Monday, 26 July 2010

Cuts, quangic realignment, demolition and rebuilding

I remember two meetings from my first week at Northern Arts in May 2000 very vividly. One was with Mary Briggs and Elizabeth Hammill, two inspired and inspirational women who had a vision of creating a centre for childen's literature in Newcastle, and to collect illustrations and manuscripts relating to children's books. They had a cubbyhole of an office, much experience of being patronised, but a fierce determination. Their annual grant from my department (I had just become Head of Film, Media and Literature) was £8000 per year. Ten years later, Seven Stories, the national centre Mary and Elizabeth created, is coming up to its 5th birthday and a thriving place working on accredited museum status and other developments - although not without challenges as a result of that success, and the current funding environment.

The other meeting I remember was at the BFI with the other heads of film in the ten Regional Arts Boards - this being a year before Gerry Robinson and Peter Hewitt decided to merge the RABS and the Arts Council of England into one organisation. The meeting was to discuss the approach to the then fledgling Film Council (before it grew a UK pre-fix, and after its various parts had come out of BFI and Arts Council). They were clearly insistent on taking film and media out of the regional 'arts' bodies and into standalone 'screen agencies' which they would fund. At the end of the meeting, the chair of the meeting shared his current reading, suggesting it might be instructive for the group. It was Anthony Beevers' book Stalingrad.

Today's announcements by DCMS about arm's length bodies suggest that the particular quangic realignment I subsequently spent a year doing, which involved merging two organisations and half my own department into Northern Film and Media (in which I was only being saved from redundancy myself by a job coming up in the afore-mentioned merging of RABs and ACE) was a mere bout of fisticuffs compared to the heavy shelling and demolition going on now. The UK Film Council and Museums Libraries and Archives Council are to be abolished, alongside some other other mergers and reviews.

There are many implications of this, of course. It is clearly driven by a macho and misplaced cost-cutting and 'efficiency' agenda, that refuses to heed to logic, even where it means putting things back together once rent asunder (the lead for film seems to be heading back to BFI, for instance even though they have moved on in the last 10 years) or things which have restructured and refocused very radically - within the last two years in MLA's case. This is worrying for the Spending Review. It also comes alongside other abolitions: of the regional development agencies and the regional government offices to name two bodies which certainly played a huge part in the cultural regeneration of North East England. This is a huge amount of expertise to be lost in a short time. Other things logically start to fray, too - such as the partnerships of agencies brought together after the Hodge Review abolished regional cultural consortia. The practical implications will take time to work through. Most urgent, given the closure next month of the consultation, is consideration of issues of lottery distribution. How might that be best configured to enable investment into quality cultural activity and resilient organisations and ways of working?

My concern is that this feels like a list of things I've helped build being torn down in the wake of these cuts. (Though painful at the time, I do think Northern Arts losing film was a good thing ultimately, and Northern Film and Media a great success under Tom Harvey.) However, I am reminded of the interview I heard this morning with Owen Luder, the architect of Gateshead's famous 'Get Carter' car park, demolition of which began this very day. although obviously saddened, and seeing alternatives, he ultimately accepted that change sweeps most things away. (That's him in the photo above.) Maybe my point is change, the adaptive cycle and that things must continue to be built against the odds - in the way that Seven Stories was.

The important thing is that what follows can work. I would be the last to say the current infrastructure was perfect, and we shouldn't let resistance to cuts blind us to the redesign opportuity/challenge presented by these moves. I wouldn't want to worry the good folk of Audiences North East by reminding them of my role in setting it up, but one of the key things I argued for was that it would work across 'arts' , 'film', 'museums' and much more - because potential audiences didn't recognise those boundaries. It was a battle persuading some people, to be honest - and did mean closing another organisation. But it's worked, and ANE is a strong organisation with a growing membership. Could that approach be built on? Similarly, many creative people find it hard to draw a clear line between 'film' and 'moving image', and many galleries are full of video work. Can the sector(s) 'crowdsource' any strategic gaps, for instance? How do we work with local government, who could play an increasingly vital role as regional layers are stripped out, despite their own resource challenges?

