Here is a hypertext poem
Click on the shiny blue links
Shining like micro-lighthouses
Here is a hypertext poem
Click on the shiny blue links
Shining like micro-lighthouses
What do you actually do, many people ask of Aspire. Do you provide products or services? Services or products? What do you sell? someone asked insistently this week when we were part of a trade mission to Skopje in Macedonia.
After some spinning around of the options – tickets? consultancies? projects? It occurred to me that we do all and none of things. No, what we sell are ideas. As simple and complex as that: ideas.
And we sell them to audiences, participants, staff, funders, project holders and stakeholders, past present and future. it’s not even as something as structured and regulated as knowledge or know-how although that’s part of the picture. No, It’s ideas. Widgets we are not.
The difficulty in selling ideas is that they’re difficult to demonstrate to people and say, there you are, there’s an idea. Would you like to buy it? We have neither have catalogues nor a website which advertises stuff we can sell on in a clear unambiguous way. An idea may as frequently be present on the back of a fag packet as it is in a business plan. Many of the better ones don’t even make it onto the fag packet.
Annoyingly for the accountants amongst us, ideas cannot be pinned down, measured or assessed with much confidence about their economic viability. Ideas are a bit like thought bubbles which lead to further thoughts, which lead to actions which lead to consequences –some beneficial and worthwhile, others unexpected and unwelcome.
We may –and do –produce many things over a year – but given the nature of the arts, these are frequently ephemeral, may just last for a few minutes or hours and may have taken many weeks or months of preparation for that big moment of arts production – when whoof! Its all gone in the flash of an eye, the curtain has come down, the houselights gone up and you’re left looking at a bare stage going, is that all there is?
The notion of arts as service is equally unreliable. Good arts activities will lead to personal experiences which are memorable, transferrable and irreversible. Once you participate in a workshop for example, you may not like it – but you can’t un-do the experience and you can’t take it back to the retailer complaining that you don’t like the colour, that it doesn’t fit or that you were given it by mistake by your grand-aunt. An arts workshop is for life, not just for Christmas. It’s a service you don’t always know what you’re going to be getting from it.
So, the products fade quickly and cost a small fortune to put together; the services may be modest and last for a few hours on a wet Tuesday afternoon in a school in Ellesmere Port.
But what they alll have in common is that the ideas that drives this economy lead to fundamental and vital experiences – learning, fun, play, entertainment, reflection, friendship, connection, love, humour and bewonderment.
Oh, and perhaps even immortality on a good day: a big claim for any business, to be sure, but one which ranks up there with the best of all human aspirational activity.
Dear local authority,
It has come to our attention that you are increasingly awarding tenders for arts projects to universities whose turnover is a zillion times higher than the value of that tender.
Do you not realise that you are undermining the sector you claim to represent?
Dear university, why do you insist on putting students on public projects which effectively takes the bread out of local artists mouths? Do you not realise you are shooting the local arts economy in the head every time you place an unqualified graduate into an arts project? Would you accept student doctors diagnosing your children’s health if they’d done just one year in medical school?
Dear local authority, why are you complicit with this act under the guise of getting ‘value of for money?’ Old mill owners got value for money by exploiting their workers to within an inch of their lives. Why are you contributing to this outdated industrial practice? And more importantly, why are you allowed to keep getting away with it?
Maybe you’ll appreciate our case once all your arts workers have lost their jobs because of your funding cuts and come back to the sector to look for work… Only to find there is a skeleton of a sector left because it’s been shafted by universities who place unqualified students on projects which should be run by qualified local professionals. And offer access to their so called ‘premium spaces’ in order to claw back some of the massive capital deficit they’ve built up in ‘investing’ in the local economy.
Dear local authority, dear university, please don’t coming looking to the sector to dig you out of a cultural desert in a few years time. The responsibility for that emptiness will be yours and the students who have long flown the city.
As Molesworth might have said in Down With Skool, ‘any fule kno’ that the impact the Romans have had on us is an unending list of civilising and culture enhancing benefits. Just take our roads as an example: they are long and straight, invariably lead to Rome, connect our major cultural centres, revolutionise industry and business growth and are directly responsible for the Highway Code and Motorway Service Stations.
