At a Social Enterprise conference in March 2011 one of the speakers – chewing the cud on behavioural economics – dug out a little Einstein quote to illustrate the barriers to institutional reform. “Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which the problems were created” they said. So I shall borrow from both NatWest Bank & Einstein here then, as it illustrates most precisely the reason for the apparent destructive advocacy of this paper and the motivation behind a move to massive diversification.
We have established that the arts as we know them are shrinking in their influence, if we don’t acutely feel it then the financial survey presented in ‘Ditch The Renaissance’ and current state funding policies certainly suggest it. If we are to deal with our looming financial problems and find a new relevance for the arts, it is essential that we primarily step outside of our trusted ways of being. We must strive grow our networks, decentralise our beliefs and spread our incomes and dialogues across and into fresh territories, not just to find new revenues and audiences, but to challenge our very sense of self. Arts organisations should invite their own happy destruction, with a planned, calculated and predicted expansion into everything that they currently avoid.
Waiting for a funding reprieve, narrowing our output or adopting the language of our allies (education, housing, welfare) is a strategy of the damned and can only lead to compromise, servitude and collapse. Progression and evolution is the lifeblood of the arts, nothing else will save it.
In a fact finding interview with ARC Stockton’s Chief Executive Anabel Turpin, we asked what a massively diverse approach could look like. As we talked and our ambition grew we settled upon Bluewater, a 1.6m ft2 shopping centre in Kent, UK. Imagine, we dreamt, an arts organisation that expands beyond the current mixed economy of cafe, bookshop and a little lite space rental into offering space to green grocers, clothes shops, chemists, restaurants and games stores.
Going further, what could it mean to diversify the arts where the production of artworks is replaced by the desire to speak meaningfully to one another. Where the endless routine of funding applications is replaced by a mission to find commercial partnerships that enhance and buoy activities where the transaction is not economic. An arts organisation that offers retail and office space to a range of organisations, cultural or otherwise (I note here the limits of our own definitions of culture, and refer you immediately back to Einstein above), and uses this economic activity, the broad spectrum of the needs of its customers, to provide gallery spaces, theatres and other spaces in a fresh and unsecluded.
Of course, even in this projection we are looking at the cultural results, the gallery spaces and theatres, from the wrong side of the hill. How can we predict the cultural output of a space that has yet to develop from the desire not to produce artworks! We cannot even guess the aesthetic needs of a population renewing their love affair with the arts, they may involve devices we currently know and cherish, but if our mission to breath new life into the arts is successful I expect they may be completely alien to us.
As cultural organisations all we can do is sow the seeds for progression, lay the foundations for renewal, or at least tear down the structures we are currently sheltering in. Thankfully, however, we can express the conditions that will provide fertile ground for change with some certainty. Fluidity, Partnerships, Cultural Openness, Diversity, Independence, Courage.
At the Arts in Society Conference in Berlin, 2011, a colleague stated with some confidence that the arts community was best place to deal with recession and change as it was populated by ‘the most creative people on the planet’. If this is so, then it is time we took our most creative step, out into the fizzing and fleeting unknown.
This is an extract from ‘Ditch The Renaissance – 21st century aesthetics, exploding culture and massive diversification in public arts’, published soon and being presented at Firestation Arts on 12th July.