Reflections on Organising Double Dabble
We had such positive feedback about Double Dabble: A Feminist Day of Making from our participants (and we also really enjoyed it ourselves!) that we thought it would be nice to run a similar event again. Having said this, we also think that it would be great to run similar events on different topics (ours was quite craft-focused), run by different people, in different places.
So, if you took part in Double Dabble, talked to someone who did, or saw bits and pieces of the event on social media and liked what you saw, we’ve got a treat for you! Double Dabble really is about the people who come – it’s about those who host a stall and prepare the activities, and about the friendly exchange that occurs on the day. So make that your focus in the planning of the event.
Obviously, no two events will be the same, and especially with a model such as Double Dabble, the people involved really shape what it’s going to look like. Having said that, below we give you information on the key organisational milestones we passed in the run-up to the first Double Dabble. We will also include a few sentences on how some of these could be improved.
Recruiting stall hosts
In December, we circulated an e-mail in as many different mailing lists we could think of. We started off with the FWSA and DEN mailing lists (because that’s where we got our funding), but also made sure to spread it as far and wide as we could. We shared the Call for Participation with our supervisors and asked them to share it in their own networks, we shared it with Newcastle University and Northumbria University research groups, and asked those to share it among their own networks too.
We also sent some very targeted e-mail to people we already knew (when we did this we used the same e-mail as we sent to mailing lists, but heavily personalised it to the person we were contacting). We thought of people whom we thought would be interested in an event like this; we also asked them to then share the call further. In this way, some of the stall hosts were reached not only by the e-mail we sent out via mailing lists, but also through mutual contacts we had.
This is the e-mail we shared:
You are invited to take part in Double Dabble: A Feminist Day of Making!
Double Dabble is a workshop attempting to bridge feminist theory and practice through the practice of making on the 4th of February 2017 at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.
The aim of the event is to create a selection of interactive dabble stations addressing various of creative activities and feminist theories. Together we will build a collaborative space to engage in discussion and making.
We are looking for participants and hosts.
Participants can register at this link: doubledabble.eventbrite.co.uk
We are also looking for dedicated hosts who can bring along knowledges around either feminist theories and/or (creative) practice. For example: historic, cultural, economic, philosophical, or social perspective of feminisms or zine makers, artists, poets, musicians, makers, hobby-tinkerers, crafters, or circuitry-wizards. We think that your particular expertise digital making, crafting, and general DIY makes you awesome! SO PLEASE HELP OUT! 😛
Before the event, we will be teaming up a ‘theorist’ and a ‘practitioner’ to host a stall together on the day. We will introduce you to each other in an e-mail and ask each theorist to prepare a few thinking points for participants to explore and each practitioner to prepare a short activity for participants to take part in.
If you would like to be involved, please simply reply to this e-mail, and we will then start to work out the details.
We are very much looking forward to hearing about you and your skills as we think that your collaboration on this event is what will ultimately make it special!
Angelika, Janis, Emma, Ko-Le, Helen, Tag, and the rest of fempower.tech (@fempowertech)
This event is a collaboration between fempower.tech and the Shipley Art Gallery and is funded by the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (FWSA), the Digital Economy Network (DEN), Open Lab, and the Centre For Doctoral Training in Digital Civics.
We also added our Double Dabble flyer to the mailing list so people could print this and share it physically (thought I’m not sure anyone actually did that?)
What we learnt from this process was that the more diverse the mailing lists you send this to are, the more diverse the event will be. We shared it everywhere we could think of, and since we ourselves all have contacts in many different disciplines we were able to do this. We would really encourage the organisational team to be as diverse as possible here too. And to have a team of people who are willing to share information about the event even if they are not necessarily involved in the nitty-gritty of organising the day as a whole.