The Arts, like any industry, have been blessed by the Roman approach to road building: so much so that we now regularly talk about arts and cultural infrastructure as if it were some kind of super cultural highway system. That infrastructure creates the biggest cultural players, determines how they connect with each other, and sets the rules on who else gets to set out on the nations cultural highways. It has its own version of the Highway Code with qualifications, progression opportunities and rules of engagement to boot. The concept of cultural infrastructure prioritises the importance of building based arts organisations, encourages the notion of entitlement and allows for small companies to tootle around housing estates like milk floats delivering their culture in bottles to grateful members of the public.
But what happens when the Romans leave town?
We’re seeing the effect of that now in our highways and byways. Roads fall into disrepair. Potholes are rife. Signage points in the wrong direction. We realise we’ve become reliant on a system which cannot do everything it promised to. The centre, as usual, can’t hold and things start to fall apart.
What we forget in the ever increasing gloom of broken highways and damaged cultural motorway infrastructure, are the byways which existed before the Romans ever trampled over our green and pleasent land. We used to have green roads, white roads, turnpikes, ridgeways, death roads and all manner of connections which allowed us to connect with differing communities and make sense of the wider world. This wasn’t about a counter cultural way of getting about – this was a far more complex way of getting about which generated many more views on the cultural landscape than the straight Roman Road would ever have allowed you to do.
With our larger cultural infrastructures such as the Arts Council and the local authorities facing whole sale restructuring, and hugely inflating competition for ever dwindling public resources, the Romans are now leaving town too. The promises of infrastructure – careers, qualifications, shorter journey times are now well and truly found wanting. Cultural traffic is grid locking in our cities and in our countrysides, there’s too many lorries for not enough country mile and the potholes are earning garages a pretty penny what with the damage to our suspension systems.
Many cultural organisations now can’t rely on the infrastructures of old to do what they need doing. We now need to reinvest ourselves in those highways and byways of old and make new connections on the equivalent of our white roads which don’t rely on the grace, favour and declining ability of the big funders of old to help us plot our way through the current contemporary cultural geography.
This is much, much more than working in partnership – the tired old dictum of the old infrastructures. This is about making new cultural spaces and places, new coherent multi-nodal cultural connections which demonstrate how cultural villages can connect, supply each other, develop their own longevity and take some ownership back of their own destiny.
What did the Romans ever do for us? Too much. It’s time we started doing it for ourselves.
Urban regeneration partnership initiatives – in which public, private and the voluntary sector collaborate in order to bring about the management of public services within neighbourhoods – have been a feature of the UK’s political landscape since the Thatcher government of the 1980s.
In 1999, the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) were commissioned jointly by the British government departments of culture (the DCMS) and education (the DfEE) to review the place of the arts and creativity in the curriculum.
They went on to publish All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education in 1999 which in turn led to the launch of the Creative Partnerships (CP) initiative: a programme of creativity and cultural education in 16 areas across England in 2001. Their aims were to provide school children with the opportunity to develop creativity in learning and to take part in cultural activities of the highest quality…. and provide ‘a powerful, focused, high profile and inspirational tool for change, genuinely capturing the imagination of children, parents and carers, teachers and communities.
Whilst CP came to an end earlier this year, its ethos of partnership working has been extended across many public sector organisations who have developed many different kinds of cultural initiatives from music education to cultural leadership to creative learning. Increasingly, these public sector organisations have identified themselves not only as funders but as partners too.
The impact of new forms of cultural partnership on the Early Years settings
This presentation will critically review within an Early Years context what this new form of cultural partnership has entailed and how it is played out in the classroom, the school, between organsiations and at a macro, policy level too. It ask questions such as:
• What is meant by partnership – by whom, when and in what context?
• How is partnership is manifested at operational and strategic levels?
• What might be principles of cultural partnership?
• How have these principles been implemented in the Early Years classroom?
• What factors prevent the development of a healthy cultural partnership?
