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The last issue of the Economist (June 15–21st) brings up the topic of the tremendous cuts in art funding that we’ve seen in UK the last few years.
The viewpoint in the article is from Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, an art centre opened in 2002 in one of the abandoned mills along the river Tyne in NorthEast England. The Baltic was a former flour mill opened in the 1950s and closed in 1981. The transformation to a significant art center was led by (Swedish) founding director Sune Nordgren and cost 50 million pounds, money coming from mainly the National Lottery Fund, Arts Council, the region, and European Union.
We’ve seen it in many places all around Europe and elsewhere; industrial ruins become art centres, galleries, art studios, incubators within arts and culture.
The Italian Professor of Cultural Economics (IULM University, Milan), Pier Luigi Sacco, calls this process by a name: Culture-led local development processes or System-Wide Cultural Districts. He uses Newcastle as one example of culture-led local development processes in is his paper Culture as an Engine of Local Development Processes: System-Wide Cultural Districts (2008).
P L Sacco argues that art and culture is an important base for local development. If the right energy and mix of cross-boarder cooperation from the cultural scene, business community, authorities, and money are there, a positive local development can take place.
But as the article in Economist notes, it’s hard to measure the payback of money spent on art and culture, and it’s difficult to justify art spending to the larger group of tax payers.
”The truth is that the economic value of art is often as hard to quantify as its social or aesthetic benefits. That makes it vulnerable to cuts in tough times”, the article argues.
UK is one of the European countries that has cut the art budget with as much as, some figures note, 40%. This means less money to artists within all artforms, closing down many of the regional offices promoting art and culture, less money to the Art Council, and so forth. Regrettable but perhaps inevitable, Economist states. Money needs to be secured from other funding resources, mainly private.
It’s a problem on many levels. The lack of methods to properly measure effects of art and culture is one. Another is funding. Experiences show that private funding might be easier to find for building icon buildings, but is not a reliable source of income for production of art.
If new large cultural icons such as Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art are to be able to bring tourists and have an effect on the overall economy, and in time pay back the investment to the local community; visual and conceptual artists, film-makers, handicraft artists, designers, musicians, poets, and others are needed to fill these large buildings with content.
Whose responsibility are their working conditions?
Adrian de la Court and Sian Prime, MA Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths University of London, hovers around the class, enthusiastically supporting the discussions and work that is being developed in the groups. And then the difficult questions to challenge the students to go deeper in their understanding, reveal a bit more, go to the bottom of all those words so easily used.
We, eight people from the GoDown Arts Center in Nairobi together with myself, have joined one of the classes in Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths. The task is to map each individual’s strengths and assets, and come to a conclusion of the group assets. Find the deficit. Map the geographical area you are in. What assets are there around you? What possibilities does it reveal?
The work is done with paper, colored pens, lego-pieces, straws, rubberbands – anything that can help you illustrate your ideas. Envision them. The energy in the room is on top.
A few lessons from his experience was the following:
1) It’s all about sharing, and it’s amazing what you can achieve if you are not interested in taking credit for it.
2) There are moments in leadership where new ideas are put forward that no-one knows what they will lead to. To get people on board you might have to ”bullshit” a little. Do it with brilliance. Everyone knows how it works. If you are wrong, you can work that out later.
3) Don’t underestimate the formal meetings even in an informal setting. We sometimes assume people we work with know more than they actually do. Be careful. It’s better to say things twice than not say it at all. It shows openness.
4) Chairing meetings is an important task. Create an opportunity for people to speak their mind. Listen even if you are loosing the argument. Shared knowledge gives better results.
The meeting was held at the Hub Westminister, in itself an interesting place for developing ideas around social entrepreneurship.
In economic downturns, cultural is often the area easy to cut. Compared to health and care, art and culture is often seen as something extra. Still we turn to poetry or music, theatre or dance to help us feel hope, dreams, inspiration, or help us through mourning and grief in hard times. Art is often the glue, the cement, that hold people together.
To find ways for art and culture to develop and better sustain itself is a mission of Nätverkstan. A society with different voices and artistic expressions and possibilities to practice art is a rich one.
Leadership is just one of all topics to work with in culture, but an interesting one. In Sweden cultural leadership is rarely spoken of, yet a new more holistic view on leadership is needed.
For several years a Cultural Leadership Award was run by Nesta in UK that had this view. It was run by lottery money bud had to close down four years ago. The Cultural Leadership Programme at Arts Council has continued in the same spirit with important training possibilities for leaders in culture. But also this was closed down as late as in March this year due to the large economic cuts in the UK economy.
