19 ways of looking at a crisis

This is the first of two long posts gathering some thoughts about the response to the Covid 19 crisis and what might come out of it or simply after it. These are just some of the things I’ve found helpful stimulation. I’m not sure I agree with everything in all of them, but they are all worth reading. They contain a lot of practical suggestions and some big picture reflections. Hopefully it’s handy to have them together.

Trailer: ‘All of that economic restructuring might seem kinda tangential, BUT what it would do is free up valuable time & resources for the actual hard graft art’s meant to be doing.’

Trailer:  ‘A commons needs three elements:
  1. A resource (natural or human-made)
  2. A community to steward it
  3. The community-determined rules to care for it’

Trailer: ‘Keep it Simple – I’ve done some funding applications in the last few weeks and I’ve been struck by the work that’s gone into making the process as simple and straightforward as possible. If we can make things easier for each other during the pandemic, then surely we should be able to do this permanently. I’d like us all to stay thoughtful about what we ask of each other, and to commit to getting rid of any unnecessary complexity.’

Trailer: ‘The amount of capital required to stabilise small and mid-sized organisations is an order of magnitude lower than the amount of capital required to stabilise large institutions. For the health of the ecosystem, it seems that stabilising small and mid-sized organisations should be a priority….

If anything we are learning that disaster preparedness is not just the ugly stepchild of institutional planning but a capitalisation issue at the sector level that must be addressed through policy, both public and private.’

Trailer: ‘Many were disenfranchised. Many were not included and involved and were not heard in our cultural sector. Much was amiss. Now is a time to think about how we address that and begin to do things differently. That means those who hold power, however large or small and in whatever shape listening and responding and investing in those without power.

My basic idea is a programme of remote learning and development and think-ins where we upskill, share knowledge and experience, we join up people AND the dots. We match mentors and mentees and peer mentors. And we pool ideas and thinking and brainstorm stuff together for the future.’

Trailer: ‘But now that non-disabled people have experienced the restricted life of lockdown, there can be less excuse for not addressing the frustrations of disabled people who have lived with limits and exclusion all our lives. Equality must be central to the new model of cultural life that will inevitably emerge across the arts, museums, television and film. That work must start now. Get us around your virtual tables, on your Zoom and Teams meetings, ensure we are part of your recovery planning. Across the UK network of disability arts organisations and disabled freelancers, there is a rich resource of knowledge and experience to draw on and we are ready to support you. A group of us are already exploring how we can assist shaping the recovery, inform cultural policy and ensure inclusive principles remain at the heart of public funding strategies to benefit the next generation of D/deaf and disabled talent.

Nothing beats the authenticity of lived experience but it comes with a lifetime’s cost, so don’t forget to pay us, employ us and invite us onto your boards.’

Trailer: ‘Today is the launch of the Amsterdam City Doughnut, which takes the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action in the city of Amsterdam. It’s also the first public presentation of the holistic approach to ‘downscaling the Doughnut’ that an international team of us have been developing for more than a year. We never imagined that we would be launching it in a context of crisis such as this, but we believe that the need for such a transformative tool could hardly be greater right now, and its use in Amsterdam has the chance to inspire many more places – from neighbourhoods and villages to towns and cities to nations and regions – to take such a holistic approach as they begin to reimagine and remake their own futures.’

Trailer: ‘Creative Commons Cardiff is a movement which has grown quickly and seeks to ensure that artists facing displacement and organisations threatened with closure are able to not only survive but to be able to put down permanent roots.[8] The movement is working with the authorities to be able to have buildings transferred to the collective ownership of artists and institutions, thereby guaranteeing spaces for art for the long-term benefit of communities. It is also working to develop a clear policy in which any loss of cultural buildings or infrastructure as a result of private development is mitigated by a Community Infrastructure Levy which could be used by Creative Commons Cardiff to develop new permanent spaces for artists to use.’

Trailer: ‘There is an enduring need to be consistent nationally but responsive locally.  Meanwhile our system is fragmented to the point where interdependencies are tested to the limit.  We no longer have confidence that what has grown organically is fit for purpose for the future and we seek to challenge ourselves and our partners to collaborate more closely to create a fit-for-purpose model for the future. 
To help address these major challenges, and harness opportunities, CLOA is advocating the need to establish a clear and jointly owned clarity of purpose  
We believe that a return to “normal” is not an option.  A disruptive revolution is needed to revitalise and rethink our approach, so that the sector is fit for the future. ‘

Trailer: ‘The old support system will no longer serve. It was based on competition, with only a fraction of important work being funded, so most of us spent far too much time and energy seeking support, privileging the groups who could assign that task to professional staff that will now surely be reduced. The focus was on competing for awards based on specific artistic works: performances, exhibits, etc. But the future will demand that the means of cultural participation and creation be available to all. To the extent resources are even scarcer than usual, a much larger portion must go to supporting access: space (physical and virtual), equipment, communications media, artists skilled in using these things in community, training, and so on.’

