#create365 no.16 a different way of doing things

I was going to title this piece ‘a better way of doing things’ and then I stopped because I wasn’t sure that what we did at the weekend was ‘better’, but it was ‘different’ and it was certainly very enjoyable.  What was it that we did? Well…..

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The programme (made in a hour on Thursday morning)

Hilary Jennings finally got to put her long-held plan of a Southside Players play in a weekend (that was also a new directors workshop) into action.  We took the play ‘Two’ by Jim Cartwright – although it is designed for just two actors to play a huge number of parts, this means that each scene is a manageable duo-logue (or in some cases mostly monologue), making a collaborative approach easier in terms of logistics, style, continuity and story.   A company of 20 people assembled, some would direct, some would act, some would do both, some parts were played by more than one person and some people played more than one part.  Hilary had the joyful job of writing the schedule for this.

Having done a basic readthrough on Wednesday and been allocated our parts and directors, on Saturday we met in the weird and wonderful ‘Shakespearian style globe Theatre’ of the Bedford pub.

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Looking down from the Gallery of the theatre, rehearsal in progress

We sat in a circle and we talked – we did a lot of this -it was a good thing – we found out, that we all knew a lot more than we thought we did, that we had a wide range of expertise and that the individual view point of experiencing something (as an actor or a director) was just as valid as a system or method that required training and practice.  We started off talking about warm-ups, why we do them, whether we should do them, what works, what doesn’t, why they need to be adapted to the type of play you are doing, the kind of cast you have, and the point you are in the process – a rehearsal warm-up and a pre-show warm-up might be very different.

Then we did some warm ups! My favourite was (I think) called House.  People are grouped in differently numbered groups around a circle (two people in one place, three in another, five in another) – these are the houses – a big group is a big house, a small one is a flat.  The homeless person has to go round to each of these houses and ask to be let in – they can do this in any style, the houses then reject them and tell them to move on mimicking the style they have been asked in – so far so good.  At any point someone in a house can decide to ‘move house’ they do this by running to one of the other houses – each house must only ever have the right number of people in it so everyone starts to run – the person left without a house at the end is the new homeless person – repeat until you all fall on the floor from exhaustion/laughing too much.

We then looked at ways of looking at text.  Again we had some general discussions, how you might mark the actual text to make it easier, how you might analyse it for the verbal structure, how you might analyse it in the context of the play.  We did some interesting exercises with a piece of text from the play and looked at all sorts of ways of finding meaning, relationship, physicality – to be honest at one point we did start to make it up but that is the nature of the game anyway so we just went with this.  We then sat around and I explained a bit about the ten steps for creating a character/analysing a play and that led to a discussion about different ‘methods’ and styles – ie not everything is Stanislavskian.

We then split off into our director/actor groups and did some work on our scenes.  After lunch I did a short session on ‘objectless action’ as the play specifically states that all props are to be ‘mimed’.  Then we did some more work on our scenes and those of us doing more than one thing did the other thing.

At the end of the day we came together to agree things that needed a consensus – this was the most interesting bit, with eight directors and another 12 people involved you’d think this might be tricky.  It took minutes.  We had a flip chart sheet with the plan of the theatre on it.  We decided where the street was, where the bar was, where the tv was, all the physcial context of the pub.  We agreed the season.  We agreed any other stuff that were required.  We agreed the timetable for the next day.

Using the map actor/director

Using the map actor/director

 

On Sunday we mostly just rehearsed the different parts, then did a run through and then did the performance.  What struck me as so interesting and maybe ‘better’ was that in one room you could have two directors directing two different scenes and some actors running through stuff they’d already worked on.  There was no tension, no huffing about ‘too loud’ or ‘in my space’ and it seemed (to me) some how more relaxed than a normal rehearsal – even though we were technically ‘up against the clock’.  It felt like the divided attention actually allowed the actors to be freer, braver, and the divided responsibility of the directing also gave the directors breathing space.  Often being part of a cast can feel great, like you’re part of a crack troop of soldiers, but being the director sets you apart, you’re the Captain, or the General and you have to take charge and ‘make it happen’.  In our very communal set up, everyone was one of the troops.