To make sure we have an interesting cultural life and artistic scene in Europe, investments in the field are necessary. A lot is needed, from economic conditions that make it possible to live and work as an artist, as well as development possibilities as an artist or leader of cultural institutions and organizations. For an EU believing culture is the future, this needs to be on the agenda.
Interesting reports have been written of these initiatives, read for instant ”The Cultural Leadership Reader” by Sue Kay and Katie Venner. Read more posts on Cultural Leadership here. Also visit the Clore programme.
The UK’s top business lobbying organization CBI is calling for better recognition of the creative industries contribution to British economy, the Guardian says in an article last Friday (March 25).
On a talk at Pinewood Studios (where films like Harry Potter and James Bond were filmed) the CBI General Director John Cridland gave his support and worry of the British Film Industry and was saying:
The creative industries are a big part of the CBI’s plans for a more dynamic and rebalanced economy, and the country’s future success is tied up with their success. I think they’re a part of the business community that deserves championing.
In a letter to the Observer, some of UK’s famous artists within film, TV and theatre send a warning of what the drastic cuts in UK funding to art will do. The main message being that less public money to the art field will have serious effects on British economy. Creative industries have contributed more than 7 billion pounds a year to the economy.
An article in BBC News report on the appeal where Dame Helen Mirren, the actress, are one of the artists stating that investment in the arts brings in (as they put it) ”staggering” return for the country. If cultural policy is dismantled, it will have effects on creative industries and the economy as a whole.
October 20th 2010 was named Axe Wednesday by British press due to the government announcement of massive cuts in the UK budget in all areas of society. Within arts it has meant cuts over all fields within culture, and just the Arts Council England, distributing money to a large amount of arts venues, theatres, and galleries, had its budget cut by around 30 percent.
Swedish Counsellor for Cultural Affairs in London, Carl Otto Werkelid, says in a short interview on the Swedish Government website, that UK is facing a huge tightening of public finances. The cultural field is still holding its breath in the wait of seeing what concrete effects the cuts will have for the arts. The appeal yesterday was perhaps a change in the waiting. Carl Otto Werkelid is talking about a paradigm shift that will have effects way beyond the boarders of UK.
Read the original letter to the Observer here.
Read the article in the BBC News about the appeal by British artists here.
Read the Guardian on the culture cuts here.
Read a short post on the changes in UK here.
And read the interview of Carl Otto Werkelid here (in Swedish).
It looks like the politics on creative industries started by the New Labour in 1997 has come to an end. The incentives started in the late 90s were new and has contributed to create a market for small-scale cultural businesses, models that have been exported in Europe, all the way to Shanghai in Far East. UK has long been seen as the cradle of creative industries.
When Chris Smith was appointed by Tony Blair in 1997 to be Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports, he could continue a process started in the 80s centred around Greater London Council (GLC). GLC described the cultural scene in London as the new ”industry” being important for creativity, social inclusion and economy. It was an attempt to describe cultural initiatives as the new industry and redefine a term first used by the two critical theorists Horkheimer and Adorno. The two were upon their arrival to the US in the 1940s chocked by how popular culture was produced in almost a factory way producing standardized culture goods. It was like an industry, they said in disgust.
The Greater London Council changed the understanding of cultural industries in the 90s, to instead describe the small-scale, cooking, multi-skilled cultural life with a potential and importance for the economy in London. Chris Smith could pick up and continue on this road, creative industries have grown and has become an important part of society and, many reports have confirmed, contribute in a substantial way to economy.
This is an epoch now being buried. Tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct 20) is Axe Wednesday, as it has been called in UK, where the government will announce massive cuts in all sectors of society. TV-news is showing expected figures of 500.000 public jobs being lost. Culture is expecting around 40% cuts in funding.
Two large factors have completely reshaped the scene: The financial crisis and the Conservative government.
The present government is reinterpreting creative industries to mainly concern media, dismantling what most understand as the large contribution of cultural industries; social inclusion, regional development, and labour market.
Several effects are expected in the cultural field, such as a total dismantling of cultural policy where for example the Film Commission has seen its last days, a complete dismantling of the regional level, a probable redefining and change of creative industries, cuts on most cultural development agencies, enormous cuts in the universities which means more focus on employability and less money on research and long-term learning.
Will this mean that we see the end of creative industries?
Interviews done in London, 18-19 October 2010, a project commissioned by Region Västra Götaland (Sweden) to do a small knowledge and research survey. Interviewed were Paul Owens at Burns Owens Partnership, Tom Fleming at Tom Fleming Creative Consultancy, Sian Prime, Director of MA Creative and Cultural Entrepreneursip at Goldsmiths University, and Gerald Lidstone, Director of Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths University.
