Some thoughts after Wild Conference

Photo by, and used with kind permission of, James Phillips, one of a beautiful set from the two days.  Last week I spent two days at Wild Conference, the latest try at an Arts Council England-commissioned national arts conference, following events like State of the Arts and No Boundaries. Delivered – brilliantly – by Slung Low, led by Alan Lane, this had a very different feel and format. It was a conference in a field. We paid what we decided, in advance. (The average came out at a perhaps surprisingly high £63. I had matched the day rate of a Slung Low member of staff, and paid £108, as it felt right to pay more than I assumed some artists might be able/want to.) It had a camp-fire going at all times. There were tents of different shapes and sizes instead of conference suites. You wore headphones with which you could listen to any of the presentations. (Side benefit: you could nip to the loo and not miss anything said.) There was a creche. You made and barbecued your own more.
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Towards a cultural doughnut?

I recently read Kate Raworth’s Doughtnut Economics,and it was a revelation, one of those books that made me uneasy about some things I’d done/argued in the past, and – more importantly – gave me a frame for thinking harder. I last had a similar feeling almost exactly a decade ago when I read Resilience Thinking by Brian Walker and David Salt. Raworth’s book is a good primer for non-economists (like me) on the evolution, limitations and damaging effects of our obsession with growth and particularly Gross Domestic Product and its growth as the sign of health for our economy. She argues we need to reconsider the purpose of that economic activity, and well as the full cost of the activity – which has generally has left our use of the earth’s energy out of calculations, leading to the climate crisis we are in now, living as if there were more than one planet. She goes on to the eponymous doughnut to think about a ‘safe and just space for all’. This has an ‘ecological ce more.
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Five A Week 17: Some Things to Read and Think About

    1.     Cultural Democracy in Practice Picking up the theme from my last blog, out of the CPP conference, of changing the cultural landscape by, you know, involving wider sets of people than usual, Arts Council England have just published Cultural Democracy in Practice, written by the effervescent team at 64M Artists. It’s an important publication as much for what it signals as its contents, which consider some of the whys and wherefores of cultural democracy and provide some potential common values, case studies and how to tips. (The publication is primarily a guide for those wanting to explore the ideas more, rather than a statement of policy or history.)  I read it as a signal of an interest from ACE in both broader definitions of culture  and how those areas beyond (if that’s the right word, I suspect it’s not) funded arts activity can be given more recognition. My main caveat would be the guide feels a little smoothed out, a bit too shiny and happy, and gl more.
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‘Changing the cultural landscape isn’t too mighty a task’ (Jess Thom)

Creative People and Places have just published my ‘reflection’ on their recent conference in Wolverhampton, alongside several other responses and a really good video featuring some of the CPP participants who attended. (The conference took place at the rather lovely Lighthouse, which is apparently currently under threat and needs your support.)   It was a good conference, brilliantly chaired by Talia Randall, and it was good to hear about recent shifts in CPP and then reflect on what I believe is a really significant programme. You can read the whole thing here, but in the spirit of those bad film teasers from which you know the whole story, in case you’re simply too busy or important to read a whole 1525 words, here 120 of them spliced together as a trailer. (Added line breaks inspired by Julius Lester.)   An appetite for making culture together, not just taking part, is growing…. / After years of trial, error and conversation, see the task differently…. / Dis more.
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Five A Week 16: Some Things to Read & Think About

1. Contradicting data In my last blog I shared the Panic! Report, which gave some data-perspective to the debate about diversity and social background in the arts. Debbie Geraghty gives another perspective on that, one which really resonated for me as I have been thinking how we better reflect the range of backgrounds and experiences of people in the sector, some of which are not visible, some of which are subtly erased as people make their way. As she says, ‘Do those numerous well-meaning articles that remind us we don’t exist across the arts sector recognise what it feels like to hear that for the umpteenth time? As if we didn’t already know. How am I and so many others expected to feel? It’s almost like a child whose parents talk about them among friends within earshot as if they aren’t there.’ Debbie Geraghty argues that both the numbers approach and the success stories of renewed focus on what she calls – I’m not sure how ironically or not, how exclusively more.
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Five a Week 15: Some Things to Read and Think About

