Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Out of time: Maybe part 2

And concluding this short not-the-jubilympics festival of links...

Maurice Davies of the Museums association has kicked off an interesting bout of verbal fisticuffs in the cataloguing section, by arguing that museums should focus on impact not simply preserving collections and buildings. There are fascinating parallels with the fund artists just to make art/widen your scope to bring more people in arguments some make in artsfunding, which no doubt we could have great fun bringing together. The MA’s Museums 2020 blogs are stimulating too.

James Bridle’s suggestion that ‘Opinions are Non-contemporary ‘ sent a bit of a shiver down my spine, especially his conclusion that ‘opinions are no longer a useful or appropriate organising principle, that reckoning is no longer a scarcity, that the network now so obviously and explicitly extends beyond the bounds of any individual being able to say anything useful or conclusive on or about it in isolation, that telling someone your opinion is like telling them about your dreams.’ I grew up with post-modernists (not the fun sort, the ones with dead eyes who never laughed) arguing there was no such thing as real or true, and we are now where that got us. This reminded me of that. As a friend of mine used to say about po-mo literature lecturers (who generally hated literature): who or what do they cling to in the night?

Mairead Byrne’s poems sometimes make me want to applaud in recognition or surprise and agreement. Her essay Differences Between Poetry and Stand Up did likewise. For one with this: ‘This is the essential difference between poetry & stand-up: Stand-up is fun —maybe even more fun—for other people besides the stand-up.’ And for two with this: ‘The last thing we want poetry to be like is poetry.’ It’s a funny and true essay, with some grand examples of her poems too.

I wish I’d read Joel Stein’s blog Boringness: The Secret to Great Leadership when I had an actual job leading people, I’d have circulated it to all staff and cc’d anyone likely to fill in my 360° evaluation. It's as good as the title.

Claire Antrobus has had a series of posts on her blog which are very useful for anyone wondering how to make your organisation one that is constantly learning, and using that learning to improve - very practical tips. I especially agree with the tip about meetings in this post.

The MMM re.volution has just posted a set of video of interviews around the themes of how best to use finance, in different forms and ways, to make yourself more resilient. I may pull some out in following posts, but you can find them all here.

Finally two questions:

1.    How closely does your workplace resemble Google in encouraging innovation? Their 8 cultural charactisistics are set out here.

2.    What are the five books that changed your life? Arlene Goldbard sets out hers here. I’m still pondering mine, it may actually be lines of poems and songs that changed my life most. One will be revealed later this week... (It's not 'I will survive', no.)

(Thinking Practice Believe it or Not Fact - Bruce Thomas who plays bass in the rather astonishing video above went to the primary school on my road, where my kids went.)

Monday, 28 May 2012

Out of Time; Maybe part 1

Here a few things I’ve found and thought about over the last month or so, which I think other people should be thinking about too. I’ve just plunged out of a slew of deadlines and into some weeks of research for something new about resilience – watch this space for more. It may get a bit quiet here as a result, unless I create some nuggets to share. You can always stalk/follow me on Twitter, where I often share these links such as these as I find them, with much other trivia and wisdom.

(Having written this, it turned out a bit long – I’ve therefore split into two, more tomorrow...)

If you click through on nothing else, I’d like you to click here to Creative Placemaking has an Outcomes Problem  by Ian David Moss of Createquity. It’s a great succinct exploration of the issues that flow when you lack a theory of change or  ‘a clear and detailed theory of how and why creative placemaking is effective’, and what it might be, with a useful rooting in social capital rather than economic development emerging. As he points out too much of our evaluative effort goes into ‘proving’ that it is effective, which we can never do so some people’s satisfaction anyway. Knowing how and why – or even having a convincing theory - might be a better starting point for convincing sceptics. Unfortunately the only arts and place project I think got close to having this kind of model in the UK was Creative Partnerships and much of what it learnt is, I fear, being swept aside as we speak.
a-n have published two important papers recently relating to individual artists’ conditions and the dangers of damage to their role in the cultural ecology recently: Reyhan King’s Exhibitions Are Not Enough which argues for more developmental support from galleries, and Artists’ Work in 2011 which sets out a worrying picture of the commissions economy.

They have also just published a useful bibliography Artists working in participatory settings, which is part of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Artworks Initiative. This sits alongside much other research emerging from this significant initiative, including Helix Arts’ Audit of Practice, where Toby Lowe wrestles with the variety of practice just in the North East and what might make up excellence in participatory work.

Changes to some Creative Scotland funding streams have opened up a debate on what and how funding should be distributed. Joyce McMillan and Don Paterson, described by Graham Lancaster on the IFF blog, argue for choice based more purely on artistic quality. Andrew Dixon replies in characteristic style here. I might be wrong, but I sense a stretching of lottery budgets here, which is increasingly looking, in England, like a threshold has been crossed, where the level of treasury funding – for ‘core’ grants and the staff to administer the organisation - just won’t go as far as it should. The difficulty is you can tie yourself up in rules and lottery regs if you’re not careful, and sometimes trip over them. For what it’s worth, I’d probably locate myself in the gaps in the arguments, avoiding both the raw market and the holy monastery.