More (or maybe less) anon, no doubt.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Brand new bag: on innovation

I thought a little innovation-related music video might take the edge of this theory, just to finish what's turned into a lot of resilience-related posts. youtube was my oyster obviously, but here's a song that's Innovation with a capital I from top to toe. There's actually a better version of this clip here, without the frills, which I can't embed. I cannot tell you how much pleasure this video gives me, adding something to a song I've listened to approximately a million times without ever getting bored with it. I really can't.

Resilience recommendations

Before you all get throughly fed up with resilience, I thought I'd round off with my recommendations from Making Adaptive Resilience Real. They are as follows, and speak for themselves I hope. They do, however, call for others to get involved in attaching some of the research gaps identified, and the funders and the funded to adapt their behaviours. I really welcome feedback and discussion on the ideas I put forward and the things they suggest to others.

1. Shape funding programmes to develop adaptive resilience in organisations and sectors of the arts, recognising the distinction between building organisations through growth or patient capital and buying activity through revenue support for programmes of work.

- the Arts Council and other public and private investors in the arts should work together to map financial instruments and ensure a diversity of investment mechanisms exist that can meet the various investment needs of the arts sector in building resilient organisations
- the Arts Council and others should work with artists and arts organisations to ensure all involved have the skills to best utilise the full range of investment mechanisms available
- greater use should be made of expertise from elsewhere in the world, across all aspects of investment practice from microfinance to major endowments and capital programmes

2. Develop understanding and debate about adaptive resilience in the arts sector

- funders, development agencies and sectoral bodies should consider the version of an arts ecology described here and collaborate with others in commissioning research to assist in further developing a powerful picture of the arts ecology as a basis for achieving great art for everyone
- the Arts Council and other public and private investors in the arts should give further consideration to the impact of locality or place on the arts and vice versa, and integrate this into any future frameworks for shaping portfolios of funded organisations
- both funders and the funded should consider the characteristics of resilient organisations described and integrate those into self-assessment frameworks, using them to inform support
to organisations

3. Improve understanding and use of an adaptive resilience approach to organisation and sectoral development

- all parts of the sector should collaborate to improve understanding of systems-thinking broadly, and resilience and sustainability issues specifically, through research, publication and debate, training and development
- Arts Council should put greater emphasis on developing adaptive resilience in artforms and sub-sectors as well as individual organisations, and develop their staff’s ability to do so
- funders should be more rigorous and challenging when organisations do not shape business models to available reliable income and focus on moving them towards adaptive resilience
rather than dependence

4. Improve sectoral understanding of the importance of adaptive resilience through experimentation and sharing of best practice

- thinking around adaptive resilience, from many perspectives, should be widely disseminated to the sector, as a stimulus for debate, a tool for self-assessment and to inform business planning
- further experiments with place-based and artform/sector-based collaborative working, building on examples of such as Liverpool Arts and Regeneration Consortium and ERA21 should be conducted

- investment in improving leadership and governance should be continued, ensuring adaptive skills are core to notions of workforce development
- collaborative and peer-supported approaches to building adaptive resilience and new models to should be developed as action research projects

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

From vulnerable dependence to adaptive resilience

The diagram above is a classic 2x2 matrix, beloved of flipchart-merchants such as as myself for summarising really complex things into a deceptively manageable model. It should, therefore, be handled with caution.

I do, however, think most arts organisations I know would fall into one of the quadrants:

- vulnerable dependence: those with few adaptive resources and little orientation towards change
- coping persistence: those with good adaptive resources, but little orientation towards change
- frustrated innovation: those with a strong orientation towards change, but few adaptive resources
-adaptive resilience: those with both the adaptive resources and the desire to change.