Another lesson we learnt from sending out this CfP is that we really like using academic language as PhD students! Inadvertently this of course influences who will read and react to the e-mails (our event in the end was very academia-focused, though we did have a number of participants who are not working in this space!). Hannah from The Shipley and Suzanne helped us turn the CfP into less academic text for The Shipley’s website and our eventbrite page. This was important to us since we didn’t want all attendants to be from academia – while our stall hosts were mostly from academic circles, the event was supposed to be accessible to all those visiting the gallery who do not necessarily have academic backgrounds.
Pairing stall hosts
Once we received short bios and ideas from all our stall hosts, we began pairing them up. This activity ended up being a lot more difficult than I had originally thought. It’s quite hard to find matching ideas while still making sure that the two hosts are different enough to challenge hosts to make their stalls as inter- and cross-disciplinary as possible. Janis and I had many conversations and iterations of stall-couplings. We wanted to try to match up interests, but also ensure we had a diversity of stalls. I think this process will always be hard, but staying in contact with and learning more about each stall host made this part (a little tiny bit) easier. In getting to know them and their activities, we were able to figure out what complimenting skills were needed to support as many of the ideas as stall hosts had as possible.
Once we finalised our list of couples, we sent each couple an e-mail where we introduced the partners to one another. Here’s an example of an e-mail we sent out:
Hello [host 1] and [host 2],
Thank you for letting us know you were interested in running a stall at our event in February! Looking at both of your interests, we thought that if we paired you up, you could come up with some really interesting activities.
[host 1] is a [short text on their interests], and [host 2] is [short text on their interests]. Please do get to know each other a little better, and maybe start by saying hi to each other with a little bit of info about who you are and what your interests are.
Please put your heads together to come up with an activity that is flexible, and adaptable to a number of different levels of skill; I’m sure it will be interesting! The idea for the day is that there will be activities for participants to engage in (the stalls) that they can choose to spend as much or as little time with as they like. Over lunch, we hope that people come together to develop some ideas of projects to run in the afternoon, where groups of people will work together to develop some sort of thing to then share with the rest of Double Dabble attendants.
I’m really looking forward to hearing more about what you will come up with, and so we can let attendants know a little bit about what we have planned, it would be great if you could please send us a (very) short outline of the activity you would like to do, as well as 2-3 sentences on yourselves (feel free to include your twitter handles) by Monday the 23rd of January. We’d like to put this up on our website, and then share it on our social media.
Angelika and Janis
After this e-mail was sent out we started receiving some feedback from the hosts, and we received all the information we needed by the 24th (which is amazing, considering I’ve organised other events where it took us ages to get a hold of all the right information). The time between the sending of this e-mail and the 23rd of January however was a difficult one. We weren’t sure whether all the hosts were happy with their pairing or if conversations had started. It would have been helpful to include a line in that e-mail asking for a little bit of a comment or some feedback about the collaboration before the 23rd of January. Just a little note to let us organisers know that the hosts were happy with the coupling and that they were having conversations with each other.
To recruit participants, we continued to share the the eventbrite link on our personal and fempower.tech social media accounts. The DEN, Open Lab, and The Shipley were all incredibly helpful in sharing these. This was actually easier than I would have thought, it seems like our event really struck a chord with people! We had such amazing responses to our call for hosts and our calls for participants, that we were encouraged to continue to share the e-mail we showed above on all sorts of different mailing lists.
Since we worked so closely with The Shipley Double Dabble was also a part of the events they advertise on their website. More than a week before our event, the 40 free tickets we made available on eventbrite were sold out!
What we learnt from this process was that it’s hard to get people to commit to coming to a free event. While the quality of work we did on the day was amazing, the numbers could have been a little higher. Overall, we had roughly 30 people attend the day. We had 40 tickets ‘sold’ on eventbrite more than a week before the event. For a future event, I would probably keep the sign-up process the same (keep an eventbrite page as it’s super helpful in advertising too), but remember that if it’s free attendance is going to be a lot lower than you think. So rather have more people say they’re coming than you can cater for. The Shipley would have been big enough, and we would have had enough stalls to host quite a few more people. Since we were ‘sold out’ more than a week before the event, we stopped advertising it, maybe we should have kept advertising and encouraged some other people to also take part.