Case studies involving the engagement of artists in early years contexts; cross-organisational planning and delivery; and how national policy impacts on practitioners at a local level will be discussed.
Learnings from on-line dating sites and lonely hearts club adverts will also be taken into account!
Download the presentation here:
Sickly sweet music.
Powerpoints slide in. And out.
Caution: Smug artists at work.
Who else is in the room?
Anna? Otta? Holland?
Arts are beyond words
Stuff goes into a
Different part of your brain.
We’re going to experience
An experiential journey
Towards some conclusions.
Add musician. Tommy? Reg? Dick?
It’s not easy
we’re not used to switching from left to right brain.
Tommy says Listen!
I gather peoples stories from turkey morocco
I’m juggling 2 cultures
Islam vs etc.
I’m going to tell you a story in music about a girl who came to Holland.
The frame has set the picture.
Had we not known this,
those pictures wouldn’t have been so obvious.
This is not beyond words at all.
But reliant on commentary.
Tommy part 2
The circle rationale,
Energy in the room is better
I get paid to learn new things this is my job
Training as a saxophonist
Were gonna sing a song together.
He gives melody
We give words
Give us a word that summarises this.
Thank you for sharing this learning experience
RE: 2-6th JUNE 2008 NAIROBI CITY, KENYA PEACE CULTURAL AND CREATIVE ARTS EXTRAVAGANZA – LETTER OF INVITATION
In respect to the above, it is my humble and sincere pleasure to take this opportunity to officially invite you in this occasion as both a participant as well as our Chief Guest Speaker. The theme of this event will be ‘The role of Culture and creative arts in Eliminating ethnicity and violence and child Abuse’. As you may be aware, Kenya recently was recently involved in post election political violence. God, through foreign countries helped us get out of it. But we will never want this to happen again in our country and the rest of the world hence this Forum….
There’s an early sense of this whole event being a complete fiasco: there’s no ‘event’ or ‘conference’ to speak of at all and a real sense of being spun a complete yarn. But today that’s ameliorated a bit what with the trip to St Filomena’s orphanage: small kids choirs complete with a matriarch and semi-pissed music teacher who seems to sing out of tune during most of his contribution. The setting cannot help evoke a sense of sombreness, as you soon find out that one kid (at least) has HIV / AIDS (+) who went (-); another has TB and sweats gently but persistently throughout the time we’re sat in a small water closet of a room, in which all give thanks, refer to the Lord a lot and emphasise the challenge they face.
Kids do impromptu, rehearsed skits or tricks for us visitors. One boy ripples his stomach in such a way to make it look like he has no stomach; another wriggles through the scrubby grass, worm like; another stalks the scrubland, shoulder blades pushed back to suggest a small, impoverished, rather pathetic lion. We clap, impressed, more wanting to encourage and appreciate the efforts they’ve gone to. As another girl is to point out later in the week, just being given a platform to be heard and seen is good for the morale, suggesting at it does that at least people are heard and seen here and haven’t become invisible to the rest of the world. One of the adults in the orphanage makes the same point towards the end of our visit: the biggest curse they face is that of invisibility. It’s in vain, it’s all in vain, they sing to us as we leave them.
One lad shows us a drawing of an aeroplane and his text of “I want to be a pilot” underneath makes you realise the only knowledge he has of planes is when one flies overhead. It transpires later that the orphanage is the site of many visits, many donors and that many children are taken out and entertained and made to feel a bit special for a moment or two.
This specialness is a bit of a set up. We visitors go there for the first time and it’s a special event for us and it comes laden with feelings of authenticity, uniqueness, walking on new (albeit scrubby) pastures: but actually this path is well trod, often trod and for these kids there is nothing special about having another gang of overseas tourists and foreigners comer to gawp at them, feel solemn and express feelings of wonderment and shock and horror and surprise: almost like a pilgrimage. There’s a potential funny side to this, with kids wiseing up to the daily gawping adults and playing it for all its worth.