The importance of this is two-fold. For organisations, you can actually be culturally productive in all four quadrants, but you carry greater degrees of risk and vulnerability in some rather than others. Vulnerable dependence is obvious: funder changes, you're at risk. But there is a risk of Rigidity in Coping Persistence and what I call the Exhaustion Factor for the Frustrated Innovators

These quadrants are not alternative business models as such, as I've said here previously. They are, I hope, helpful in looking at where an organisation's - or a sector's - current behaviour and environmental reality puts them. There's much more on this in the full publication - available just a little to the right of this screen,

Monday, 19 July 2010

Culture culture

Ok, time to break up the seriousness I think. I talk about the importance of culture in another post. Here's some really great culture, with a kind of appropriate song.

Resilient sectors and sub-sectors

 Making Adaptive Resilience Real includes a section setting out what I think are 8 key characteristics needed for resilience – of organisations and of sub-sectors.  The table below lists them, and includes the descriptions of they might apply to resilience sectors or sub-sectors. The paper has similar descriptions of individual organisations, but I’m a) avoiding this post being too long and b) encouraging you to read the whole paper. I also have a feeling that this sector/sub-sector view is secondary to many people, but arguably more crucial to develop.

I also think there may be greater scope for innovation at an artform and sectoral level than within some individual organisations. How could those involved in touring theatre or visual arts, for instance, work differently to ensure all parts of the population can access their work, despite funding cuts? What work might be done on, say, a common culture, or leadership to do that?  Certainly leadership is a key element to building resilience – it isn’t about just letting the system sort itself out.


Culture of shared purpose and values rooted in organisational memory

A strong, consensual ‘story’ emerges of the nature and impact of the sector, albeit containing a diversity of detailed views. ‘Professional standards’ may emerge, managed either informally or formally. Unions or other industry groups speak authoritatively on behalf of the sector. Mentoring is common. Sector can acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses.

Predictable financial resources derived from a robust business model

Sector has a diversity of organisations and types of organisations providing services/activity to its different audiences, who are prepared to regularly provide revenue in exchange – be that public sector funding, private sector sponsorship or philanthropy or ticket/earned income. These organisations form a supply network, and also provide a networked environment in which talent and skills are developed and extended. Individual elements of the supply chain can predict with some confidence relations for the future, but are not wholly reliant on particular other parts of the system. Supply and demand are in healthy equilibrium, providing good revenue income and good returns .A range of specialist financial providers and financial mechanisms in addition to grant makers support sector capital investment needs.

Strong networks (internal/external)

Individual parts of the sector communicate well and collaborate regularly, with all parties feeling that time invested yields appropriate returns. This networking leads to greater efficiency, greater knowledge of situations and patterns, and to a stronger advocacy voice. The sector is a powerful advocate for its activities and creates new customers and supporters for its work. Networks also provide challenge, innovation and ultimately improvements in practice. The interdependencies are increasingly acknowledged and self-managed, with competition and collaboration co-existing.

Intellectual, human and physical assets

Sector has the assets required to do its work – eg building and digital infrastructures, and there is good sectoral knowledge of what is held, which is shared openly. Assets are used for sectoral benefit as well as individual or organisational gain, and this networking of assets is enabled by appropriate financial planning. Income from artistic assets, in the form of repertoire or collection-based intellectual property is maximised, and made possible by appropriate legal and commercial skills and planning.

Leadership, management and governance

Sectoral leaders emerge who are backed by a majority of elements of the system/network and taken seriously by funders, politicians and public. Improving governance is seen as a shared responsibility. Industry bodies act in a way that develops sectoral resilience rather than individual interests, and are future focused as well as practical in the immediate term. Sector advocates for evolution rather than simple maintenance.