A panoramic view of one of the rehearsal rooms, three different scenes in progress

A panoramic view of one of the rehearsal rooms, three different scenes in progress

Because of the duplication of directing effort – we got so much more time – a play in a weekend – yes, but working 10 till 5 each day with an hour for lunch is only 12 hours.  Take out all the workshops and discussions and its more like 5 hours of actual scene work.  But times that by 8 and you have 20 hours of scene work (and it’s a short play) which is a big difference.  So this made what might have been a mad-scramble into something that felt way more leisurely than the average rehearsal period for either am-dram or fringe (50-80 hours for am-dram and maybe 80-150 hours for fringe/low budget).

And it worked, the performance worked, and people were happy.  The audience, the directors, the actors.  So happy that we all wanted to do it again.  Or maybe try it on something more challenging, or in a different style, we started talking about plays that might work, and how collaboration is so much more enjoyable, interesting and rewarding than just doing your own thing.  I suspect there will be more of this to come and it may be ‘better’ or it may just be ‘different’ – as long as we come out the end of it with something that people enjoy and find worthwhile it doesn’t really matter which.

 

 

 

 

 

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Things I’d like to see (part 1): Real diversity in the arts

I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot, a lot about this.  And, you know me, talking about it quite a bit.

The thing about diversity is – it’s quite diverse and there are going to be certain barriers that are specific to certain groups and not others.  It’s also not always helpful to lump people into bigger groups just for the ease of not having to spell everything out.  The needs of people with mobility challenges – in wheelchairs and so on, are not necessarily the same needs as those with sensory impairment challenges (hearing or sight loss) so you can’t just talk about ‘disability’ as if it was a big homogenous group.  Ditto BAME – that’s a lot of different people you’ve lumped in their in that 4 letter acronym.  The cultural backgrounds of different ethnic groups might not necessarily depend so much on their genetic ethnicity but where they were brought up, where their parents were brought up and the socio-economic circumstances of both their own and their family’s past generations.  A third generation black kid from a family of academics and diplomats isn’t going to face the same barriers to accessing the arts as the child of first generation Somalian imigrants working in low paid menial jobs.  We are all different… Or are we.

There is a degree of homogeneity in the arts and that is white, male, privileged and in control.  Sounds familiar?  Yes, it reflects government, banking, big business, etc, etc.  Clearly women have made a bit of an impact – we are no longer quite as marginalised and you could say that on the second rung of privilege were white, privileged women.  It should be said that having a disability of any kind in these two groups – will knock you down the rungs a bit.  It’s a snakes and ladders kind of game after all.

I don’t think quotas are the answer – even for women who actually are half the population.  Ethnic diversity in the UK is not as great as one might think – sitting in the centre of London – here in the capital we are nearly half and half, elsewhere in the UK that drops significantly.  That isn’t the point though.  Diversity in the arts isn’t about representation, about giving people a proportional share, because that isn’t the value of it.  The value – as it would be if we could ever crack diversity in political representation – is in the multiplicity of viewpoints, the variety of experience, the difference in approach not just to the idea of cultural diversity, but to all sorts of things that spring from variety.  Right now a lot of the people of influence, success and power in the arts have arrived their through the same routes, learning the same things in the same handful of institutions and taking the same paths to their achievement.  Right now there might be a few of them left that had a slightly different educational route – maybe even from a comprehensive, but as those few retire, the next generation will become even more identical.  Unless we do something about it of course.

What could we do – what is this thing I’d like to see?

Education – the Department of Education needs to stop faffing about tinkering with examinations and make up its mind whether it is going to have a National Curriculum – or not.  There is no point in a National Curriculum that is only enforced on c. 45% of schools.  If they aren’t going to bother – and given that the rhetoric over Free schools is that they are better ‘ because they can make free choices about what they teach’ it seems odd to impose what they are saying are less than ideal restrictions on the very schools they have direct control of.  So how do you influence what is taught if you don’t have a National Curriculum.  By performance measures in certain subjects – that’s how.  Currently it’s STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths) and it really ought to be STEAM – A for arts.  Every child should have the right to choose arts GCSE and A levels.

