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 in recent years. I collaborated with Consilium Research to look at approaches to excellence (of product and of process of engaging communities) across the programme. This also included a small review of existing quality or excellence frameworks. The report ‘What it does to you’: Excellence in CPP is amongst the wealth of material shared by CPP as part of its learning.

A recent commission was to take that material and boil the learning down to a form more people could read. This meant going from over 70 documents to 21 pages. The report ‘Faster but Slower, Slower but Faster’ captures lessons at a key point in CPP, with achievements and learning emerging but major change tantalisingly only potential. The report may be the only report to takes its underlying structure from a hybrid of the sonnet and the 3 act narrative. It’s both big and little, a fast and slow read that I hope does justicve to the learning.

Coincidentally, as that new report was published, something I worked on earlier in the year with EW Group, for Arts Council England, was published as part of ACE’s creative case and cultural education work. Every Child looks at the barriers to inclusion in arts and cultural activity across the protected characteristics in relation to young people, and has informed ACE’s action plan in this area. 2017 should see other projects with EW Group for ACE around disability and diversity more broadly published.

The other major chunk of published material finished this year was a set of 20 case studies and essays about changing business models, commissioned by AMA and shared via Culture Hive. I’ve written about these before, but it’s a substantial set of studies that are proving useful to people, or so they tell me.

Other online publications this year include:
A conversation about the role of Critical Friend with Rachel Adam of bait and Eleanor Turney
Arts professional article on the excellence research
A ‘review’ of the DCMS White paper for a-n
Remembering ‘the big one that got away’ for Tees Valley Arts
I’ve done a bit of conference reporting this year also: you can see the ‘storifys’ here.

I’ve also actually managed to write more poems this year than for a while, and to do some performances as part of this years T-Junction International Poetry Festival, including my first schools visit for about 20 years. My poem A Confession was published the day after the EU Referendum, which gave the last line a different edge. Mr Duncan-Smith Dreaming In The Sun was included in the anthology New Books and Pantisocrasies, edited by W.N. Herbert and Andy Jackson for Smokestack Books. I was also chuffed to have a poem in The Long White Thread of Words, an anthology edited by Amarjit Chandan, Gareth Evans and Yasmin Gunaratnam to mark John Berger’s 90th birthday.

Of course, most of my year is not spent at my desk writing things that can be hyperlinked but face to face with clients, talking at conferences, leading training, facilitating planning and away days and so on. This is the listening without which I really would have nothing to say, so thank you to all the people I’ve worked with this year. Whatever it brings 2017 is going to need all the cultural leaders it can get, at all levels, of all types, and doing all sorts of work. May it be the year of the plural and embracing rather than the singular and exclusive.