Monday, 5 September 2011

Back to school special (What I did in the holidays pt 1)



Well,before I took a summer break from blogging, I left you with thoughts of peace, love and understanding... how'd that work out for you, then?


Further global financial turmoil, riots and panic on the streets of London, sharp turns to the right by the 'moral' centre of the government, drip by drip exposure of the scandal that is Tory education policy, hurricanes, earthquakes, Preston North End getting beat and conceding 4 (four!) at home in the first game of the season in flipping League One... Sometimes, it was only being so cheerful as kept me going.


 I wouldn't want you to think the radio silence here was because I was on a beach or in a depression, so to get back to business as usual, allow me a little warm up reflection.


After helping MMM present plans for a re.volution to partners and potential funders, I ran straight off to Europe with my wife where we paid through the nose to go into some pretty empty contemporary art galleries and some very full museums/galleries in Brussels and Amsterdam (see next blog for some questions raised by that). We then hotfooted it back to Stockton-on-Tees to see how the council were spending our money - fortunately wisely on the Stockton International Riverside Festival and Stockton Weekender. The Weekender was a paid for event for the first time, which seemed to work well, with good audiences, although one day was rather marred by torrential rain.  (Maximo Park, fronted by local-Billingham-boy-made-good Paul Smith, brought the crowd round in the end though.) It also became clear there's too much comedy around for people to pay for it in a festival context, which made me wonder what there is to learn from the ubiquity and popularity of comedy nights, the extent to which they are creating income for arts venues, and whether people ought to be thinking now about what happens when that bubble bursts/balloon goes down? (I'd suggest it's in the late Consolidation phase...)


The highlight of the second half of the summer (apart from hearing my daughter had got the grades she needed to get into university this year, thus avoiding the higher fees, phew, what good forward planning that was 19 years ago) was involvement in the Banff Opera Colloquium organised by Opera.ca, the voice of Canadian opera. I'll write about this separately, but it was a great chance to work with the frameworks of adaptive resilience with a whole sector, in a non-UK context, and as luck would have it in a beautiful place at the Banff Centre


Next, suddenly, September, which always means a new start. No matter how long it is since you left school, that new term feeling persists. (It persists even though, as of this September, I don't even have any kids going back to school.) Workwise, a couple of new projects are getting going, more of which anon, and  this month's work-travels are happily in Northern England: Wallsend, NewcastleGateshead, Manchester, Middlesbrough and Wakefield. It  may not be God's own country, but it's certainly mine. 


There's a lot of important tectonic plates shifting at the moment - especially in England. The effects of March's ACE announcements continue to become clearer, with some organisations powering up to become NPOs, many conversations being brought to you by the letters K, P and I as they'd say on Sesame Street, and some people now announcing closure or wind-up. (Sydney Thornbury from Webplay is bravely and importantly writing about 'winding up fabulously' on the NCVO website.) New initiatives around digital and philanthropy, and museums funding will play out over the next few months. (In relation to museums, the report by Estelle Morris is very much worth reading. In fact, it's worth reading in relation to arts and culture generally.) Audiences and local authorities will also, in their different ways, let us know what the impact of the recession is on their culture-spending. 


And hopefully, some artists will surprise us and respond to all that other stuff in brave and imaginative ways, with fresh vigour. If there's one thing I'm sure of it's that the arts need to engage with the messiness of global finance, riots, politics, individual and collective responsibilities and behaviour, morals, cultures, education and so on rather than turn away from it.  I know from my own writing efforts that's easier said than done, and David Hare agreed just this weekend, but it feels as urgent a task as anything to do with changing funding patterns.  (You can probably leave worrying about Preston North End to Phil Brown and poor souls like me though.)

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