Engagement: Given that arts education in schools can be limited – there must be greater opportunities for children to engage with the arts through after-school clubs and through actual trips out to theatre, galleries, dance, concerts, etc.  I have been told anecdotally that in some areas there is no budget for trips as the parents can’t cover the costs and nor can the school – surely here is a worthy recipient of Arts Council lottery money?  The ability to attend after-school clubs can also be shut off due to weekly fees and ‘extras’ for kit and trips.  Again the poorest kids miss out.  But surely it isn’t beyond the wit of man to find a way to help out – if we can hand out free school meals, why not free school arts and sports?  It isn’t really that the stuff isn’t there for them either – there are lots of good companies, both aimed specifically at children and also big companies running education programmes – but if they aren’t properly funded to enable them to provide chunks of stuff for free then barriers pop up, but even if they do, people need to get to these places and get home again.

Visibility – it’s easier to see diversity in the arts if you are already engaged – on the stage and on tv it is possible to see all sorts of people from all sorts of background.  But that pool of diversity is shrinking and drying up, and the people behind the scenes, and the backers, producers and purse string holders remain resolutely white, privileged and often male.  It would be great to see more critical weight and more wide ranging media coverage of smaller and more interesting productions – it’s all very well to televise of live broadcast big star shows from big star companies – but how much better engagement would be if we also got some of the small stuff – maybe some of the stuff from the regions?  The Royal Exchange Manchester is churning out an extraordinary amount of theatre that addresses all sorts of different ‘gaps’ in the system – using ‘mainstream’ plays they bring different view points – recently an all black ‘All My Sons’ and coming soon Maxine Peake in Hamlet – where are the live broadcasts from Manchester?  I recently had Theatre Royal Plymouth rehearsing in the space I manage in London.  I said ‘look forward to seeing the reviews’ and they laughed, sadly, and said ‘you won’t see any reviews. No-one will come to Plymouth’ – how outrageous is that?  Fabulous things could be going on all over the country but unless you are right next door – we’ll never know – because national critics can’t be bothered or can’t get the expense budget to stay overnight.

This is just a starting point and I’d really welcome comments either challenging what I’m saying and offering an alternative approach or giving some ideas of what else we could do, how else we can make this happen.   I just want to see it happen – I don’t claim to have any or all of the solutions that can make that so.

 

 

 

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Ask the Artist

Last night I went to the first Provocation to come out of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value – it was titled ‘Are cuts to funding the greatest threat to culture?’

Now the Commission are quite clear that they need some better working definition of ‘Culture’ but it seems to me, and certainly was implied by the panel, that when we are talking about ‘cuts to funding’ we are talking about ‘cuts to funding in the arts’ and in this context we are therefore talking about the value of arts (and how that then becomes a value to culture).

My thinking is this:

Arts are the artist’s interrogation of and response to the world around them.  This results in expression of some kind – not always a product, not always for public consumption.  It may only result in leading the artist to some new process or response.

Culture is the diffusion of these expressions into society – at the strongest level – where they are coming direct from the artist they are what we might traditionally call ‘Culture’ – exhibitions, theatrical performances, symphonies.  At their most diffuse they are in the adverts we watch, the video games we play and the memes and norms we accept as part of our society and national identity (I have a lot more to say about this but I’ll keep it brief here!).

As such the artist is an essential part of any debate about arts and culture. 

Extraordinarily given the theme of this provocation, not a single artist was represented on the panel (the project itself in terms of both Commissioners and Academics is low on any kind of creative worker).   The two rather gloomy economists pretty much suggested that the arts would just have to suck it up and hope to come out the other side of economic austerity by being ingenious and stoic.  That rather incensed me.  This was followed by some debate about funding of institutions and organisations, with interventions about private funding from the floor.  Once or twice Alan Davey from the Arts Council mentioned the need to nurture talent.  Bev Skeggs, a sociologist from Goldsmiths, spoke up for the need for Education to be addressed particularly in relation to maintaining diversity in the arts (another massive topic for another day).   But if the value of the artist was acknowledge it was in some kind of assumed or implied way or referenced as a product: ‘talent’.  This made me cross, so when it came to question time I asked my question, which was something like:

“Where is the voice of the artist in this debate, in this commission?  If we value the arts do we not by implication value the artist? The artists of this country have done far more in subsidising the arts in this country than either government or private investment.  We are the people with two jobs, paying taxes, working at a grassroots level.  On David Cameron’s (alleged) favourite CD there is a track that begins “Everything is free now, that’s what they say.  But we’re going to do it anyway, even if it doesn’t pay” and this is the cultural norm in the UK.  If we are going to change that, and I think we should, then you need to give artists a voice in these debates and discussions.”

