150 meters… 151… 152… a short walk to Ben and Gerry.

27th June Tatras Mountains

Team building activities: Great fun these but I am always nervous that things won’t work..

The challenge is building towers from scrap materials – straws, paper, sellotape etc etc. The highest wins. The materials are ‘won’ by answering questions.

Myself and Paul Bogen have set the tasks:

Take a photograph with 20 people in it … some teams gather 20 people in the town square – others take a photo of a photo of 20 people….Everyone is looking to bend the rules.

Mayhem as we ask for a traditional Slovakian dish to be served to us – cheese and raw onion on bread seems popular.. but we also get sausages…as well as lots of culinary advice.

Mathematical sums are worked out and delivered in Roman Numerals, flowers picked, more photos taken and gathered (stolen!) bounty displayed.

The winners manage a feat of engineering and win the prize – pride of being the best! It does the job.


wpid-20140627_181712.jpg wpid-20140627_181653.jpg

The entertainment is still being organised by a different group each night. Each night is now clearly divided into competition or  performance.

Having lost in the final of the Beer-Pong UNBELIEVABLY …I lose in the final of the general knowledge and challenge competition – to Michal AGAIN.

My competitive streak is showing way too much. I am taunted. I MUST WIN!! But come on guys…I worked out you could fit all the major planets in our universe between the earth and the moon – which got us the same number of points as someone flipping a coin into a plastic beaker – come on!!!

I have to win….

I get revenge on night three with The Communist Quiz – where my team are winners in a final play-off question about Trotsky and Lenin visiting London… which I get right! My time in Russia has clearly paid off – I knew it would come in handy.

The only shame is that Michal wasn’t there he had gone home for the night – running scared?

The other entertainment (apart from the debaucherous Disco on final night) is a drama performance by NaPerone. A fun piece placing the ludicracy of modern living into their dystopian vision. Funny and engaging – amazing even given the fact it was performed in a glorified dungeon. I like these guys and will work with them in the future…




To break out of the teaching and competitive cycle I take a walk into town, which is quaint. I have a coffee and walk to the train station. I meet MIchal… and declare my communist quiz victory..!


Walking away from the station I  see one of the all time great signs (NO CAMERA!!!??)

It is for the town’s best Western Hotel.

There are three billboard signs next to each other.

Sign one: BEST WESTERN HOTEL …150 meters

Sign two (to the immediate right of sign one): BEST WESTERN HOTEL RESTAURANT… 151 meters

Sign three (to the immediate right again): BEST WESTERN HOTEL SPA… 152 meters


We indulge in the local scene. We get a horse and cart back to the hotel.


horse ride Tatras_1


I show the guys from Na Perone the photo– they joke – now you will say you have had life in the fast lane in Slovakia!

And the horses’ names?… Ben and Gerry. hhhmmmm…


Viktor…you fucked up..!

June 26th: Teaching in High Tatras

My teaching on the Escalator course is varied; Finance, Presentation skills, Marketing,  Audience Development and today…

Transactional and Transformational Leadership approaches are the two key dynamics I focus on.

I refer to leadership guru (yes not just me!?!) Peter Drucker:


 How do you get people involved behind their technical function?

– or in other words… getting people to understand, to care and to contribute.

I talk and demonstrate Paul Bourne’s (!) Heads up Culture – where people want to be involved in activities and offer themselves up to make a difference.

Amazing what you can do with half a dozen juggling balls.!

These exercises show the difference between command – Transactional Leadership  – and cajoling – Transformational Leadership.

If in doubt. Bring out the juggling balls..


I am focusing on leadership in The Arts of course, and mostly in small teams but the rules are still the same:

One: get people involved

Two: have clear tasks and planning schedules that people feed into and understand

Three: communicate with your team often

Four: encourage ownership.

We do an exercise on capturing our leadership success and  failures.

It is called the newspaper exercise as we report on our activities…

There are some great stories – none better (EVER) than Viktor from Street Art Communications. His leadership success:

People not dying when a load of drunk volunteers worked on painting a building on a ten metre home-made scaffold deck…

I guess people not dying was a “success” but there were some good lessons to learn –

nothing though as rich as the failure…

Viktor and his team getting arrested and held in police custody when they painted a legally protected building in Kosice without the proper permission.

He was taken to the police station where the police took him into a cell and said the immortal words…

“Viktor… you fucked up”


Who needs Peter Drucker when you have leadership quotes like this?