Finding a space to host the event
We were lucky enough that Helen, a member of fempower.tech, knew about The Shipley Art Gallery. We contacted them with our idea of the event and were then invited to have a chat with their events coordinator and to see the space. In meeting with the coordinator and visiting the space we found that it really was the perfect place to host our event.
The gallery focuses on craft and design, which fit perfectly with our concept of Double Dabble. The exhibits in the gallery would hopefully inspire participants in the day, and we hoped it would bring a new audience to the gallery – in talking to others at Open Lab about Double Dabble, we learnt that many who have lived in Newcastle for a while had not actually been at The Shipley (me included!), so we took this as a sign that we need to open this space up to people like ourselves.
We learnt some very practical things about hosting events in galleries: it slightly limits the activities you can host in the exhibition space (eg. no soldering irons, or clothes irons as gallery alarms are very sensitive), at the same time however you also just need to be smart in where you are hosting which activities (eg. we ended up using the iron in the workshop downstairs, the same place we had tea and coffee and the Zine Machine, so people weren’t too upset about having to go to a different space to iron)
We also learnt some more metaphorical things about working in galleries: it’s genuinely lovely to host an event in a ‘working gallery’. In some ways, our event became part of the exhibition space, making all the activities we took part in on the day a public display of creativity and art in itself. Since the gallery was open to the general public while our event was happening, we were able to engage different audiences, and really embraced the interactivity that a gallery can provide for its visitors and event participants.
The organisational team
When we started this project last year, we were a team of 6 who worked on putting together the funding application for the FWSA. It was here that we decided on different roles people wanted to fill, and which of our own expertise would be most suitable for which task. Of course each of us had all sorts of other things going on in the run-up to the event, so some people were able to input more than others. It is at this point, that we also want to say thank you to everyone else that was involved in the project: Helen (for knowing all sorts of amazing people and for recommending we host Double Dabble in The Shipley), Ko-Le (for the beautiful graphics, posters, and flyers), Emma (for organising the amazing food with the Samosa Sisters), Tag and Vidya (for helping out on the day and supporting us in the build-up).
Every event, and maybe particularly experimental events like this one, is a lot of work. On the day it always looks like everything was easy and fell in place without much work, while in the background people are frantically trying to find sockets, extension leads, and ways of being able to use an iron in a gallery space with a really sensitive heat alarm system. I think from the way that we all did our own little jobs, and the personal communication between stall hosts and us organisers we were able to strike a nice balance. Instead of having regular meetings, we had many informal exchanges. Instead of stressing for a few weeks before the event, we decided to stress (a little less) for a longer period of time – making sure to do little bits and bobs of organisational work each day rather than spending whole days on nothing else. We had a lot of work in organising this event, but I think it was all worth it!
Costs and funding
Thanks to The Shipley, we were able to have the space that we ran Double Dabble in for free, and since everyone involved was a volunteer, we were able to keep the costs to a minimum. We were the winners of the 2016-2017 FWSA’s Small Grant Scheme, which provided us with £250. Since we quickly realised that this would be enough money to cover catering, but no other material costs, we also applied to the DEN to match this funding (which we also received). So, overall we had £500 to run the event. This included all the material costs, travel costs for stall hosts coming up to Newcastle, and other bits and bobs that we needed to buy (like, for example, an iron). We were lucky enough to also be able to use materials provided by Open Lab (like extension cables).
— fempower.tech (@fempowertech) February 4, 2017
We’re really grateful to those that volunteered to take part this time round (and we were able to provide enough money to cover material costs), but if we were to run this event again, we’d ask for enough funding to pay the stall hosts. They deserve to be paid for the work they put into designing the activities and making the event such an unforgettable experience.
Now that you know how we organised our Double Dabble and how we would change things if we were to run another one, go ahead and organise your own! And if you do, please let us know what you’re planning! We’d love to support you in whatever way we can and maybe even be one of the stall hosts?
Angelika and Janis