Well that’s what I think I said, I don’t have a transcript so no doubt I will be corrected.

My comment about the artists subsidising the arts raised a round of applause.  The actual question was greeted with a rather panicky silence from the panel followed by some rather unspecific answers.  I doubt anyone had thought about why there were no artists on the panel, why there was no artist represented except as an ‘arts installation’ outside the room the debate was held in (a fact which to me says something so literal about patronage and the patronising of artists that it is mind boggling that so many clever people couldn’t see it).

Alan Davey, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, was about to answer me when the debate was moved on because of time constraints.  So this morning I wrote to him and asked if he would like to make his response.  This was my letter:

“We spoke briefly last night at the Warwick Commission provocation.  I was the person who asked the question about the artist’s voice (and I should clarify that by artist I mean all those involved in creative practice: artists, dancers, musicians, actors, directors, writers).  I didn’t feel that I quite got my message across to you and that you thought I was in some way attacking you/the Arts Council.  This was certainly not my intention and I could see that you were one of the people on the panel who had some concern for those actually creating the art – rather than just institutions and organisations.

I know that the Arts Council does do valuable work to help artists access funding but my real point was about actually asking artists to take part in debates and conversations about funding and arts and culture strategy – not from a ‘give us some more money’ point of view, but to find out from them what they think needs to be done to sustain the arts in the UK during this period of ‘austerity’ (whether you believe in it or not it’s certainly real enough for the people holding the purse strings). 

It may be that if you involved the artists themselves in these discussions they would not be about ‘more’ money but how that money might be better spent to encourage a pipeline of talent that would feed into the both the cultural world generally (the psycho-social value of culture) as well as our growing commercial creative sector (the economic value of culture).  If we do not value our artists and encourage them at the grassroots then the arts scene will be dominated by art made by and for an elite of rich people and rich people’s children.  Real talent will move away from the UK and with it our dominance of the cultural economy and cultural head space of the world.

There is plenty to be said about the role of Education in this debate.  But I would again urge you to use the Arts Council as a way of engaging artists’ voices in these discussions.  Don’t just talk to the people running organisations and institutions that employ people or commission them.  The majority of artists are not on salaries, are not ‘employed’ in any real sense by an organisation, they live from commission to commission, a day’s work here, a month there.  Their views will be different from those who have buildings to maintain and employees’ jobs and welfare to consider.  You might find those views a refreshing change or you might find them an additional challenge, but I would make the plea that you at least attempt to get them heard, both by the Arts Council itself, but also by those that you, as an agency, interact with in both Government, private philanthropy and the creative industries.

If I was over-emphatic yesterday and appeared aggressive I do apologise – this is a subject I am extremely passionate about and that is sometimes hard to channel into polite conversation!”

This was his response:

“I never really got onto the involving artists bit – which I really do believe in – and we have to make sure we do it.  Only on Monday we involved some artists in looking at our approach to ‘Rebalancing Cultural Capital’ and the result was brilliant.  We were told firmly where our arguments missed the point and where we should be stronger.  I think we need to involve artists as we evolve things or we’ll be irrelevant”

Both the evolution and the involvement will be good if they happen!  I’d make another plea though.  Don’t just involve the artists you know about, that you fund, or have achieved success.  Try and talk to the ones who aren’t emerging, but who emerged and then retreated, who were full of promise but have been stalled by lack of opportunity, lack of space, lack of financial security.  There are a lot of things that artists need in order to do their work that aren’t anything to do with money – not cash money.  They need space, they need a voice, they need opportunities, they need supportive networks.  They need these to not be bound by stupid briefs and rules and regulations that tick some funder/sponsor/investor boxes.   Or provided by people who want to guide them and mould them and ‘mentor’ them into the accepted mainstream or the accepted alternatives.  Ask us! Ask us what we need.  Ask us what we think the strategy should be for supporting arts and culture in the UK, because we are the people who are going to have to make it happen and we are the people with the creativity and imagination that might find solutions you haven’t even thought of yet.   As Robert Peston pointed out – this is something that computers and robots can’t do!