Leadership lessons galore but somehow he got away with it, the Slovakian Government debated his actions and the painting stayed…

Great case study of successes, failures, risks and determination – obviously I don’t condone breaking the law but these guys are working on the fringes and they are awesome…

We then went onto debate Sandy Fitzgerald’s time at City Arts in Dublin. A great leadership case study where he was, after many years of growth, ousted from his own arts centre in a coup…

The arts centre grew with a community focus but when funding cuts came and the axe went onto disability arts the knives came out.

The lesson here was that Sandy was not in control – he had trusted and devolved too much power to other people – too Transformational and not Transactional enough.

You have to get the balance right. What do I mean by these phrases?

Transformational – guide, coach support and set free people with tasks for which they have ownership and responsibility. Where pride is a dynamic, and completion beyond mere satisfaction.

Transactional: give guidance with dates, budgets, timelines and plans that people work to. Be contractual and clear with regular reporting.

Combine the two and you can get exceptional results.

You just need to add talent, determination and oh – Don’t Fuck Up!


What do you get if you take Two Englishmen, one Irishman…?

Slovakia 25th June

Early start…

Hangovers all round and I have to take the still lingering essence of my defeat in Beer-Pong into the new day…I know they all love the fact that I lost !!! I will get my revenge!

So… immediate revenge on all – we have a warm up – outside. I lead… (No Agata – she doesn’t do warm-ups – I know some people hate them all too happy clappy..)

First game in true Happy-Clappy style with a Paul Bourne twist…“lets shake hands – lets connect” etc. etc.

Then the infamous… Across the Circle Name-Game…say the name of the person opposite you – connect. Move and speak as yourself, then (and now for real revenge) as indigenous Tatras Mountains creatures – first a Bear – now a Snake!!!

Eyes rolls… but hisses and roars  come – we laugh – hey we are all hungover in the mountains rolling around, laughing and roaring on the grass..!

Back inside, more introductions… then I teach presentation skills.

What makes a good presentation?

So many manuals , so much advice – prepare yourself … know your audience, not too many slides. Think of the audience naked don’t talk too fast – etc etc etc

Focus on this

  1. Be Present – don’t just get through it …do it
  1. Tell the story – structurally and dynamically…

Err… that’s it…

Seriously being in the room and know what you are going to stay and why, is all you need –

Oh! And breathe properly

Breathe – Think – Speak …

Workshop is good,  people ready for rest of the team…

I feel we have made a good start. – now they are off to specialise – audience development, finance, vision and mission statement etc.

On each of the nights of camp we have a talk from the Tutors.

Tonight is Paul Bogen.

Paul  introduces his time as a producer at the Kings Head Theatre in the 1980s – great stories of the maverick American Dan Crawford who used to run the space … bending the rules, indeed making them up as he goes along but it is a great tale of David and Goliath – a tiny pub theatre doing some amazing work – and paying no taxes as Paul revealed!!!

Lesson learned – its not all about the money but the journey…


The next talk is from Michal Hladky

Michal talks about his central role in winning and running Kosice 2013. He tells us about failing his Architectural Thesis – (he gets it in the end) – which means he is at a loose end- which leads him to getting involved in Kosice 2013 – leading to new opportunities…

Lesson learned: Failure is an opportunity…

Sandy about the time he met Mike Tyson in Cuba  – he (Sandy!)  loses his job in Ireland and escapes The Emerald Isle with his brother where he meets Mile Tyson in a bar.

He asks Mr Tyson for a photo (what has he got to lose?) the response is negative with a threat to put Sandy through he wall…

Lesson Learned – if you want to live, don’t ask Mike Tyson for a photo!

Agata talks about her time volunteering as a Rugby Wheelchair supporter, facilitator and general groupie! It is a great tale of guys (mostly guys I think?..) who have had injuries which put them in wheelchairs but who then find a new lease of life through sport with wheelchair rugby and associated arts events (including able bodied and wheelchair dancers choreographed together). Totally fascinating.  And Inspiring. You adjust to your circumstances – you give up or you move up…take your choice..


I feel bad …my after dinner talk is about my travels – India (Chauffeured by a 12 year old), UK ( our show about Newton being  introduced by Stephen Hawkins) and then the time I went to a strip bar in New Orleans and did my bit helping single mums … One Dollar at a time!! Oops!

Moral – have plenty of dollar bills…

Ah well! We are up and running. Stories are being told, jokes shared and tutors connecting well.

What do you get if you have two Englishmen, one Irishman, a Slovakian and a Polish woman ?

Who knows but so far so good…

Escalator or stairs?

24th June: Slovakia

Arriving at the hotel in High Tatras – about two hours drive from Kosice…

Very nice, quiet,  with spectacular 2000 m mountains around us…


Welcome to Tatranská Lomnica, right at the foot of the peak “Lomnický štít”, at a height of 900 m above sea level.

