Who Is The Us That Them Is Protecting?

Delighted that my talk “Who Is The Us That Them Is Protecting?” has been included in the Arts In Society conference in Budapest this June. An overview is included below. Arts In Society is always a superb (and intense!) few days of ideas and connections, hopefully see some of you there!

Arts organisations and the whole CCI Sector are currently facing their biggest challenge for decades; a seismic, global re-evaluation of the allocation of public funds to support creative projects alongside the prospect of years of shrinking customer spending in a challenging economic climate.

The squeeze is already highlighting the vulnerability of organizations, flushing out the failing business models and fair-weather policies. There are undoubtedly more shocks and disasters to come. But the tragedy of the arts and culture sector is about more than economics, it is haunted by a lack of relevance and failure of mission that has been growing despite the cosy drinks at 10 Downing Street and flag waving cultural projects to unify nations.

Using audience data and social studies from Arts Council UK and the European Commission Culture Programme amongst others, alongside blog extracts, keynotes and tweets, “Who Is The Us That Them Is Protecting” seeks to explore the identity of the arts sector, from the position that understanding and challenging our core values, assumptions and make-up is the only first step to a renewed relevance for the arts.

If the arts and culture sector can’t (or won’t) embark on an open and searching self-examination, then the likelihood is that in a few years time, when the sector as we know it has long gone, only then will we ask the questions that lurked behind the grants and policy makers and hash-tagged battle cries? Who were we anyway, what did we want, and who were the people who gave up protecting us from failure?


well these questions sound familiar! “What can we do to stabilize funding for the arts? Can we learn from other countries’ examples?” 

any thoughts on these contributors’ various takes?

Dan - Some new and some old ideas in this debate. For me, crowd funding offers the most significant shift in how cultural projects can be seed funded in the future. Crowd funding sidesteps the policy makers and gives individuals a hands on ownership of the culture they build. Add in a more commercially robust approach to commercially structured projects and we could almost have a sustainable and engaged model.

(Source: anarcakes)

So.. my essay on sustainable public arts - Fireworks - is at last up and published through Common Ground Publishing.

After the best part of two years research, conversations, field work and hypothesising I’m very pleased to be able to offer it up to you for your enjoyment, comments and engagement.

I’d be delighted if you were to take a five dollar punt on it, and proud if it makes useful resonance with your current thinking and conversations.

Massive Diversification

Post image for Massive Diversification

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.