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Five a Week 5: Some Things to Read & Thinking About

1. A CLOSER LOOK AT CREATIVES I did a piece of work last year that including looking at job descriptions and person specs for artistic directors. My conclusion was you had to be superhuman, so broad was the spec on most. One even specified high standard of personal hygiene and presentation, suggesting that the organisation had, you might say, ‘been hurt before’. NESTA have done a much bigger exercise looking at the skills quoted in creative job adverts. There are many limitations to it, but is seems to suggest that the T-shaped person known to some HR depts. – ie someone with a specialism but also broad cross-cutting skills – is often looked for in creative roles. The implication for, say, training and HE, being that technical, teaching and people skills will increasingly be as necessary as specialist cultural skills. 2. LETTERS FROM THE GLOBE ARTISTIC DIRECTORS Some hint of the kinds of personal skills and resources you need to be Artistic Director of an institution like The ...read more.
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Five a week 4: Some Things to Read and Think About

1. JOHN COLTRANE DRAWS A PICTURE ILLUSTRATING THE MATHEMATICS OF MUSIC Sometimes, in the arguments about the squeezing of arts out of the curriculum, arts folk can slip into suggesting things like science and maths are not creative, even they don’t help people ‘be fully human’ in the way Shakespeare apparently does. This drives me slightly mad. An example of why is here. Thelonius Monk is quoted as saying, ‘All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians’ and who are we to argue with him? 2. DATA PORTALS IN ART AND CULTURE This is a useful compendium of data portals put together by James Doeser as part of project working towards a cultural data portal for the UK. This would be really useful for the likes of me. And maybe you. 3. TECH NATION 2017 This is an interesting example of how to share data in an attractive and useful way, from an adjacent, occasionally overlapping sector, in digital tech. As well as UK level stats, there are also city studies. The one fo ...read more.
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So what so what so what’s the scenario? (2017 12” remix)

It is 7 years today since my first blog under the Thinking Practice banner. I’m not going to talk right now about the time I’ve had since, but thank everyone I’ve worked with for keeping me useful, interested, learning and paid. The adaptive cycle has intermittently been on spin, but put it like this: my lack of a job title has now lasted longer than any of my ‘proper job’ titles and that’s grand by me. I want, instead, to look back to a blog I shared that founding week, which shared some scenario thinking and explained my focus on helping cultural organisations become more adaptive and more resilient. Seven years on, which bits ring true? And what didn’t I imagine well enough? I wrote the scenarios below in March 2010, in the run-up to the election that led to the coalition government. Arts Council England was downsizing fairly dramatically as a result of cuts by the late Brown Labour government, and had had to pass cuts on. (I had just left during the resulting r ...read more.
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Five a Week 2: Some Things to Read and Think About

1. GOALS GONE WILD: THE SYSTEMATIC SIDE EFFECTS OF OVER-PRESCRIBING GOAL SETTING It’s a new financial year this week and many people will be thinking about the goals they set themselves, or agreed with their managers. In some places it may well be ‘appraisal season’. Goals can be brilliant things for focussing effort, prioritising use of time and resources, supporting reflection and giving people a sense of achievement. They can also distort, deceive and dissemble. This paper looks at the side-effects of indiscriminate goal-setting and offers some very useful health warning. (I would add: Beware bonuses because they are goals-on-steroids – but that’s another story.) Thanks to Toby Lowe for pointing this paper out. 2. A CREATIVE FUTURE IN A CHANGING WORLD Sir Nicholas Serota gave his first speech as Arts Council England chair at last week’s No Boundaries conference. You can read it or watch it again – along with the other presentations on the No Boundaries website. T ...read more.
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Five A Week 1: Some Things to Read and Think About

