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BACK TO SCHOOL BUMPER BAKER’S DOZEN +1 FIVE A WEEK 14: LOTS OF THINGS TO READ & THINK ABOUT

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 ...read 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 ...read 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 ...read more.
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Unstrained Quality

Over the last year I’ve been helping Culture Bridge North East with two phases of a project called EQiIPP (Exploring Quality in Peer Practice, and no, the recruitment slogan wasn’t ‘All we need is a You’.) The first phase paired cultural organisations to explore Arts Council England’s Quality Principles for work with children and young people, the second buddied up an arts organisation or museum with a school. In each phase a question or challenge was identified and a small project or intervention trialled, centred on exploring application of the Quality Principles. I also did some training in coaching techniques to support the peer learning, and because is it’s always useful to people. The second phase recently had a session to share learning, and there were a couple of things that really struck me. Listening to five pairs talk about their work, it was clear how useful people had found the Quality Principles in all sorts of areas of their work. They had been used to shap ...read more.
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Five a Week 10: Some Things to Read & Think About

I could not find the perfect article to link to relating to the awful events in Manchester last week so am sharing this photo, taken over an unexpectedly al fresco breakfast last Thursday. (Still under a fiver too, gentrification not swept all aside just yet.) The image being photographed is ‘signed’ Dubek, and was being snapped constantly. I also like the message in the background, of the people gathered round a flipchart sheet stuck to the window… 1. THE STATE OF POETRY CRITICISM This is an admirably detailed look at patterns of reviewing of new poetry in relation to ethnicity and gender, by the critic Dave Coates. (If you want detailed examinations of new poetry his blog should be regular reading.) It shows – totally unsurprising spoiler alert! – ‘how ingrained is the culture of structural racism and misogyny’. There are some depressing little stats, as well as typical close reading of situations and reviews that reveal how limited a tool quotas can be. T ...read more.
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Five a Week 9: Some Things to Read & Think About

1. STORIES FROM THE HOUSE BAND This is a brilliant fanzine put together by Maddy Costa to record some of the stories emerging from Unfolding Theatre’s fantastic Putting the Band Back Together project. I should declare an interest as I’m on the board of Unfolding, and played in the House Band when the show came to Stockton. So I can vouch first hand for the full-hearted joy of this Culture Award-winning project, and the patience of Ross Millard with rhythmically-challenged bassists. Ross says one of my favourite things in this fanzine, which I like as it sums up something I think I’ve always felt as a writer: ‘..it also makes you realise that some of the, what I perceive to be, little stumbling blocks in my ability, they don’t really exist. They’re almost your identity in your playing, something that characterises how you play: you can’t play everything all the time, if you could you wouldn’t really be you, would you?’ 2. A WHOLE NEW WORLD: FUNDING AND COMMISSIONING I ...read more.
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Five a Week 8: Some Things to Read & Think About

1. WHY WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT GOOD WORK Matthew Taylor of the RSA gave his annual lecture last week, around one of the RSA’s current big themes: ‘good work’. This relates to the work being done by Taylor and others at the RSA around self-employment and the case for Universal Basic Income. There’s lots to chew on in here, and my brain kept flicking back to all the worst bits of work I’ve had to do: carpet warehouse finger-ache, peeling sacks of carrots, endless, pointless meetings. (Actually, I enjoy peeling lots of carrots at a go.) I don’t think Taylor is saying no one should do those things, but that good work puts them in a positive context. I’ve work to do, so can’t unwrap further, but do have a read. 2. THE GIG ECONOMY AND THE WELFARE STATE 1 in 5 people in the UK do not have a conventional job. 3 in 5 of those work in professional, creative and administrative fields. Diana Coyle argues here that although some employers or platforms may use this shift to a ...read more.
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Five A Week 7: Some Things to Read & Think About

1. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT? LESSONS FROM GROWING UP IN IRELAND Createquity has long been worth reading and thinking about. It has recently developed into something properly substantial – the kind of thing I’d love to see in the UK. (He says covering up his Arts Emergency ‘Sometimes if you want something to exist you have to make it yourself’ badge.) This is a good look at a fascinating report by Emer Smyth on children’s cultural engagement in the context of the digital realm “Arts and Cultural Participation among Children and Young People: Insights from the Growing up in Ireland Study,” a 2016 report commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland. The findings are very consistent with what the data tells us about the UK – and many of the patterns written about in Every Child. I want to point at these sentences particularly though: “Being involved in a structured cultural activity is associated with positive outcomes across all domains,” Smyth writes, “with higher ...read more.
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Five a Week 6: Some Things to Read and Think About

1. TAILORED REVIEW OF ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND If time allows I’ll write something specific about this DCMS ‘tailored review’ of Arts Council England, but it is obviously an essential read. As an end of term report it’d be a B or B+ in old money, I suspect: it concludes value and a good job, but some areas to sharpen up, most of which I suspect fall of into the categories of ‘Already working on that, ta, but will work/think even harder.’ (Prediction: that could serve as the exec summary of ACE’s response.) Some glass-half-empty descriptions of the review have highlighted the ‘must work harder on diversity’ points. I can imagine folk in ACE putting their head in their hands and wondering what more they can do. The pace of change, it seems to me, is not for the want of trying, though obviously not everything tried has necessarily been the ‘right’ thing at he right time. But the actions now on diversity are for the sector, surely, for the board and leadership teams? An ...read more.
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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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