Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Out of time: a catch up

Such a lot happening and so little time to blog about it. Things like...

Taking part in one of the Guardian Cultural Network’s Friday lunchtime webchats, on the subject of future-proofing your organisation. (I’m not sure any of us said it as such, but maybe you can’t, maybe you just get better at forecasting the weather and get a good brolly? Besides, do we really want to be entirely protected from the future, isn’t it unwritten in a good way as well as a scary one?) See the ‘top tips’ synopsis here  – which they edit together from the speed typing webchat version. The following week Kate Edwards from Seven Stories took part in one on how to make your venue family friendly – which they know a lot about at Seven Stories. She’s an honest woman and ‘fessed up to having to leave for a meeting (I knew this as I was in it too), instead of doing what I would have and got someone to be my typo-double for the last 15 minutes.

The Arts Index, which I mentioned couple of posts a go as a valuable innovation is now even more so as it is available to all and sundry for free, which is a very good thing. (And saves us all the bother of passing around the pdf...) There is good news – general stability, increased levels of satisfaction from audiences – but also some worrying trends, particularly the decline in private giving. The inevitable ‘lag’ also makes it harder to use – some recent theatre figures suggest a decline may have kicked in, for instance.

I’m not going to mention that the region outside London with the highest ‘index ratings’ is the North East. I’m not. But I will tip my hat to the region’s local authorities and their support of the arts, and note that’s something set in train a long time ago, and still being worked on, as seen by this recent paper of the Association of North East Councils. Cultural development continues - imagine how much more keenly if our local authorities weren't bearing the brunt of the Tory Coalition's cuts.

Re.evolution continues to, well, evolve. More than 40 peers are now signed up, and the next few weeks see the first few gatherings of peers. You can now sign up as a member, if the ‘peer’ offer isn’t right for you right now. This gives access to curated resources on the site, and to on-line and offline – or as i prefer to say, real world – learning events. Membership is open to anyone, and is free. (Though some future events may not be.) Details here. More details about the first learning event soon, but it’ll be at Live Theatre in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on March 27th.

Something interesting happening over at the DCMS website where academic Dr Claire Donovan is investigating ‘the very idea of measuring cultural value’, and creating some debate.  In general I think debates about this can become overstated on all sides – eg, cultural sector as the measure of our society, well, yes and no – I’m also interested in how we treat the sick, vulnerable and dying, and besides, wouldn’t some totalitarian regimes come out well – great orchestras and national companies, and thriving avant gardes/undergrounds? I did like that Donovan reminded us of the end of Wilde dialogue which is often used only to attack those cynics who know ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’.  The rejoinder, however, is thata sentimentalist, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of a single thing.’ Wilde, being a great writer, he is of course more than capable of arguing with himself.

If you would like brief, generally commentless, links to bits and pieces of cultural interest, may I suggest you follow me on Twitter? That’s generally a quicker way of pointing at things of interest, like a child noticing a plane or a train. Or even like an adult noticing a plane or a train.

Photo by shirokazan under Creative Commons

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Movingpictures 19: The Joy of Books

I dedicate this lovely little film by (I think) Sean Ohlenkamp to anyone who got a Kindle for Xmas, to remind you what you're missing, and to anyone else who regularly spends a happy couple of hours sorting their bookshelves out on a quiet afternoon, but somehow fails to make a film of it.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

12 for 12

Clare Cooper from MMM challenged me to write a UK version of this really great post by Createquity’s Ian David Moss summarising 10 arts policy stories of the year in the US. I tried to ignore it, but have been lured in. Rather than go back over the last year with my thumb up or down, I thought I’d try and find some ideas (in the shape of words) that might continue to be relevant. I remembered that my former colleague Sally Luton would say words are best used in knowledge of their often-unused opposite, so I’ve connived it up to 12 by including those too.