Image of work by Li-Hongbo, White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney 2012 This is a new, potentially regular if I can make it so, feature where I’ll point at some interesting and provoking things to read and think about. If time and inclination align with a feeling I’ve got something useful and/or interesting to say about them, I will. It’ll be recent material, with one archive choice, often from the Thinking Practice/Arts Counselling blogs over the last 9 years. 1. THE BLAUWDRUK STATEMENT BY AGNES QUACKELS An interesting meditation on power relations between people running or working within institutions and people working as artists, and the need to reinvent institutions and how they work in order to end the ongoing abuse of artists’ precarity: ‘My call to the institutions today, my call to us all – because we are the institutions: institutions do not act, people act, and we are the people. My call is to pay constant attention to How we are doing what we are doing, and to get this f ...read more.
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Going on

Normalish blog service will resume shortly… (Not sure who created this image so can’t credit them. But they are very good. All hail Samuel Beckett, Jane Bown, Graham Linehan, Arthur Matthews and Mrs Doyle though.)   ...read more.
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2016: Faster But Slower

Well, 2016 has been a year memorable often for all the wrong reasons. I can’t be the only person wanting to slap themself for their previous complacency, can I? I’m not going to go on about the dark times that have emerged from neglected corners, I suspect ‘regular readers’ know where I stand, and others are more eloquent. Read the brilliant Zadie Smith’s piece here instead. I do, though, want to remind us that as Brecht half-said, in the dark times there will still be singing, and much work to be done. The combination of much work and an ongoing sense of not wanting to add to the ‘blabber and smoke’ (to quote Captain Beefheart) has meant I’ve been quiet on the blog this year. This does not mean I’ve been quiet elsewhere. As in previous years, I’ve written tens of thousands of words in reports, evaluations and articles. Two big pieces of work have been about Creative People & Places, one of the most significant initiatives Arts Council England have supported i ...read more.
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The Art of Relevance

Nina Simon, who is the Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and a leading museums thinker, was the punchiest keynote speaker at the recent AMA conference. I came away with a copy of The Art of Relevance, her new book, the themes of which she set out in her talk. Relevance has the potential to give the other R word a run for its money in the 2016 Buzzword stakes, but we should not hold that against Nina or her argument. Using the images of rooms and keys and insiders and outsiders, the book is a sharp argument for mattering more to more people, not by assertion of your own intrinsic value but by making genuine connections. It uses stories and micro-case studies to illustrate how switching the terms in an open and ongoing fashion leads to change, and to relevance. Along the way there are a good number of highly quotable lines and arguments. Simon starts off by skewering two common delusions, seen weekly in the arts: firstly that what we do is relevant to everyone, and ...read more.
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Models, Missions, Visions and Hope

Well, a lot has happened since I last wrote a blog, much of it enough to make me put my head in my hands before getting back in gear. I don’t have time right now to start on causes and implications of Brexit; the new headmistress, I mean Prime Minister; the adult-ed teachers room squabble to be head of department in the Labour Party; or multiple murderous madnesses around the globe. Besides, something else may have happened whilst I was writing this paragraph. I may return to this in time – one of my conclusions is rushing to immediate opinion isn’t conducive to very much at all. I’ve been trying to bring my personal vital signs back to functional by working hard, relishing the small pleasures of life and turning off social media more often. Let the Horizon of Stupid stay where it is for a while. (Yes, I know this is what The Man wants.) Amongst other things, I attended the Arts Marketing Association’s conference in Edinburgh last week, giving two seminars on the uses an ...read more.
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The one with the chat about the role of the Critical Friend

For the last three years I’ve been the Critical Friend for bait, the Creative People & Places project for South East Northumberland. Although all the CPP projects have a Critical Friend, the exact role has varied depending on the context, needs and skills of the teams and their Friends. With bait, my role has been a combination of coach, facilitator, challenger, mirror, and bringer of other perspectives and frameworks. I’ve worked with the team and with the Consortium Board, mainly around identifying and understanding what is happening as a result of the work, and what the implications for action might be. Along the way, I’ve passed on various techniques and frameworks for everyday use, which is another key aspect of the Critical Friend role, and we’ve developed bespoke frameworks together, such as bait’s Quality Guidelines. The role differs slightly from that of, say, a coaching or mentoring situation, as it is much more engaged with the mission of the team. (Co ...read more.
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