Paul Williams chats to Robert Batson, executive producer at Same Sky, about organising large-scale community events in post-pandemic Brighton.
If you are a regular reader of The Seagull (and if not, why not? I can thoroughly recommend it), you will already know that Brighton is teeming with creative folk. Whether it’s art, dance, drama, film, food, or festivals that float your boat, the chances are that Brighton has something to offer.
As a customer or participant, the only things we have to worry about are deciding what to attend and turning up on time, but what we don’t see is the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that Brighton has a rich and varied creative programme comparable with any other town or city in the UK.
Chief amongst the movers and shakers is Same Sky, the largest community arts charity in the South East, which happens to be based in Brighton. Formed in 1987, this award-winning charity works with local authorities, arts festivals, businesses, schools, and community groups to deliver stunning events and magical creative concepts.
Hugely impressed with the work being carried out by the charity, I caught up with executive producer Robert Batson to discuss the logistics and challenges that come with handling big projects such as street parades, theatre shows, carnivals and, seemingly, everything in between. When we chat, Robert describes living in Brighton as “another day in paradise”, and his enthusiasm for the city and the work he does with (and for) the local community is clear.
Originally from the US, Robert’s first foray onto the UK arts scene came via a stint in Edinburgh. When that came to an end, he returned to his hometown of Pennsylvania and tried his hand at several theatre and art related projects, but the lure of working in Britain was still strong. After applying for various jobs, he found himself in Brighton just before the pandemic struck.
It was, he agrees, a steep learning curve:
“Things changed overnight. I had come over to work on the Brighton Fringe, and suddenly there wasn’t a Fringe. We went from talking about how to put the festival together, to how do we save it—can we still run it but in a different way?”
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt in the creative community, particularly when it comes to funding. Robert tells me that Same Sky is “still suffering from the aftershock of the pandemic, as are most arts organisations. Funding is still an issue, and we are not out of the woods yet, but people are very receptive to what we do which is great.” For example, last year’s Burning the Clocks event, which sees the local community come together in a Winter Solstice parade, raised over £7,000 which will help to fund future events and community workshops.
Much of Robert’s time is taken up with administration, meetings, and those all- important funding applications, but it's getting out and about, talking to people, and hearing their ideas which really fuels his imagination.
Community-focused events are the backbone of what we do. We work a lot with schools, businesses and other community groups who will come to us and say, ‘this is our budget, this is what we want to do, can you help us?’—part of our work is ensuring that we keep things fresh and interesting.
Bringing vibrancy, colour, and splendour to Brighton’s streets is very much part of Same Sky’s remit. Past events include the Platinum Jubilee pageant; the Children’s Parade, which offers local schoolchildren and their teachers a fantastic opportunity to work on developing their ideas hand-in-hand with selected artists; and Awakening, a luminous garden project commissioned in response to COVID-19. This year’s calendar is already filling up nicely too, with the Children's Parade set to return in May, and events planned for April, June, and July.
Same Sky takes pride in leaving a legacy after a project is complete, believing passionately in passing on their skills and vision. Empowerment is very much at the top of their agenda, giving people moments of magic they will remember long into the future. The charity also runs an online shop which sells limited edition prints, collage packs, and even a very reasonably priced ‘Make Your Own Theatre Kit'! Every purchase helps Same Sky to continue their work supporting people who are physically unwell or facing financial insecurity.
The charity has several diverse ways in which you can get involved too; you could find yourself working in community-making, outreach, or event production. For more information, and the chance to leave a little legacy of your own, contact Same Sky by emailing [email protected] or by visiting the website www.samesky.org.