Adaptive capacity: innovation and experimentation embedded in reflective practice

Sector adapts to changing environment over time and influences that environment. Dominant ways of working and forms of art and organisation change as innovation is adopted into the mainstream, thereby adapting it. Innovative models are supported to establish themselves. A culture of constructive peer review and critique brings diverse perspectives into constant reflection on practice. Not all individual elements of the sector are maintained in perpetuity, but this is seen as healthy. Risks are taken in an informed and responsible way.

Situation awareness of environment and performance

The sector openly shares information on performance and environment, to enable benchmarking and self-assessment. Discussion of environment is an everyday activity, not merely a defensive act. Debate refines understanding of both formal and informal information. Industry bodies take situation awareness into account in advocacy and spreading best practice. The sector is self-aware, including of how others perceive it and the reality of business situations.

Management of key vulnerabilities: planning and preparation for disruption

Shared discussion of key vulnerabilities is common, open and constructive. Collaborative planning is routine, particularly in particular localities (eg cities or counties) or artforms, leading to decision making informed by sectoral insight as well as by funders. Decisions prioritise sectoral health rather than the maintenance of all individual elements. There is spare capacity in the sector to cope with unexpected disruptions such as company collapse, disasters (eg floods or bombs) or unexpected peaks of demand (eg 2012).


Thursday, 15 July 2010

Just how big is the arts ecology?

Although it’s been heard much more frequently in recent years, the term ‘arts ecology’ has often been ill defined, if indeed a definition of any sort has been attempted. What the components of an arts ecology are, and how they might interrelate, has been less explored. No matter how detailed or correct any framework is, if it fails to consider how, say, the Arts Council’s regularly funded organisations relate to the whole of the arts, culture or society, it will only be useful in shaping a particular part of the system. Systems-thinking would suggest that this in itself can have negative, unintended, consequences for the whole system.

The diagram above illustrates how different sub-sectors may interrelate. It shows a series of ‘nested systems’ where what happens in one impacts on others. (So arguably what happens in music influences what happens in society, for instance, and vice versa. In this theory, even poetry makes something happen.) There will be adaptive cycles at play in each, operating at different speeds. One could use this as a rough tool for mapping the Arts Council’s funded organisations and their relationships. A number of questions might be asked to assess the health of the ecology for arts organisations:

• Where do they primarily sit?
• Is there a healthy spread across all parts so that the ecology can be productive as a whole?
• Are there gaps or duplications?
• Are there particular parts well served by others, or parts where Arts Council England investment is especially needed?
• Are the factors affecting institutions such as national theatres or galleries likely to impact on the way in which smaller organisations operate, and vice versa?
• How healthy are the connections between different parts of the ecology?
• How are they impacting upon and being affected by economic systems?
• What changes are happening in society that might have impacts within the ecology?

The idea that certain parts of the sector may adapt at different speeds and contribute different things to the larger adaptive cycle offers new ways to conceive the role of, for instance, innovation and infrastructure.

Two other areas are worth emphasising. First, the centre of this schematic version of an arts ecology is the individual artist. Without that centre system – what artists are doing, how they are innovating and evolving – little change will occur elsewhere. Without either romanticising or patronising individual artists, it is important that policies to increase organisational resilience do not marginalise the creativity at the heart of the arts ecology. (The place of artists is interesting when considered through the frontline/back office lens: how do we properly acknowledge the roles of a playwright and a literary manager within most drama, for instance? Is either frontline?)

Second, the role and position of arts organisation in their locality and its systems emerged as strong themes in the interviews. What happens in a town or city – economics, population change, transport, etc – impacts on the arts sector. What happens in the arts or in an arts venue changes the city. (One can imagine Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records, making this argument with regard to Manchester, for instance, or Kneehigh with regard to Cornwall.) This position within local systems is vital to resilience. For arts organisations to properly embed themselves into localities, they must understand the ‘connections’ and ‘how the place works’. The greater connectivity generated drives change and protects against unforeseen disturbance by networking the organisation. This suggests that Arts Council England’s ‘place’ agenda needs to be highly sophisticated and responsive – and certainly needs to be about more than just plugging cold spots by providing arts activity. A nuanced and flexible strategy allowing for regional and local variations will be necessary to support artists, organisations, local authorities and other local partners to develop sustained partnerships, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