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Say No to the Status Quo – how to use your vote to make change happen

Step 1: Find out who is standing for election – not just the big parties who will be letter-bombing your door with leaflets… Make a list.

Step 2: Cross out anybody you would never vote for – whether the person or the party

Step 3: What’s Left?

Some parties you’ve voted for before but are now disillusioned with

Some parties you’ve considered but don’t know much about

Some independents you know nothing about

Step 4: Do some research

Find out about parties you’ve never voted for but might now consider

Find out about independent candidates and what they stand for

Step 5: Draw up a list of things you care about that are affected by Government policy – health, education, airport expansion, train fares, badgers, whatever.

Step 6: Cross check your list of what you care about with the parties and people you might consider voting for

Maybe have a scoring system – you can weight it – say 5 if they match on an issue you are really passionate about and 2 if you care about it, and 1 if it’s just something you think is an ‘ought to do’ rather than particularly emotive for you.

Step 7: You’ll either have a clear winner – that you can now vote for – in the event of a tie vote for the woman candidate, or if they are both women – toss a coin.

If you still can’t find anyone to vote for – spoil your ballot paper – be counted as disenchanted not disenfranchised – people died so you can vote.

For info on how things are run in the UK: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/

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Show me the evidence!

George and Dave may still be intent on showing us the money but I say “show me the evidence!”

In the last decade, with almost global access (and input into) the internet and its many web-based resources, we have moved towards (and continue to move towards) a culture and society based on evidence.

In the 21st Century it would be impossible for the writers of Chariots of Fire (to pick one small example) to get away with the number of historical inaccuracies it contains and which probably allow it to be a ‘better story’.  Any real-life drama can be checked against documentary evidence and if it ignores the truth then there will be a backlash (Argo/Ben Affleck).

There should be little room then, you would think, for woolly, opinion based, emotional policies and decisions in business and politics.

Alas no.  Whilst we increasingly demand that our friends and colleagues back up their casual assertions with ‘proofs’ (often drawn from that miracle of the modern world Wikipedia), we do not seem to put the same onus on government when it comes to policy.

Why not?

Well, I would put forward (the only semi-evidence based) opinion that successive UK governments have failed to see the increasing importance of data gathering if they are to create policies that address (and utilise) the increasing complexities of the world we live in.

SIC codes (Standard Industrial Classification) which the government uses to analyse growth in different areas of the economy have not been significantly revised since the 1940s.  How can you know which sectors to prioritise and where government investment and incentives should go for maximum effect – if you don’t have an accurate picture of what’s going on?

Health data is currently inadequate to the task of needs based commissioning.  And yet if we were able to implement commissioning based on what was needed now and looking at evidence based trends for the future we could probably achieve massive efficiency savings for the NHS.  The catastrophic and expensive failure of the NHS National Programme for IT is helping to hold progress back.  Everyone is scared of making another massive mistake.  And yet we now have technology that is more connectable and work could be done at least at local level to redress the data gap.

I’m happy to admit that I don’t have any hard evidence or data to support my hunch that not having the right data might actually be useful to politicians.  An incomplete picture is more capable of interpretation than a complete one.

Gathering data is a tedious business, for those who set out to do so.  And for us, the public, endlessly filling out monitoring forms and surveys. But I think we must bit the bullet and ask for MORE!

I’m not advocating a Big Brother exercise here.  The data can be anonymous and/or anonymised.  Before we challenge the right of government to ask for more details – to help it plan better our services, economic growth and the governance of the country – we might stop and think about the data we regularly give away for a free to purely commercial organisations – such as supermarkets and marketeers – just in return for a few pence off our shopping or a free gift opportunity.

We must demand and encourage proper evidence based spending by our councils and CCGs.  They should be pulling data from all available sources – understanding it through a ‘sticky note’ process of querying it with those putting it together and using it to commit our limited resources, whether manpower or budget, to the areas that have greatest need and greatest benefit.