1.    1. Agency and its opposite Consortium
Welsh and English Arts Councils both made very clear strategic steers towards the ‘front line’ of organisations that make and show art and away from agencies that develop, help, support or otherwise help those processes but don't make work, such as audience development agencies. (Scotland awaits a review.) In 2012 we’ll see a slew of ‘wrap parties’/closures and the movement of lots of work to consortia of people at the front line. Whether that means they’ll be more effective, energised by the permission of 'agency' in the sense of power, or just busier with lots of meetings remains to be seen.

2.   2  Data and its opposite Intuition
In 2011 data became ever so slightly sexier, through the efforts of things like Culture Hack Day,  various attempts at benchmarking and the first Arts Index. (This is a good intervention by the National Campaign for the Arts and partners, although seriously undermined by the full document not being freely available.) Knowing what the hell is going on out there ('situation awareness') should be getting easier, and it should become easier and more commonplace to not just collect appropriate Key Performance Indicators but just them to inform strategic and tactical decisions. On the other hand, I foresee a more sophisticated use of Intuition in 2012, enhanced by data. That means informed risk.

3.   3  Cuts and its opposite Investment
Obviously cuts was a keyword of 2011, but the real cost of them will be felt in 2012 and beyond. This applies not just in the arts right across the UK, but also to the public sector, especially local government, which will have huge knock on effects economically and socially. We will however see local authorities who continue to invest in culture, at the expense of other areas, even if they have to make some reduction in budgets. They may get flack for this, and will need support for investing, but scrutiny of what is being invested, how and where. This applies not just to grants, but also staffing and its structures – in councils of all sorts. The quangic realignment which will continue throughout 2012 – and beyond when ACE make their 50% savings (good luck with that one guys!) – is likely to be more debated now funding near-futures are relatively stable than previously.

4.    4 Advocacy and its opposite Displacement
What is unlikely to help the cause of culture is wholesale carping and cries of doom. We need more effective advocacy in the sense of active support, and less displacement activity. Campaigns which portray ‘the arts’ as threatened to extinction by reductions in public funding hit the wrong chord with too many to work. We need advocates who can, however, show the real benefits of that investment. The Irish National Campaign for the Arts seemed to meet a generally more favourable outcome, based on a more positive campaign. As the cuts bite in the welfare, social care, health and education sectors, I also predict a general loss of patience with the idea the arts are unusually under attack. (At least wherever I am.)

5.    5 Philanthropic and its opposite Earned
Philanthropy was a word of 2011 because it seems to be this government’s only cultural policy idea, and certainly the main one they have foisted upon their national Non-Departmental Bodies. This will lead to a shift in fundraising efforts towards the rich and companies who do not want anything in return (eg profile, hospitality, CPD) because otherwise it turns into Sponsorship which is, whilst good, not really what’s wanted. (And not eligible in schemes like ACE’s Catalyst fund.) This may have positive effects, in that organisations can concentrate on their overall contribution to human welfare and happiness (as perceived by rich donors of course) rather than individual, narrowly instrumental schemes. It may also (or instead) lead to less of an emphasis on the arts earning their revenue like a sustainable business, however it comes – be it from a grant funder or a punter. (I know you have to work bloody hard to get it, but do you earn philanthropy?) Crowdfunding sits, for me, in an odd place. It is often put under philanthropy, which may be helpful tactically, but is also more transactional than that suggests. But it will grow in 2012.

6.    6 Collaboration and its opposite Solitude
It is now a truism that we are stronger together, and like most truisms, it is actually true-ish. Collaboration is one of the ways forward to a more resilient sector, and was one of the defining themes of the year. (Literally, in the case of many conferences.) Peer learning networks such as re.volution will help people collaborate on development as well as projects. On-line collaboration is also obviously going to continue to grow. But we should not forget that most artforms require some form of solitude at some stage, and at least some of those 10,000 hours of practice must be spent on your own, including your organisational own.

6 pairs probably equally important but lacking time to write about:
Resilient/Vulnerable; Risky/Funded; Artist/Creative; Innovative/Proven, Fast/Slow and Diverse/Dull