I am aware the discussion in the paper is just a start in thinking how to represent and then think about an arts ecology. A far more detailed mapping of the movement of money, people and other resources around the system would be necessary to make it a more useful tool for arts and cultural planners and policy makers. One other research consideration would be the extent to which an ‘arts ecology’ needs to be re-conceived as a ‘cultural ecology’ or a ‘creative ecology’. Both of those are beyond my time and brief.

(To illustrate that this is ongoing, immediately I finalised the text in the published paper I came across Producing the Future by Graham Leicester and Bill Sharpe, which is a really powerful consideration of Watershed’s role in what they call ‘ecosystems of cultural innovation’. It would be great is the various parties involved were to come together to ‘researchcrowdsource’ some better provisional definitions of the arts ecology.)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

What does Resilience mean anyway?

I'm not planning to include other whole chapters here, but I thought the overview of 'Resilience' might be useful as an extract, as the word is being bandied about a lot, and it is helpful to know the different ways the word is used. If anything, I feel I could have investigated the psychological aspects more - I do find the Werner and Smith characteristics from the Hawaii study very useful personally and in my coaching work, for instance. Anyway, the overview follows, with selected hyperlinks added. If you don't want to read a whole 1477 words you could watch this video of Brian Walker instead, for his introduction.

Resilience is a word that is used in a number of contexts. My primary interest here is the use of the word derived from ecological and social system theory, particularly that developed by C S Hollings and associates within the Resilience Alliance and set out in Resilience Thinking by Brian Walker and David Salt (2008). This is, in itself, an application of systems thinking that might be useful for Arts Council England to consider more generally. As defined by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit in 2004:

‘Systems thinking is both a mindset and particular set of tools for identifying and mapping the inter-related nature and complexity of real world situations. It encourages explicit recognition of causes and effects, drivers and impacts, and in so doing helps anticipate the effect a policy intervention is likely to have on variables or issues of interest. Furthermore, the process of applying systems thinking to a situation is a way of bringing to light the different assumptions held by stakeholders or team members about the way the world works.’

Walker and Salt define resilience as, ‘The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and re-organize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedback’ (Walker and Salt 2008). Another definition relates it to three factors: ‘the magnitude of shock that the system can absorb and remain within a given state; the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, and the degree to which the system can build capacity for learning and adaptation’ (Folke et al 2002). The ideas of resilience are based on the adaptive cycle, set out in Section 6, and on the theory that cycles at different scales connect and are in fact ‘nested’, rather like Russian dolls, but with each affecting change in the other. This is referred to by Hollings as ‘Panarchy’ (Holling et al 2002).

A growing body of work has looked at the characteristics within complex systems, drawing out the interdependencies in a way which moves thinking on from what might be seen as simple self-reliance in the face of difficulty.

Resilience theory can be overwhelming in its depiction of links and cycles occurring at different scales and speeds, let alone in some of its language. In the sections on the adaptive cycle and an arts ecology, I have attempted to simplify this for the purposes of this paper. My own definition of resilience has evolved into the following:

Adaptive resilience is the capacity to remain productive and true to core purpose and identity whilst absorbing disturbance and adapting with integrity in response to changing circumstances.

A powerful, related definition has recently been published by Mission Models Money. It defines ‘thriving’ as, ‘adapting to changing conditions in a life-friendly way to people and planet in order to maintain the function of making great work happen’. (Andrews and Dods 2010). Mission Models Money has been influential in raising awareness of social-ecological thinking and its relation to the arts, particularly in two influential papers by John Knell, The Art of Dying and The Art of Living (2005 and 2007), which argued for a new cultural compact and explicit prioritisation of the whole arts ecology over the maintenance of any individual element.