We must have an economic programme that places emphasis on sectors of the economy according to their proportionate value to the future prosperity of the country – not based on an emotional attachment to one type of business or another – manufacturing giving way to financial services as the favoured child – whilst creative industries – as profitable to the GDP as finance – fights on despite lack of real government investment.

You rarely here any pundit – even a creative one – complaining that the creative industries will up-sticks and leave the UK due to some new economic policy produced by the Government and yet were they do to so the impact would be enormous.  Even the so called ‘subsidised’ sector might be better called ‘not for profit’ – and even then often turns a profit through other spin off vehicles.  Those ‘subsidies’ and ‘grants’ should be seen as investments – ones that often produce a good financial return directly to the tax-payer and where they do not provide investment in the talent pool that the Creative Industries use to leverage billions of pounds of GDP.  Returns on tax payer investment in the arts are often greater in terms of tax revenue than the original grant – can the same be said of our subsidised banks?

Sense about Science has an ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign – I think this should be broadened to all tax payer spending, all government planning and policy:

Ask for evidence from our council about why and how they are spending your money

Ask for evidence from your MP about the reasoning behind policies that affect you

Ask for evidence from government (and any political party you might vote into government) for their policies

And then check that evidence against what you know, and what you can find out – after all the evidence is out there waiting to be found.

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Punishing the Unloved

Yeah, well, thanks Dave!

I’d like to be married.  Maybe I’ll still get a chance at it.  As I head over the hill of 50 though it is statistically unlikely.  Sadly, I just haven’t found love.  I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault but I have had feedback:

“too fat”

“too loud”

“too old”

“too opinionated”

So maybe, I am somewhat to blame.  But you see I didn’t want to compromise. Not on love.  After all, I’m not a politician, so compromise isn’t in my nature.

Instead I’ve diverted my energies (that might otherwise have been directed at my partner and my children should I have been so blessed) into my career, into volunteering, into creating things and generally into doing my best to help make the world a better place.  Which would benefit not just me, my family and friends, but also all those happily married family types as well.

And yet, for some reason, the government thinks I should be punished for this.  Punished for being unloved.  I’ll be paying more in tax than those happy couples who have officially joined themselves together.  Who enjoy the long term security of a loving home and get all the emotional benefits of marriage.  Now they get extra money for it too.

Someone will have to fund that tax rebate – once again it will be me – working, single, healthy.  Because we’re the people who pay in: taxes, voluntary effort, support and care, and don’t take out.

Thanks Mr Cameron, thanks a bunch.

 

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Challenges for the Arts – response to Maria Miller (et al)

Maria Miller has made her speech and many have responded, mostly we are rehearsing the old arguments, couched in terms that Government can understand.  I am going on Monday to a meeting of the movement ‘What Next’ which seeks to look at what happens to the arts now and in the future.  In preparation for that meeting I wanted to clarify what I thought were the key issues we should, as arts practitioners and supporters, focus on.  So here are my thoughts – comments are very welcome (although trolling not so much so) as creative input is really what it’s all about.

Education

Arts education has been demoted by successive governments to either an ‘add-on’ subject or only valued as vocational training.

We need proper arts education pre-exam choice in order that all pupils understand the value of arts for themselves – creative thinking and engagement rather than creation of products, or development of specific skills, should be the aim of any pre-exam curriculum.

Examinations – all pupils should be able to select at least two arts subjects for both GCSE and A levels – there should not be restrictions on what people choose.  More focus should be given in the arts curricula to understanding the basis of art and creative thinking than demonstrating specific skills – vocational training has a place in education but not in academic examinations.

Vocational training – more value should be given to vocational training in the arts so that it can be a truly parallel stream for those who prefer the practical to the academic – conflating the two has done no favours to anyone.

Degrees and Research – funding for degrees and research should be reinstated –more needs to be done to encourage existing arts funders to fund scholarships, bursaries and fellowships in the arts to strengthen the academic basis.

Intellectual Property rights

The premise on which the Government is pushing through open access publishing should ring warning bells all over the arts world.

That premise is that when research has been funded from tax payers’ money the tax payer should get free and open access to the published research and be able to use the information contained therein on a Commons licence basis – only being required to attribute it to the original source.  This is a strange precedent to set and one that I believe the Government has not thought through.  Does that mean that anything funded by tax payers’ money should be free?  Are the rights to plays developed with Arts Council money now ours as tax-payers rather than the authors?  Let us be vigilant about the wording of any funding contracts.