We are staying in a nice Penzion – Paula – but they have never seen anything like it – we have the whole place to ourselves and it is like a whirlwind of activity as soon as we arrive.


Most people come here for the peace and quiet but we are here for transformation… which needs energy (and apparently a lot of beer and whisky too!).

Some even need it for breakfast… (thank you Victor!!!)


Mix four tutors, sixteen artists and a desire for change and you have… a lot of moving of tables, re-arranging of rooms – re-imaging of space and that is just the first thirty minutes.

The Penzion Paula people are in shock.

But all of our crew are polite and respectful so the harmony is just about held together…but the party music till 3am will rock the boat a bit..!

Dinner is served  and the culinary pattern is set  with meat and potatoes. Slovakian food is… err… hearty. I like it enough it is like glorified school dinners.

Sandy, our vegetarian tutor has sent menus in – for six vegetarians – and the kitchen is severely challenged by this. It requires some serious re-framing from the kitchen staff but some how muscle through, with a  couple of minor disasters – we won’t even talk about the Spanish Omelettes…

There is a sense that we are aliens.

The opening early-night event strangely (as it will turn out) does not involve alcohol, but rather a “get to know each other game”. It is confusing at first, silly at the end but great fun throughout. There are sheets of photos of us all and a grid upon which there is a secret that know one else knows about each person .

The game is to match the person to the secret without asking people directly what their secret is.

Someone has put that they have had sex with their cousin! (what!???) So I go around asking whether they have any attractive relatives? And so it goes…

Someone  else has met Michael Jackson. Another has been on a spectacular adventure, one more does special tricks that can be performed.. ???!!!

And mine .. that I got married on stage (true!).  A lot of people guessed mine …and I also guessed the Cousin shagger!!!! But I cannot reveal…

Following our revelations the Escalator scheme’s objectives are laid out – all workshop sessions are working towards our final event; presentations of new business plans on the last day.

I will start with presentation skills training tomorrow morning.

For some this will be the first time they have done this kind of thing. Along the week all the elements they need will be covered and then I will help them glue it all together into a 15 minute presentation as if they were looking for funding… the group is diverse and interesting.

The non- drinking games don’t last long as the final entertainment tonight is a game called… Beer Pong???!!

We are paired up – I am with Slavo from the Matryoshka Soviet Festival.

The idea is to bounce a Ping-Pong ball into cups with beer in (brandy for the final). Each one we get the opposition have to drink the liquid in that cup. Ten cups =  ten drinks!

Not the most challenging intellectually but certainly challenging hygienically. Danka (visual media artist) who introduces the game says this was the only thing she learnt when on her university Erasmus Exchange scheme!

8 pairs battle off – we are consistent – my play average – Slavo uses his superior drinking power to remain focussed. We get through to the final where the liquid changes and so do our capabilities

In the final Slavo has lost his magic touch. I never had the magic touch. Somehow we get down to the ultimate PONG play-off – me and Slavo vs. Michal (director of the scheme) and Ludka (fashion designer…)


As with all games, it starts to matter and despite using my defence mechanisms:


we lose out to a tricky shot from Ludka. The room erupts – I have lost and it hurts!

The trophies are handed out. The party begins – we share it a little too much with the neighbours.

Day one over.

Can anyone show me the stairs…?


Cultural Cruisers or Artistic Sailboats…?

23rd June 2014 Kosice

So I have made it to Kosice in Slovakia … Wizz air was…

Pink and Purple /Bish and bash /


Took off / landed!

Ok so Kosice airport makes Luton look like the Taj Mahal… but this is the only plane landing so it is all nice and easy.

VIP taxis pick me up (should be done for trading under false pretenses…).

We drive past the ice hockey stadium THE sport in Slovakia. Sponsored by American Steel THE employer in Kosice. There is a joke with Slovakians that the best thing about the steel factory is that the wind blows all the pollution over the border…!

Kosice was the European of Capital of Culture 2013. Sitting on the Eastern border of Slovakia its nearest neighbour is Ukraine…

Slower than its big brother Bratislava it is somewhat sleepy on the surface  but below I feel it has an emerging  self-confidence (from Capital status?).


I am heading to the cultural centre at Kasárne/Kulturpark– the former military barracks turned into a new space for art.

VERY white – dazzling almost – this is potentially also a white elephant. a major cultural centre built with European money but who is using it now it is no longer  just for the Capital of Culture activities? This challenge of legacy is serious one – which European Capitals of Culture (shouldn’t it be Capitals of Art???) have sustained the momentum of their crown?