Walker and Salt argue that even this apparently simple desire is complicated. Central to the notion of resilience – and this is essentially why I find it a more useful word than sustainability – is that change is normal and necessary, and that to maintain any system in a fixed, arguably efficient or optimal, state contains risks, and can ultimately be counterproductive. For instance, if you do not thin out a forest, you can make it more vulnerable to forest fires, though deforestation, however, is another way of killing a forest. This is challenging to our notion of infrastructure and portfolios of revenue-funded organisations, as well as to some of our behaviour around organisational development. As Walker and Salt put it, ‘There is no sustainable “optimal” state of an ecosystem, a social system, or the world. It is an illusion, a product of the way we look at and model the world. It is unattainable, in fact… it is counter-productive, and yet it is a widely pursued goal’ (Walker and Salt 2008).

This relates to the elimination of waste and inefficiency, implicit in Knell’s analysis and a theme that has emerged strongly in the agenda of the new government. Being efficient, in a narrow sense, leads to elimination of anything ‘wasteful’ or ‘redundant’ – keeping only those things that are directly and immediately beneficial. This, however, can diminish adaptive resilience and lead to vulnerability in the event of disturbance. (It is important to note that disturbance does not always come in the shape of ‘trouble’ or ‘bad news’ – it might come in the form of a hit show or a big new contract that requires adaptation of the organisation.) The elimination of redundancy can diminish flexibility, and have a toll on individual resilience in organisations – by encouraging poor conditions and long hours, for instance. The emphasis on ‘protecting frontline services’ whilst cutting back on ‘back office’ is not necessarily a bad thing if it is done in a creative manner which considers the roles in the system of all parts of a service: with ‘front’ and ‘back’ being symbiotic. If it is done in a simplistic manner, based on a crude mechanistic understanding, it runs the risk of increasing vulnerability and lessening resilience whilst delivering ‘efficiencies’.

Individual resilience is about the strength and ability to carry on in the face of trauma or difficulty, facing ‘...stress at a time and in a way that allows self-confidence and social competence to increase through mastery and appropriate responsibility’ (Rouse et al 1999). Developmental psychologists have looked at how resilience is developed and maintained in children and adults. One study of children on Kauai island, Hawaii resulted in the identification of four central characteristics of resilient children: an active approach towards solving life's problems, a tendency to perceive their experiences constructively, an ability to gain others' positive attention and an ability to use faith to maintain a positive vision of a meaningful life (Werner and Smith 2001). The Mission Models Money publication The People Theme (Andrews and Dods 2010) explores the personal competencies, qualities and attributes necessary to thrive in a changing and complex world.

Business or organisational resilience is most often described as the ability to continue in the face of changing times and economic circumstances, lost business or staff, or to respond to natural or man-made disasters of one kind or another. These latter events are often considered under the category of risk management, at a number of levels. The Demos publication Resilience Nation takes an interesting look at how this relates to broader definitions, particularly in the light of climate change and terrorism (Edwards 2009).

A great deal of business-oriented literature looks at the lasting qualities of organisations. Good to Great and Built to Last by Jim Collins (2001 and 2005) were hugely influential. Their key messages are summed up as, ‘build your company so that it preserves a passionately held core ideology and simultaneously stimulates progress in everything but that ideology’ (Collins 1995). More recently, Edward Lawler and Christopher Worley have suggested a step further on from Collins, with their book Built to Change. This places a greater emphasis on innovation and environment scanning for future change, and structuring organisations for change rather than any fixed state (Lawler and Worley 2006).

Research interest in the potential applications of ecological resilience theory to organisations and communities has grown in recent years. The University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has created the Resilient Organisations Research Programme, which has developed a number of tools and frameworks. The Resilience Management Framework identifies four key elements to resilience: a resilience ethos, situation awareness, the management of keystone vulnerabilities and adaptive capacity. It then details 23 indicators of these elements (McManus et al 2007). Further studies have taken ideas from Hollings, Walker and others and looked at community development and how different groups might demonstrate different approaches to managing changing environments (Fabricius et al 2007).

