Cutting The Fringe

For the last four years, it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with excellent people, developing and delivering a range of creative fringe events at the annual CIPD conference. Up until a few weeks ago – we were getting ready to make it five years in a row.

Sadly, that’s no longer the case. The dates were booked, discussions were ongoing about the specifics of what we might deliver this year. A query then arrived asking if we would further discount our already heavily reduced fees. That was followed by a brief silence, then this:

We had extensive internal conversations over the past couple of weeks and I am sorry to let you know that, because of all the changes that we are going th[r]ough, we are unable to secure the investment needed to organise and run the fringe events, ignite labs, or the reflect and connect sessions at this year’s ACE.

It’s no secret that fringe events don’t always attract huge numbers, and it’s also no secret that the people who turn up and participate, often really appreciate and enjoy the opportunities they cocreate together. Decisions have to be made, and this one appears to be based on cost as opposed to value.

Subsequently it transpires fringe events will continue at the conference this year, and my understanding is people won’t be paid to run them. That’s their choice. Lots of us choose to do voluntary and pro-bono work, me included. It’s good to give something back, particularly to organisations which do great work and are short of cash. I’m not sure that working for free at a commercial event which charges exhibitors thousands of pounds for floor space, and conference goers hundreds of pounds to attend, is in quite the same category.

I’m citing a specific event here, however more broadly, I engage in lots of discussion about why commercial events expect people to work for free, or (shudder) for the ‘exposure’. I’m aware of someone who was recently asked to judge some awards, and was expected to pay for the ‘privilege’ of doing so.

And don’t get me started on everyone who is expected to give up their time to speak at events for free. People want to give back, want to share knowledge, want to help those coming though or starting in their careers, but isn’t this knowledge and expertise worth something?

It’s tricky, but when the idea that freelancers will work for free is set as the default, and we agree to play by those rules, ultimately we support the practice, and become part of it.

All good things come to an end. I can’t deny I find the change in how the fringe at this event will now operate, disappointing, both in itself and in the manner in which it has arisen. However it has been excellent fun and great learning helping to shape and facilitate so many engaging and interesting gatherings over the years. HR Unscrambled, Reflect and Connect, The Art of Conversation, and Performance Related Play have been some of the best things I’ve been fortunate to take part in.

Thank you to everyone who has conversed, drawn, painted, played, shared experiences, reflected, taken action, and got to know each other a little better.

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