More importantly this sends avery clear message to the public about their rights to access and use this information. This reinforces what we are already seeing, that the easy accessibility of images, writing, video, music via the internet creates in people the idea that everything is free and theirs for the taking.  I know of quite responsible law-abiding people who think that if they can download an audio book from a library cd then why not? They would, of course, think it crazy to take the same book in paper form and have it photocopied, and would never dream of actually stealing a library book.  However, because it is so easy, convenient (and untraceable) they don’t see it as theft – it does not remove the object from use by other people, they simply get a free copy.

Whilst loss of library income isn’t going to cause many publishers sleepless nights – the loss of income in the music and cinema/dvd industries is much more significant and more needs to be done to educate the public about IP and copyright – right from the point at which children start using computers.

Funding for the Arts

I have put this last, because education and IP tend to get ignored under a flood of highly emotive comment around funding.  I just think that if there was better arts education and better understanding of IP there might also be better understanding of the debate around arts funding.

Looking at the comments by Telegraph readers on Nick Hytner’s response to Maria Miller is interesting!  It is clear that our main challenge is changing not just the minds of those holding the purse strings but those voting for them and that is a challenge indeed!

The mechanisms of arts funding have changed little in the last 50 or so years, the Government funds some things – including big festivals, national events and some institutions, private philanthropy and corporate sponsors fund other things or part fund with the Government, and commercial organisations do manage to make a profit and self-fund other things.

What has changed in those years, and particularly since the late 80s/90s is the idea of why the Government should put money into the arts.  No Government money should ever be spent without demonstrable benefit to the people of the country of that Government – that’s a pretty basic democratic ideal – the problem comes in the way in which we define ‘benefit’.

In the past that benefit from the arts could be seen as the psycho-social benefit that arts bring to the individual, to communities and to the nation as a whole (for example the Festival of Britain or the Cultural Olympiad) – that psycho-social benefit could be seen as enough in itself – it did not have to relate back to economic benefit or a balance sheet of pounds expended versus pounds made/saved in other areas.  Adding to the ‘good’ of the nation was enough.

Since Thatcherism and the increasing immersion of not just the UK but the world into a Capitalist Reality all human interactions are becoming transactional.  Everything has a value in relation to everything else and fundamentally that value will be able to be defined economically and monetarily.  Because this has become a normalised way of thinking about the world around us, arts professionals have been forced to adopt this way of ‘thinking’ when dealing with government and commercial funders in order to ‘speak their language’ – many of us don’t believe in this but if the majority of the people we are presenting our arguments to do, then we must argue on this basis.  Our arguments are still strong – as demonstrated by many commentators on Maria Miller’s recent speech.  The problem is that arguing on this basis endorses the commercialisation of arts.  It also leads to the question  ‘if the non-profit making sector is supporting the profit-making sector, how come the latter isn’t putting more back into the arts?’ – which is whole different can of beans.

I think we need to find ways of formulating the case for the arts that don’t pander to an economic value system but demonstrate more clearly that the arts can help to create a new more sustainable UK, where wellbeing, happiness and social cohesion are the most important indicators of the country’s standing in the world rather than just a better balance sheet.

The government (and politicians generally – I am not excluding the opposition from any of the remarks above as the previous government was equally culpable) has a vested interest in not promoting the arts – certainly not as something that engages people in creative thinking above simple consumption.  With creative thinking we might be able to find a better way to run this country and a better way to create a sustainable economy (for just one example see Tim Jackson’s excellent book ‘Prosperity without Growth’) – we might create citizens who question and challenge the status quo and who ask for more than our current political system gives.  We might demand more than zombie politics and zombie economics.  Now why would any government want to support that?  Demoting arts education and cutting arts funding are politically driven acts – this could not have been made clearer than the recent egregious spending of £3.5m on the hagiography of Margaret Thatcher: “No money for the arts, but we do have money to spend on our own propaganda” – and let’s not just blame the Tories for that because the Labour front bench and past Prime Ministers were hardly standing up and protesting about it – they too have bought into the monetary thinking so let’s not kid ourselves that a change of Government will solve all ills.

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