Resilience is therefore clearly a concept with a real and widening resonance, and is being applied in fields relating to economic, social and natural environmental changes. It can also be applied at an individual level. This seems useful, given the many-layered perspectives that the Arts Council must apply – thinking at the different levels of artist, arts organisation, local authority, region, artform, nation and so on. Although each of the ‘models’ of resilience has strengths and weaknesses, and the limitations and omissions of any model, taking a conscious and designed approach to building resilience is a stance that is increasingly being adopted.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

3 quotes, why resilience means change as well as continuity

The introduction to Making Adaptive Resilience Real is headed by three quotations, as I wanted to inject a bit of art into the document, and there's nothing better than an epigram for that. It's arguably a self-indulgent habit, but hey ho.

The first quote is from
AndrĂ© Gide, and has long been one of my favourites: ‘Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.’ Obviously this is part get out clause, and part serious point that much in the paper draws on previous thinking. It is also an acknowledgment that the issues the sector faces right now and in the short-medium term are not new, and the solutions will draw on wisdom that's been around, but not universally well-used.

The second quote is from the revered evolutionary Charles Darwin and is to underline that resilience is not about somehow finding a way to stay the same - in fact, I would argue that is the beginning of vulnerability, the opposite of resilience. Darwin said ‘It’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.’

I would suggest that in the arts sector this has an obvious application to artists and organisations that is key to the characteristics of resilience I identify, but also an application to funders and their behaviour. The surface one is that they shouldn't stay the same, but many would say there's little chance of that with constant changing of priorities and programmes. The deeper suggestion, especially to funders investing in 'core costs', is to beware of funding people to not change in the face of events.

Finally, because I like quoting from songs as if they were important texts, and it seemed appropriate, comes a quote from a song by R.E.M's Michael Stipe: ‘Change is what I believe in.’ This underlines the centrality of change to art. Ironically, this is a lesson R.E.M seemed to forget about the time Bill Berry left, thus neatly illustrating one danger of mistaking 'coping persistence' for 'adaptive resilience': you can become a boring institution living off past glories.

Adaptive resilience relies on a skilled mix of innovation and continuity, something these quotes try and hint at. There is, of course, a distinction between change and innovation, and the latter is vital to adaptive resilience, rather than simply blowing with the wind. Strangely enough, though, few songs have been written using the word innovation...

The video
above is Stipe and co in their prime, a poem leading into 'I Believe'. It does make me want to go and change something.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Adaptive Resilience Week...

The good people at Arts Council England have just published my paper Making Adaptive Resilience Real. (The cover is not black and white in a tip of the hat to the age of austerity, or at least I hope not. I like the Factory-style minimalism of it.)

When I made 'resilience' Arts Counselling Wednesday Word of the Week back in February 2009, I said 'This is a word I think we’ll be hearing a lot more of this year and next, in the arts as elsewhere. Enjoy it now before it gets tiresome.' (I really am an arts version of Mystic Meg, I know.) The paper is an attempt to get in before it becomes really tiresome to bring together some thoughts on how resilience has to be understood in its social-ecological sense to be more useful than persistence, and has to be more tightly linked to change: hence my phrase adaptive resilience. Based on interviews and a literature review of the uses resilience theory is being put to, I propose 8 characteristics of resilient arts organisations - and perhaps even more importantly, sectors and sub-sectors. I suggest a version of an arts ecology which stresses both individual artists and locality and recommend a much greater emphasis on adaptive resilience when investing in organisation.

I'm going to post a few excerpts from the paper on here this week, just in case you don't want to read the whole thing. You can read the paper here, and please do pass it on, test the ideas and models suggested and come up with better ideas. This is, I think, the first paper ACE have published under a Creative Commons licence: given the importance of collaboration to adaptive resilience, it seemed appropriate to everyone to publish it so it can be shared and used.