Later, we head to a community centre in Dandora in the throes of being (re?)built / newly built, in the middle of which a dance troupe, Waza Afrika, take centre place. They go through aspects of their act for us ; good quality, entertain-the-tourist fodder it seems now, entertaining for all that but you wonder: after their talk of ‘preserving the culture’, about who the culture is being preserved for, by whom, for what purpose and at what cost (not just financially but ethically, aesthetically and spiritually).
This time we gawp without guilt, but in pleasure, tapping our feet along to the frenetic rhythms and the energy and enthusiasm which is stereotypically infectious, as are the whites of the eyes and teeth of the black boy and girl faces. Memories of the black and white minstrel show on English TV hovers in the background, as does the more pathetic routines of celidhs we have been to in which white adults jointly, severally, uniquely and individually, engage in some very half hearted, watered down grey tone routines and drills in a spirit that is equally grey , watered down and half hearted. At least the Kenyans do this kind of stuff in Technicolor and in stereo.
Meanwhile, a gang of youths, hover by the back window of the space, looking on silently, immobile and immune to the spectacle before them. A choreographic feast I call it later when talking to the group. They’re not let in as it could, according to Jackson, cause a security problem. But it is funny how un-infecting and how un-infectious these performances are to the audience who are perhaps most familiar with it: although perhaps not surprising either. The ‘dance-for-the-tourist’ is not the same thing as the ‘dance-for-our-community’ and local people can easily spot the differences and remain untouched and disinterested in the former, sensing and knowing that it bears a peculiar relation to the latter; perhaps having become a gross distortion in its desire to please the white visitor.
The day is held together by the heroic madcap driving of Joseph, the manager / finance officer / would be PhD student in London: but who didn’t get his visa in time and so who missed the plane. He drives through some pretty vile slum lands and places of the internally displaced persons – tyres, filth, dust, miniscule shops, ramshackle, chaotic, shit in the streets, vegetable stalls, chickens cooped up ready for slaughter, dangling off poles as they’re walked to meet their malign maker; pot holed roads with intermittent speed bumps so large they scrape a hefty layer of rust and metal off the bottom of the overladen hire car every time they’re driven over, burning grassland, Man Utd emblems, flame grilled burger hoardings, and row upon row upon row of people selling bedsteads – four posters by the look of them, as if its obvious that you’re going to have 2 kids / bed, you may as well have four per bed. 18 were crammed into one of the ‘bedrooms’ at St Filomenas: allocated into 4 beds, packed tightly together, one of which had a bed pan underneath it with something indescribable in it.
Here, even the shit looks worse than western shit. Consistency, colour, fluidity, solidity, smell, particularly the smell: all tell their own story of the undernourished peoples who have still managed to fill this pan with their overflowing guts and bladders. Despite not eating or drinking much, these peoples’ guts still manage to generate waste of a particularly malevolent type and in quantities which make you wonder where it’s all come from.
And what of the conference? Well, we and others are conferring although you wouldn’t call us delegates in the usual sense of the word. There are plenty of presentations in context, but no Powerpoints or data projectors are to be seen which distance the event from its context, or even extract the event and the context and re-package them both as a series of texts into the usual Microsoft package. Just what is this phenomenon of event / context / presentation all about? Yet more simulacra I guess.
There are a few discussions, of the adoring and praising type, but little critical conversation save what we ruminate about in the car and afterwards at the social part of the ‘conference’ -at the bar. Jackson refers, rightly, to this event as a remote conference , although its hard to suggest that there is any more than one delegate in this scenario, surrounded by a plethora of contributors, supporters and security surrogates.
Through the day we talk about what might be: trips to Liverpool for the dance troupe, possible student interventions in St Filomenas, my need to go to the British High Commission; possible strategic project building, all between blokes who haven’t met each other ever before. And here we are, planning a pioneering arts education event together as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Have we gone mad or what?
The presence of the Lord was felt this morning but was absent in the afternoon. It has permeated the last 48 hours though, with a sense of is there something brewing up here which would be potentially life shaping, and a sense that we’re in some deeper, faster flowing waters than we might care to admit to or feel comfortable with.