What prompted you to "build your own" directory?
Hannah Directory is a yearly print publication, website and launch week of events celebrating the great stuff that people are doing in places in England's north, and asking how even more of it can happen. The directory began life in 2013 as a small festival, and the 2015-16 directory, launched in June, is the third edition.
I hope that having a directory of people and organisations from places across the north raises the possibility of us cooperating for our common good. If we are going to work together, what do we want to make happen, and why?
Where did the name come from?
Hannah Directory is named after the suffragette and rebel Hannah Mitchell. She was a lifelong fighter for democracy and fairness and put in Strangeways prison in 1906 during the campaign for votes for women. She went on to become a councillor in Manchester.
Despite only having two weeks schooling, she always wanted to be a writer, and her very engaging autobiography, The Hard Way Up, was published after her death. In the memoir, she mentions one of her proudest achievements being the public wash house which she struggled to get built to make working women’s lives easier. Her desire for ‘beauty in civic life’ blossomed in her work on public libraries, parks and gardens.
How did you go about selecting the artists and creatives to list?
At the moment it's mostly just down to hunches and recommendations. "Great stuff" sounds a bit vague, but you know it when you see it. If I come across a person or organisation doing great stuff in a place in the north, I get in touch, tell them about the directory, and ask if they'd like to be a contributor. When I find people and organisations who are doing great stuff, I sometimes ask them for recommendations and introductions to the people and organisations that they think are doing great stuff too.
The recommendations method has worked really well so far. People who want to contribute to the directory seem to have a good sense of what it is and why, and so they recommend the right people. It's useful to stress though that it's not a directory of the arts and creative industries, it's a directory of 'great stuff'.
Hannah Directory finds great stuff happening in the arts, music, business, new kinds of social organisation, scientific discovery and anything else. This year it's got Biorenewables Development Centre , G . F Smith paper merchants, and the Northern Refugee Centre included, and one of the challenges for next year is to make links with more great businesses.
What ties the contributors together is place, not "sector" as it gets called in the arts. We need all sorts of things to make great places to live and work: satisfying (and well paid) jobs, good public transport, great education, good facilities for playing sport, streets that are pleasant to walk and cycle down, green spaces and much much more.
I'm very committed to disassembling any distinction between the arts being "creative" and everything else not. It takes just as much creativity to run a great engineering company as it does a theatre company.
The directory currently covers much of the North - are there plans to create more regional editions, or is there a reason for focusing your efforts up here?
I'd be very interested to have conversations with people coordinating similar initiatives in other regions - that would be really enjoyable and productive. But it's for people and organisations in those places to make them happen if they feel there is a need.
It's about making a contribution where you live and work, so it has to come from where people are making their own lives. I make my life in Huddersfield, so this is the only place where I can make this kind of contribution. And different regions of England are different political spaces. Do we think people and organisations in London and the Home Counties need an equivalent of Hannah Directory, and why?
I was really pleased to see a couple of FACT faces in there - Sam Meech from ASC who is currently doing a residency, and the DoESLiverpool team. What do you like most about these artists/makers?
The Small Cinema in Moston, Manchester was one of the things that provided the energy for Hannah Directory to get started in the first place. I came across it and thought "If there are things this good out there, then I've got no excuse for not trying to get a celebration started."
One of the things that I like about both A Small Cinema and DoESLiverpool is the sense that they are building productive civic infrastructure. As well as doing their own thing, they are making resources that other people can take up and use in ways that can't be predicted in advance. Those resources, whether it's inspiration, knowledge or buildings could go on being productive for years, maybe even decades.
There's already plans for a 2016 edition - how do people get involved / what's the selection process like for the next one?
One of the ways I'm hoping the directory will develop for next year is that it will be more of a group conversation, rather than just me deciding. That already happens to some extent through recommendations, but it's one-to-one between me and the recommenders, and I'd like to bring that group of people together and for me just to be a part of that - there are lots of questions about where the directory might go that I'd really value talking to people about, rather than just fretting over them by myself!
In the long run, I'd like everyone who contributes to the directory to play a part in shaping the direction if they'd like to, and maybe for that to happen on a place-by-place basis, but that's a long, long way off. So I'm not quite sure what the selection process will be for next year yet. Do great stuff: that's the only qualification needed to be included.
Offers of help are always very welcome, whatever skills or time someone wants to bring. If you'd like to be involved, drop me a line and we'll figure out a way - there's plenty to do!
Build Your Own is all about collaborative making, and the directory is a beautiful piece of print - can you tell us more about the designers and printers you worked with?
I set the designers of the directory a tough challenge. There are some "creative rules" that they have to stick to: it has to be A6 size, one colour only, and no images. I made those rules so that the directory can be sustainable, meaning the costs are very modest, but they are also positive, because a set of rules is very generative.
In return the designers can meet the challenge in any way they think best; there is no interference from me and I promise there won't be any logos to make things look messy - it's pure print design on paper.
The 2014-15 designer was Simon Canaway of Supanaught in Newcastle. The design he came up with worked incredibly hard for the directory all year, and it opened up something that I really hadn't thought about before, which is that people like the suffragette historian Jill Liddington were taking copies to places and passing them on hand-to-hand. It sounds obvious with hindsight, but I thought I would be the only person doing that, and when other people started, I realised you really can't get anything more powerful.
Each year the directory is done by a different designer based in a place in the north, and when I was thinking about this year, I said to Simon "How about you recommend the right designers." I wasn't sure whether he'd want to do that, but straight away he came back with Textbook Studio in Salford.
Simon knew they had a risograph printing press, and I guess he was thinking they would use that. I was hoping they would, but everything about the design and printing was completely up to them. We've been very lucky this year to start working with Jane Crowther of G . F. Smith, the paper merchants based in Hull, and she gave the designers the choice of any paper they wanted, without charge, to use with their risograph machine, the outcome of which is the fantastic design for this year.
I think the recommendation method has proved it's worth and it will be how it's done from now on; Textbook Studio will recommend the right designers for next year.
What aspects of our current exhibition and FACTLab space interest you most?
The spirit of cracking on and making things, and doing it by trying stuff out, seeing what works, and building on that. Keeping things in tension until something productive emerges takes skill and a bit of bravery.
You can find out more about the Hannah Directory and Festival here. Build Your Own: Tools for Sharing continues at FACT until 31 August.