Liverpool I believe has been a success with long-term impact, but talking to many people involved in the projects there is a tendency for community regeneration (i.e. long-term deep impact), to be overshadowed by physical development somewhat like a great cruise liner sailing into port surrounded by an unconnected flotilla of community sailboats wary of being crushed if they get too close.

There is a danger that this will happen in Kosice. However there has been some  positive momentum.  The Place Conference


has started to address this with support towards the future Creative City (a dynamic which sees community involvement and engagement in cultural and creative activities as a major driving force in urban identity building).  The programme I am teaching on – Escalator – is also contributing to this future shape and sustainability.



The Escalator Programme  is designed to give aspiring and emerging artists and arts/creative organisations a leg up in terms of professionalising their work and building their confidence and robustness.

Looking at audience development, self-identity, management, vision and funding approaches,  it is hoped that during the retreat artists are about to go on (a week in the Tatras Mountains), they will be able to re-frame their operations and seriously develop their organisations.

Ten organisations have been selected for what is the second round of this scheme. These orgainistaions are ones who can potentially move to the next level to help support the sustainability of the community in the Arts. And thereby  maybe fill the Kaserna and other buildings, places and spaces in Kosice with artistic and creative energy and activity?

There is a danger that organisations like these, and  indeed like the behemoth buildings of  Capital of Culture projects,  end up not being robust enough or dynamic enough for sustainable growth.

One of the participants on this course justified her business plan based on the fact that “Art matters”.

My colleague Agata jumped on this like a Tiger  “NO! NO! it is not enough to say that art matters people matter not art – work to engage people not aesthetics or abstract concepts.” ( I already feel too stupid to teach on this programme – I ask stuff like – so, who’s going to come and see your shows then..?).

Today unfortunately the Kasárne/Kulturpark is not so buzzy – in fact as I turn the corner it is totally deserted apart from my three colleagues who will be teaching with me on the course…

Sandy Fitzgerald – former Director of City Arts Centre, Dublin


Paul Bogen – former director of The Junction in Cambridge


And Agata Etmanowicz freelance arts facilitator working with Art_Inkubator in Lodz


I have worked with Paul over many years, met Sandy a good few times and am meeting Agata for the first time. All have lots of energy and insight. We will be teaching together in camp for a week – let’s hope we all get on!

I must also include Michal Hladky – one of the driving forces behind The Capital of Culture who is also teaching but is in hiding somewhere…. He is a young architect who got involved in the Capital bid because he failed his final Architectural Thesis.. see I knew failure had benefit.!

Michal is a brilliant visionary, and very much like Paul Bogen, is a wonder with finances and funding. With Michal retaining a role and  interest in the Creative City there is definitely hope for Kosice!


Artists arrive.

They cover the spectrum from digital media to theatre companies, from festival organisers to Street Artists. They all troop in – they all look unsure… They are all standing in the empty Kasarne Square …like the soldiers that once marched on the square – except these guys have seriously de-mobbed!

Our job is to make sure we give them the tools to fill Kasarne and beyond with artistic life.

Can we give those little sailboats some wind in their sails..?!?

OK – let’s  head off to the mountains of High Tatras and see what we can do…

How can you get from Luton to Goa?

June 22nd 

Off to Tatras Mountains in Slovakia for an Artists retreat (hhhmm retreat) where I will be working with a dozen Slovaks!

Apparently they have bears there…



Luton airport 6am June 22nd – this building is the pits – it has an edge – how does a place have such a negative vibe ?– the people, the lighting, the building? Edge.. it is all about that feeling – a building not built or adapted for purpose – a hot-potch of shed like buildings bolted together with little interest in the comfort or energy of the users..Welcome to Luton Airport!



I couldn’t write a blog on buildings with out mentioning my Architect friend Ian Bramwell’s amazing building on the East Coast of England. As part of the team at Mole in Cambridge Ian helped realise the Balancing Barn.


I am not sure what part Ian actually played in the process but he does seem fairly regularly to return home (he lives on our street not in our house!) clutching some award or other…

I recall that the Balancing Barn is one of a series of holiday homes commissioned by the modern philosopher Alain de Botton so I assume that part of the brief has always been to create an environment where people can be connected to the space and each other.


The Balancing Barn is of course showy but it does makes you feel like you are somewhere special.  Or rather it makes you feel special when you are there. I always think when you are in an interesting building or space that your response is – this is special.. I feel special.. maybe I should do something special.!!