Trailer: ‘What we’re doing hasn’t been working. How do we win a fight when we refuse to see that we’re in one? If all we learn right now is that “we are all in this together” (when we are clearly not), that if neighbors just support one another, that if funders and donors can just remove barriers and be better partners to nonprofits, then maybe we can weather this storm. If THAT is the main lesson, then hope is lost. Injustice will only increase. We must wake up and do everything we can to stop the people burning down everything, or we continue to be complicit in all the pain and suffering they cause.’

Trailer: ‘Failing to respond to the situation facing freelancers is short-sighted. They are creative and resourceful people, and many will be looking at other areas of work to support themselves during this crisis. So if businesses don’t get a grip on what makes someone a freelancer and what doesn’t, and when they are duty-bound to ensure appropriate access to rights and benefits, then they may find that the workforce they depended upon will not be returning to them after the crisis has passed.’

Trailer: ‘I often deploy a crude measure I call Fox’s Law (named after the poet Kate Fox who I first saw making use of it) to find out whether a thing being asked of an artist is normal. To do so, the law states, simply ask the question “Would you ask a plumber to do this?”. So in this case, the question is “Would you ask a plumber for a creative response to Coronavirus?”, or if you want to be stricter in the analogy “would you ask a plumber for a plumbing response to Coronavirus?”. To which the answer is pretty clearly no: you would expect them to carry on as much as possible, doing what they can when they can and accepting when that is nothing.’

Trailer: ‘Local and Combined Authorities should build young people into their recovery task forces so that their voices and experiences can inform local and city-region governments. Youth representatives from these task forces should then feed back voices and experiences to the National Young Person’s Response Unit, using decision making and data from a local level to fuel national policy.’

Trailer: ‘This is the time to have that debate and to devise fundamental structural change across our sector. I think it is time to fund independent artists and communities more than we fund cultural venues and major production companies. Over the next few years venues and production companies will find it difficult to operate in any kind of financially sustainable way. We have a choice to make as to whether we do everything we can to sustain these giants of the sector; or whether we take opportunities as they come to invest more public funds directly with artists and communities.’

Trailer: ‘Care hard – mindful of the Five Ways to Wellbeing, check in with and commune locally with artists. Be active by doing this virtually and frequently to show moral support and as building blocks for strong relationships for the long-haul ahead. Take notice of what many artists are doing and how they’re feeling by setting up skype studio visits. Learn from how artists do it by enlisting some of them on your board – artists learn iteratively and have a resilience capability well worth emulating: they have scaling down off to a fine art. Give them some dedicated time: it’s not just about money but securing the future well-being of artists.’

Trailer: ‘Conversations of ‘mothballing’ and ‘cocooning’ other industries to protect them for post-covid regeneration are peculiarly absent in discussions of performing artists and the wide ranging network of funded and unfunded venues and organisations where they work. We see the urgency to automatically switch to online production as ill-timed, ill-fitting, and risking artists’ continued self-exploitation. The insect analogy may be stretched, but we believe there will be no great display of colour post ‘cocoon’, unless we protect and conserve the creative energy of these workers in a meaningful way for what we expect will be a long time. Because of this, we encourage a more considered approach to sustainable support and re-emergence.’

Trailer: ‘More than 20 years ago, I asked a grandee of the arts world how much art was enough. In full lobbying mode, he didn’t even try to think about the question. The cultural economy has expanded hugely since then, and the scale of supply has made art a buyer’s market, on its way to becoming a subscriber’s market. There really is an unimaginable quantity of novels, films, plays, pictures, music and other creative stuff. Is this ‘peak culture’, the point at which we reach the maximum production of cultural goods and experiences?’

Trailer: ‘Of the many lessons I learnt in those nine years, there is one that insolvency teaches in a way that few other professions outside healthcare and religion can: sometimes the best thing you can do is to help people end well, to give an organisation a decent burial, to save what can be saved and move on.’