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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 ...read 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 ...read 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 ...read more.
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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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