your societies, because the organisation I’ve encountered has not made the process of running a successful night all that easy.
So, what to do this year?
Let’s start with the basics, listen to your organisers. In your role, you’re not expected to be an expert in all things going on in every society, so don’t act like one. When an organiser tells you something won’t work, it probably won’t. When an organiser tells you they need x, y or z to make an idea work either give them it or turn down the night. If you want a headliner for a show or someone to run a workshop, these people need to be paid. Do not expect organisers to source free labour when they tell you this isn’t possible. Where the money isn’t available, let the organiser know and be prepared for the night to be scrapped.
One down, now that wasn’t so hard, let’s keep them coming. Be consistent, and publicly accountable. In Aloud’s first semester proposal, we put forward a workshop for women in performance. There are many reasons why we wished this to be all women and these were communicated to the union in our proposal, and yet in response we were told this was against the union’s discrimination policy. While this seems ridiculous in the first place, it was made rather more so when we pointed out that in the same week as the workshop was arranged, GULGBTQ+ was running a female only night in Champions Bar. No reason whatsoever was given to why one was allowed and the other not, we were merely told the answer is no. Regardless of your opinions on whether such an event should be allowed (which it should), the lack of consistency and communication was unacceptable.
And when it comes to consistency and communication, remember events take time to organise and publicise. Make decisions on dates and funding in advance, and let your organisers know where they stand. In the above mentioned workshop, despite multiple inquiries regarding payment for a professional to run the event, a decision was not made fully until the beginning of the event itself. For another example of this, a change to the date of an event was not communicated to the board of Aloud until after it was publicly announced. Make sure essential decisions on funding and timing are made, and made known to organisers, in advance. Nice and easy.
Now this one might sound slightly arrogant, but is nonetheless important, respect your successful societies. Last year Aloud’s open mic was a regular event which packed out Jim’s Bar and made a considerable profit for the union, while the magazine was talked of highly by students and the wider poetry community. Both of which were brought up and discussed in last year’s election as an example of a society with importance for the union at large. From the beginning of this academic year, I have seen the open mic – on which the society is built – move from being a monthly event, to being whenever it can be fitted in, and the Aloud magazine go from being monthly to non-existent.
In the case of the magazine, arts funding is tough to come by, unfortunately. It may be the case that the publications budget was cut so deeply that Aloud had to be dropped out of necessity, but there is something strange in a well respected magazine going from large monthly runs to impossible from one year to the next. Cutting down the run or the frequency was not an option, we were just told the money was no longer there.
For those who have no experience of running a regular event, I probably ought to explain, the success of such nights is the regularity. People are busy. They can’t and won’t drop everything to run to a night on little notice. What they do is they plan. If they enjoy a regular night they make themselves free to attend that night in advance, if the night is not regular they will come along if it suits on the night. This is the death of irregular open mics. This is the situation in which the QMU placed Aloud at the start of this year. In semester one there were two regular open mics, almost two months apart. In semester two there have been four planned, of which three are within seven weeks of each other and the final a month and a half later.
This could have been avoided through setting out time for an already successful night in advance, and not necessarily allowing it priority, but definitely not offering it an inferior deal and expecting the same results. For ways by which this could have been avoided, see my first point.
In truth, you have been elected to stand between a rock and a hard place for the next year, and I don’t envy your responsibility one bit – after all, it’s not like I’ve thrown my hat into the ring. All I have to offer is one person’s experience, of one year and merely a glimpse into the mechanics of a huge operation. What I wish to leave you with is the easily fixable problems.
Seek help, listen, and do what you believe to be best, but when all that’s done, be accountable. Be prepared to change your mind, but be less prepared to change others’ plans. Stick to what you know and what you know works, don’t gamble away a winning formula on an untested idea.
Only one thing left to say, Good-fucking-Luck.
All the best,