(It would be remiss, not to mention out of character, for me to fail to say I am available for speaking/training engagements relating to this subject for a reasonable though not immodest fee. You can see the things I do at the main Thinking Practice site. End of commercial.)

Monday, 5 July 2010

Keeping research simple (because it will become complicated all by itself)

I was recently lucky enough to attend an international symposium organised by CIDA, on 'Creative Industries: the Roots of Business Innovation', though I've been too busy since to write about it here. It was a very stimulating day, despite missing the first hour due to delayed train. There were numerous themes to emerge but here are just three.

1. Arts as research, arts within research, research within art.

Fortunately I was able to read Graham Devlin's publication 'A place to think' as my train travails meant I arrived promptly for the coffee break having missed his talk. Drawing on some fascinating case studies, some of whom were also represented by other speakers, it explores the area of research in the arts and the academy. This includes practice-based research by artist-academics, which after much struggle has become increasingly accepted by the research boards, research which brings together specialists across disciplines (Scott Delahunta from Random Dance gave a great talk about the work he leads with scientists and Wayne McGregor), and what you might call art as art as research by practitioners outside formal academic constraints or disciplines.

This latter was brilliantly illustrated by the
Banff Centre in Canada and Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany, both of which are what Sarah Iley from Banff called 'non-parchment' research centres. Connection to arts practice is central, not accreditation.

Graham Devlin's conclusions include the key ones that there should be real equity between arts researchers/practitioners and academic institutions, clarity around purpose and greater flexibility of assessment. Of these equity seems to me paramount - and two way. Just as I've seen artists squeezed by academies, I've also seen artists not genuinely respect the institution that pays their wages. More often, I should emphasise, I see a properly productive relationship.

2. We are Time (but time is money...)

Common to a number of the presentations was the role time plays in arts research. Time away from day duties, time to see how things develop, time to disseminate findings. The impact of time together, or time in a particular place was clearly huge, but it comes at a cost. besides making me scribble down the question 'can an artist ever waste time?' which I'll save for the occasion that demands an undergraduate essay topic, it made me think there is a need to develop some transferable arts research practices. These could, for the sake of argument be split into two types; short and sharp, and long and deep. One of the best things about the early days of Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts programme was it enabled investment into long and deep time for artists. That has, I suspect, diminished, and is likely to do so even more. But how might short and sharp experiences be structured and supported by arts organisations and HE partners?

3. Resilience as research?

The afternoon session might have been enough to depress a weaker man. Not because the sessions were bad, far from it, but Will Hutton's talk was really rather doomy, and Mette Koefoed Quinn from the EU seemed a world away from the SlimState world being shaped in the UK. (You have till the end of the month to comment on the EU's Green Paper on the future potential of cultural and creative industries
here.) Conference chair, Lee Corner, asked the audience to think what could be done, especially picking up on Will Hutton's emphasis on the importance of creating 'institutions' within the innovation ecosystem.

In general, I agree with him, but if the state is being rolled back, one might say it's foolhardy to ask the state and its arm's length agencies to create them - interested bodies are going to have to do more of that for them/ourselves, perhaps around disintegrating institutions such as universities according to some arguments. This could be particularly important for the resilience of regions and regional towns and cities.

My conclusion would be it's down to the sector to follow the example of business and workers by creating its own institutions. Things like
AIR might be an example of how this is being done already. Creative organisations coming together as the local 'Chamber of Creative Commerce' might be another way, cheesy name and all.

(The title of this post is adapted from the title of the artwork by Benedict Phillips we were all given, 'Keep everything simple because it will become complicated all by itself No 2.' He gave a great talk elucidating the background to the piece, and also supplied one of the quotes of the day: 'You should have received an artwork and if you haven't there are some spare.' Made me laugh (and think about Hans Abbing) anyway.)