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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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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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