An Unlikely Couple…


Agents of Creative Change is a new project run by Battersea Arts Centre that puts artists and third sector professionals in a room together to explore how exchange of practice and ideas can break down barriers and unlock innovation.In a way it’s a bit like professional speed dating as pairs of artists and third sector professionals were formed.

Below you’ll hear from two of the participants who took part in the pilot and who have been working together for a few months now.

Barbara Cala-Lesina is a Team Manager for Integrated Offender Management in Wandsworth Borough Council. She tells us about her journey so far:

Last spring I went to Riga to take part in the European Conference for Innovation in Cities URBAC. I was amazed how many initiatives there were in European cities based on the cooperation of artists and other professionals and how amazing the results were. I returned to London with this recurring thought in my mind… what would happen if I worked with an artist? What kind of artistic practice could inform my working practice? So I had questions but no idea how to go about it.

I work in Wandsworth borough Probation Service and have a team of people from different organisations and agencies, it is called the Integrated Offender Management scheme (IOM).  We work with 75 of the most prolific offenders in the borough. Our overall aim is to reduce re-offending rates amongst this group. All of our clients are problematic drug users. In the team we have a police officer, 7 probation officers, 2 drugs workers, a psychologist, teacher, outreach worker, housing officer and others who we can call on in order to help our clients deal with their specific problems. Clearly only an artist is missing from the team…

Miracles do happen. A few months after returning from Riga a police inspector from Battersea who I work with told me about the new initiative at Battersea Arts Centre and whether I was interested in joining. I was ready!

I met with Lara Taylor, the project manager who was very enthusiatic about the new initiative and she thought I was also enthusiatic enough to be accepted to the programme.

The first two sessions were amazing. I learnt about theories of creativity and about previous collaborations between artists and schools to provide imaginative contexts for learning for young children.

Then we had a “speed-dating” type of exercise where I had to formulate, as a means of introduction, what in my everyday practice might need an intervention from an artist. I said that the biggest stumbling block for my clients is to act on  their own  decision of  resisting  drug taking and lifestyle change away from crime.

I then had a chance to talk to all the artists individually and to listen to stories of  their artistic practice  and think really quickly whether  there was a fit between our ideas.  The whole process was very interesting.

I was matched with Tassos Stevens and our adventures started.

Tassos’ ideas were so far removed from my own thinking and understanding of reality that they were even more attractive and intriguing.

I definitely entered completely unknown territory.

Very quickly Tassos and I discovered that we have similar ways of approaching tasks which is helpful in collaborative work.

We talked theoretically about what outcomes we envisaged for the offenders  as a result of this project,  which could  help them address the problem of NO ACTION.

We agreed that people need to feel AGENCY of their own, to be able to act on their decision. They also need to be RESILIENT in how they implement big life changes. In addition MINDFULNESS which increases self-awareness is necessary to stay on track and not to get diverted back into old lifestyles and patterns.

We can’t reveal details of our project yet but it is a big undertaking to include the above three elements in a game/system that will be useful to individual offenders and that will support their recovery.

I have no idea how we are going to do this , but I trust that if Tassos and I spend enough time together, talking and going  through the process of accepting and rejecting different ideas, that in a while we will figure it out.

We will re-arrange what we  know already into something no-one has done before and make people think and wonder when they observe this new creation. Hopefully provoking new thoughts and experiences.

I hope this is what you call creativity!

Thank you to Lara and Tassos for my experience so far.


Tassos Stevens is an artist and the founder and (artistic) director of Coney. He tells us why he’s taking part and about meeting Barbara.

Last autumn, I signed up to take part in Agents of Creative Change at BAC, matching up artists with people working in the social sector.

It’s the second BAC scheme like this I’ve taken part in. The Artist-Teacher Exchange matched me with primary school teacher Claire Lound, leading to myself and Tom Bowtell co-creating with her the first Adventure in Learning A Cat Escapes, a hugely important project for us all.

But entering a scheme like this, you can’t put that pressure on yourself to come up with something. Rather you just meet the people in the room, and see what sparks between you.

It was a brilliant range of professionals from diverse contexts, and some fantastic artists too. But most sparked between myself and Barbara Cala-Lesina, who works in criminal justice and probation services in Wansdworth, as she talked about the cohort of offenders she’s most concerned with: people who are prolific thieves, primarily to feed their substance addictions.

Her challenge resonated with some existing practice of Coney’s, the details of which I’ll keep (playfully) secret for now. And our brilliant conversations since have led us to a brand new idea, and a planned pilot about which I’m as excited as it’s possible for me to be excited. But which we can’t talk about publicly yet (sorry).

Hearing the other ideas in a sharing at the end of the scheme, it struck me not just how excellent and realisable they all were, but also how authentic they were to each pairing of agents. Which is testament to curation by Lara Taylor for BAC. I can’t wait to see what happens next with them all.

Tassos Stevens

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