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that Balancing Barn should be replicated at Luton Airport, but they managed it all pretty well at Stansted and the oppression of the set up at Luton is palpable – too tight too low slung. It really makes any the pleasure of travel (?) un-pleasurable. And then there is Wizz Air that I am about to fly with  (sounds like an airline Dennis The Menace might use?) but more of them later …

Actually one of my favourite buildings in the world that I felt ‘special’ in, that I have worked in, is the Moscow School of Management – Skolkovo. The Architect on this was David Adjaye .

I have have been lucky to teach there many times on the Executive Programmes and really enjoy the dynamic of the space. Bold and inspiring it does what good buildings should do – make you feel alive.


In 2012 we (Menagerie) were lucky enough to visit India – for THINKFEST – this was truly the most extraordinary of events.

The reason I am reminded of it is because there was a great talk by architect Frank Gehry about what make building design successful. The thing I most remember from his talk (interview) was his answer to what an Architect needs to know to be successful? He answered – know how to set and understand a budget! I guess it all comes down to money and how to spend it…


THINKFEST was amazing – we were there to present one of our plays and  flew into Delhi (nice new airport as opposed to the mayhem of the old airport that I flew into ten years ago where when  as I walked through customs.. a cow walked past me through the concourse…), before going onto the event in GOA..

THINKFEST  is about ideas and India is a melting pot of ideas.

The year we were there (2011) were talks with Bollywood stars, Politicians (including Omar Abdullah – who was born in Romford- who is Chief Minister of Kashmir – who was greeted like a pop star..), Writers (V S Naipaul), Economists, Entrepreneurs, Scientists and amongst it all… Menagerie! All were encouraged to ponder the future for India and it was fascinating. We were there to present our play Four For Jericho – about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the writer Richard Fredman came with us… a great experience except there was a real furore over one of the lines in the play about The Koran. After much deliberating we met with the Festival Director who told us if we kept the line in we would be arrested, there would be riots and the hotel would be burnt down.. so we removed it, and for the sake of my blog I shan’t repeat it…!

Here is an excerpt from our play Four For Jericho:


Videos from THINKFEST  and others are available on YouTube. This one features our very own Richard Fredman being interviewed alongside satirical writer Mohammed Hanif from Pakistan… good old Richard held his own and even got a good swipe in at the end of the interview:

Worth a look .


One side note is that Tarun Tejpal the director of the festival who fought to remove our line has been arrested and is awaiting trail on some sex offences, so we are waiting for the outcome to see if there will be a THINKFEST  2015…


But a brilliant event and the organisers Tarun and his colleague Shoma Chaudhury (powerhouse) were running a really important magazine Tehelka which was renowned for fighting for the underdog so we await the outcome and impact it may have on the magazine and on THINKFEST


Oh and the building for THINKFEST ?.

The Hyatt Grand on the beach at GOA – which was hhhmm… a place to feel special…!!!

OK back to reality…Wizz Air and Slovakian Bears beckon…


Forza Azzurri..!

Milan: 20th June

I am finishing off a session in Milan for an international client – focussed on effective communication skills.

Dynamic city – full of beautiful people, fashion and cars everywhere – parking is crazy in Milan – you just stop your car and get out – anywhere you like – that is parking!!!


Even though the day is short as i travelled in this morning… after only an hour ….we stop … we have to have lunch which takes nearly two hours …all good on the effective communication/team-building front..!

End of the day  – I head towards the station via Navigli and sit and watch the second half of Italy vs. Costa Rica in the World Cup.

My colleague tells me that the guys in the bar are being quite racist about the Costa Ricans. I don’t know if this is a universal dynamic or just in this bar on this street? It is a real mixture of VERY smart guys in suits and others in football shirts. They certainly take their football seriously and the proclamations of injustice are thrown theatrically towards the TV . Italy lose. England are therefore officially knocked out of the World Cup as they needed Italy to win to leave any hope. Italy may still win.  England certainly won’t!

As was usual with the English there was a lot of hype over this World Cup – could we do it..? could we win? Unfortunately it is not going to happen. With the Premiere League we have the best footballers in the world `but no space for development or growth of home-grown players.  The argument goes that our players get to compete with the best players in the world so they will be better. Unfortunately when you have teams like Manchester City starting with NO English players you are going to struggle for development due to lack of numbers of home-grown players coming through..

Anyway England lose. Italy will lose and who knows who will win the world Cup… Brazil probably?!

I say goodbye to Italy.

Hope to be back soon. Milan is buzzy – and next year sees the EXPO – where the world comes to Milan so will be back for sure..


And the headline for EXPO?.. Feeding The Planet…

Forza Azzurri..!