(I keep thinking about) An old thing: artists and the arts ecology

Wasn't thinking I'd write another blog this week, but what I want to point you to is too interesting to wait.Think of my blogs like buses... This may be a bit rushed, but, hey, 'eloquence is over-rated'.

What interventions and infrastructure best supports artists in their work, and maximises the positive effect their work can have on a place and perceptions of that place, without knobbling their creativity, is something of a perennial debate in arts policy, and among artists. This was illustrated in a slightly unexpected place this week by an article by Allan Glen in the Guardian's Northerner pages, and by the reaction to it. The article mainly described the City Council's Music Strategy, and what impact they feel it's had. There is an emphasis put on the big gigs at the Stadium of Light as 'the jewel in the crown', and although bands such as the Futureheads, Field Music and Frankie & The Heartstrings ('Sunderland's hit music scene, brought to you by the letter F...') and local promoters are credited, the policy and infrastructure does come out as ultimately pointed towards large scale audiences and their attendant secondary spend. 

This is, you could say, where the local authority is to be expected to put its attention, and Sunderland are, most would agree, to be congratulated on at least picking up on the musical potential and focusing on it. However, the story is much more rich than simply one of putting in places the right strategies, and involves the artists and audiences (often one and the same) in the city. Understandably some of the musicians involved saw the history and present rather differently. David Brewis of Field Music has written a response to the original article, which sets out his take, concluding: 'I  don't want to be excessively critical of Sunderland Council or of the people and organisations who want to promote Sunderland as a 'music city'. However, in trying to map out a clear, linear route from the practice rooms of The Bunker to a floodlit stadium stage they risk curtailing the diversity of opinion and experimental drive which made it worth listening to Sunderland in the first place.' (One of the best tweets I saw about this, from Lucas Renney, was a little less forgiving: 'I've just written an article about how I invented Sunderland City Council. See how they like it!') 

This seems a really good illustration - at the risk of pushing us even further away from the messy business of music - of the tensions between arts policy and practice, and why I described artists as at the heart of an arts ecology, in Making Adaptive Resilience Real. (See extract here.) How best to even talk about the respective roles remains tricky - even, or is it especially, in successful circumstances like Sunderland and music. No time to unpack further, but have a look at the different perspectives. 

(And enjoy the Field Music above, I never need an excuse to say how much I like them.)


  1. thanks mark for highlighting this. David makes some very valid points and Lucas Renney's comment says a lot. Those in positions of power need to think about how they can actively support creative development- not just develop strategies and take credit retrospectively. Pauline


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