  Aiming for 5 a week or 5 a day doesn’t mean you necessarily have the time and energy every week… Never apologise, never explain etc etc, so here we go, better late than never… 1. PANIC! DON’T PANIC! NO, DO PANIC… The message of the genuine propaganda poster shown above (attributed to Jennie Lee, Chris Smith, Czelaw Milosz or Gilberto Gil depending on what you read, but definitely not Ed Vaisey, apparently) prefigures just one of the themes in an important paper by Drs Orian Brook, David O’Brien and Mark Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries. The graphic below illustrates one way of considering the narrowness of the creative industries, demonstrating something of both family backgrounds and the circles people move in. There’s a lot in the paper, but the main worrying point is that those who reach the top are most likely to think they’ve done it on talent and hard work, and to fail to see class, ethnicity or gender as exclu more.
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Some reading for you….

Cover of Making A Shift Report for Arts Council Seems like my mojo has mainly been working on other things than blogging recently. Here’s a little catch up of some recently published things that might be of interest. 1. Experimental Culture I was interviewed as part of NESTA’s ‘Horizon Scan’ for Arts Council England, part of the latter’s work towards their next 10 year strategy. You’ll find a few quotes from me in the report, which is required reading even so. I have also contributed a ‘provocation’ which NESTA and ACE have published alongside some others. Mine argues for a much greater investment in working conditions and workforce development, including of the freelance workforce – which even those with many PAYE employees rely on. I susggest some possible collaborative approaches. My provocative question is not original but I think it remains pertinent: What makes us think we can have sustainable culture by requiring artists and much of the workforce to subsidise more.
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1. IS THIS JAPANESECONCEPT THE SECRET TO A LONG, HAPPY, MEANINGFUL LIFE? I don’t want to get too touchy feely on you, I promise. But the picture above struck me as a useful summary of the kinds of trade-offs/hunt for the sweet spot that artists and arts organisations face all the time. How do you find a way to do something that you love, that the world needs, that you’re good at and that you can be paid for? Or reconcile yourself to two or three out of four? No space for details but I think I’ve felt all four of the restricted ‘results’ in my life. 2. CREATIVE HEALTH:THE ARTS FOR HEALTH AND WELLBEING One of the summer’s potential blockbuster reports, a little undermined by trite marketing and summaries, this report sets out the case for the role of the arts in health and well-being. This is a subject I am a little cynical about – not about the benefits, but about the efficacy of reports like this. (I write as someone who signed the first partnership agre more.
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Five a Week 12: Some Things to Read & Think About

I decided against linking to any of the coverage of last week’s election. There’s some good stuff out there, and I’d dearly love an excuse to use the picture of my former MP losing his seat, but who knows what messy business may have transpired between me pressing ‘publish’ and you reading this? Anyway, you may spot a theme… 1. MUSEUM OF FAILURE: THE EXHIBITION EXPLORING BRANDS’ BIGGEST “F*CK UPS” This Swedish Museum of Failure sounds to me like it’s doomed – in which case it will have to collect itself and carry on… 2. MAAZA MENGISTE ON DEFEATING THE SOPHOMORE SLUMP I really like this: ‘If I’m going to fail I want that failure to be spectacular. I want it to be big. I don’t to inch my way into it. I just want to push as far as I can and see what happens. If I fail I want to fail ambitiously, and not in some tepid way where I second-guessed myself to death.’ I like it more than common or garden failure-fetish because it flows from a description of the w more.
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Five a Week 11: Some Things to Read & Think About

1. CZESLAW MILOSZ’S SPACE TRAVELS I’ve just read Andrzej Franaszek’s big biography of Czeslaw Milosz, one of the 20th century’s greatest poets. I’d like you all to read it, obviously, but this review might do for most, for now. Why does Milosz, who lived a long and conflicted 93 years, matter to me? Because his work grapples with the historical forces at play within and around us, but is always intent on rooting out hope – be that in his poems about the Second World War, which he experienced in Warsaw, producing underground anthologies of poems, in the years of exile from Communist Poland, first in France then America, or in his wrestling with the freedoms of California. 2. “ONLY A FOOL OR A KNAVE” TRUSTS QUALITY METRICS, SAY ACADEMICS Interesting report on a paper by Australian academics on the Culture Counts quality metrics tool, the full paper of which is unfortunately behind the kind of paywall apparently necessary to the business model for publishing academic more.
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