Monday, 21 May 2012

21 Ways of Looking at the Sponsors Club

Open publication - Free publishing - More arts

For anyone who's interested, the booklet 21 Ways of Looking at The Sponsors Club I talked about in my last post is now available via the Sponsors Club's issuu page, where you can download it, and embedded above for ease of reading. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Elephants, sambuca and sponsorship

It was David Byrne's 60th birthday yesterday. I would neither wholly trust nor envy anyone who has never asked themselves his most famous question: ‘My god, how did I get here?’ I had one of those moments, but pleasurable, the other evening as I looked down from a balcony at the arts and business folk of the North East gathered to celebrate the Sponsors Club’s 21st birthday. Below me the great and the good and the odd bald spot, ahead of me a baby elephant and the other stuffed animals of the Great North Museum, Hancock. Then I read a poem...

The poem was one of the '21 Ways of Looking at The Sponsors Club' I found to make up a small book which was given to attendees in their special Northern Print-made goody bags. Director, Adam Lopardo had asked me to look at the achievements of the Sponsors Club over its first 21 years. (The Sponsors Club is the North East's typically independent arts and business agency, for many years affiliated but not fully part of A&B nationally, in case you were wondering.) After talking to lots of great folk, and looking through the files in Adam’s office, I decided no single approach quite captured everything, so mixed descriptive or analytical prose, some numbers (£869,815, 620 grants, for instance), some lists, some genuine pun-tastic headlines (‘brush with the arts is a stroke of kindness’?) plus some poetry in various forms – from a haiku called ‘The Way the Managing Director put it after the Meeting’ to a sonnet mainly comprised of the names of bridges in North East England. (For which much credit should go to Bridges on the Tyne a great resource listing them all, over all the rivers of the region.) There’s also one joke about myself hidden away in there.

Designers Sumo did a very grand job making each of the ‘ways of looking’ different visually, and Potts Printers printed it, so the book and the dinner exemplify something I said in the text: ‘scratch the surface now and the core culture of coming together to bring others in to support the arts through communal and fun work is still central’. There were plenty of old faces at the dinner, including an almost comprehensive accidental reunion of Northern Arts Management Team of 2000, some of whom are having to make ends meet by running things like Creative Scotland and Gateshead Council rather than being swashbuckling thinkers like myself. It was, however, one of the next generation of business supporters who pressed a sambuca into my hand late on, demanding I accept a shot because he’d enjoyed the poem so much. Why that’s never happened at one of my literary events, I simply can’t imagine...

(if you would like one of the limited edition pdf versions of the book, just drop me an email and I’ll send you one - no time right now to work out how to best put it up on the site.)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

(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.)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Movingpictures 24: Happy May Day

The video above is a project called the Invisibles by the artist Nisha Duggal. Sing along - it's May Day. In the UK we push the bank holiday to the first Monday in May so we're working, but let's not work for more than 8 hours, eh? (The workers' holiday has its roots in the struggle for decent working hours, a struggle the people who would replace the holiday with something celebrating a battle or the empire are still engaged in.)

It's encouraging to see artists increasingly engaged in political thought, though hardly surprising what's going on. BBC Economics Editor Paul Mason has written this week about the way the Occupy movement in the US is challenging the contemporary art markets - it's a really interesting piece you can read here and view on the I-player here if you're quick. (It starts at 38 minutes in, though the earlier section with Hunt in full  pouting prefect mode, being defended by head boy Cameron, is worth watching, maybe with the sound down.) The visual arts market - where which collector you sell to (or your gallery will let you sell to) can be as strategic a decision as where you show or what you make - could probably do with a shake, although I suspect it will argue these are more designers than artists, more interested in reproduction than limited edition, not 'critically engaged'.

A final point of interest is that this piece is by the Economic Editor at the BBC not the Arts Editor. Paul Mason is an interesting character - I bought his book 'Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere' after reading an interview with him over at Mute, and will confess to feelings of optimism as I read its descriptions of global revolts, technological change and connections to historical patterns - he compares now to 1848. In the interview he concludes
 'I think people are very prepared to change lifestyles in a way that 100 years ago they weren’t. Back then it was assumed that everybody simply consumed everything they could possibly consume and the only thing that was in the way of it was money; people didn’t have any money. Now I think people, certainly in the West, are becoming very careful consumers. ...That’s a progress trajectory that can only continue. Peer driven behaviour change is quite powerful and it’s happening in a lot of different spheres.'

It's not quite 'arise ye starvelings from your slumber', but still...