Surrounded by many of the larger banks in the financial district in London, you find the new non-profit contemporary Art exhibition centre Raven Row. It’s quite anonymous; you easily walk by the low building with the white front, but finding it is rewarding. While the banks and financiers are busy dealing with the recession and building trust, the current exhibition at Raven Row is dealing with other processes in society; the disobedience, subversive cultural ideas, the Art that is often on the edge of what is accepted by society.
”A history of irritated material” is curated by Danish curator Lars Bang Larsen, who explains the title as referring to the relation between Art, and social and psychological reality. Video clips of protest marches, freedom fighters, witness stories, and trials are shown in a set of TVs, works of the New York based Group Material is exhibited together with Artists like Swedish Sture Johannesson. His famous poster from 1968 of the naked woman with a hash-pipe in her hand (Hash Girl) is significant for the exhibition. The poster was done for Lund Art Exhibition Hall (Southern Sweden), but the exhibition was never shown. It was accused of being drug romantic and Sture Johannesson himself stole his controversial posters that made politicians see red from the exhibition hall. The Director at the time, Folke Edwards, was accused of being sex and drug romantic just by showing this work of the well-known Artist. It all ended with the Director leaving his job just after a short time on the post.
Perhaps less subversive, but definitely not mainstream were two concerts at Union Chapel the previous night. Two Swedish bands played in the church, built in 1876 to 1877, from 1991 used as a venue for cultural events (combined with worship, baptism, weddings). The two-people-band The Tiny, and then First Aid Kit, two young women of 17 and 19 years old, inspired by the hippie and country movement of the 70s combined with new sound. Both wonderful bands that manage to form Artistic talent into their own music, their own thing. Funny we have to go to London to see them.
A walk by Tate Modern also leaves traces. The Polish contemporary Artist Miroslaw Balka and his piece ”How it is” is both overwhelming and scary. The work is a gigantic container placed in the big open hall at Tate. Walking around the container you feel small, yes, tiny, and in one short-end you enter at a large ramp and walk towards the darkness inside. A chill along the spine as scary film-clips of Holocaust where people in masses walked in to uncertainty come to mind, yet when we are walking we are safe. We know that, but still…What will we meet inside? The exhibition keeps itching and irritating the mind the rest of the day.
And among these visits, we do study visits to discuss social entrepreneurship with Ian Baker at School for Social Entrepreneurs, cultural leadership with Venu Dhupa and Nicola Turner, and the development of the workshop ”The Art of living of Art” together with Sian Prime.
Read this text by Lars Bang Larsen on social liability. Some links in relation to School for Social Entrepreneurs are found here, here and for reports and evaluations here. Most photos are taken by Helena Persson, a few with Iphone.
We sit right above the swimming pool, in a former swimming hall, for our meeting with Kate Oakley at City University London (UK). The changing lockers are still on the side, but now used as storage of books and documents. It’s nice, somehow. Nothing can be changed in the hall, Kate Oakley tells us. So if you remove the floor the swimming pool is still there. Now neatly covered and transformed to one of the meeting points and reading rooms for students. Kate Oakley is a writer, policy analyst, and now visiting Professor at Department of Cultural Policy and Management. She has followed and written a lot about creative industries and the new British independents, i.e. the small-scale entrepreneurs. We meet her to talk about the Cultural Leadership Programme at the City University and also creative industries. Where is it going?
UK is the cradle of cultural and creative industries, introduced about a decade ago by the Blair Labour Government and their Creative Industries Mapping Document. But what will happen now with the notion of cultural and creative industries? Kate Oakley says, after some thinking, that she sees a division in argument between on one hand ”creativity”, and the other ”innovation”. This means that you will find those who argue stronger for the Arts and Arts Policy, and those who enforce innovation in the more narrow sense where aesthetics are used to raise value in more traditional businesses. The creative industries managed to show the practice and everyday life of culture and cultural entrepreneurs, something that tends to get lost in this division.
So, where is the question of creative industries in UK nowadays? 2010 is election year and it’s always a time when not much will happen. And it does seem like the question has slipped from the Labour’s priorities. The Conservatives, on the other hand seem to show more interest in cultural heritage than creative industries. Maybe the recession has forced other priorities in focus, maybe not enough advocacies and lobbying from cultural politicians on fellow politicians in other areas has been done? An experience from a project in Western Sweden with Artists and politicians show that many cultural politicians feel a lack of arguments in relation to other political areas.
At Creative Choices website you find After the Crunch, a book trying to put light on these issues, and also thoughts about ”So what’s next”. Terry Flew and Stuart Cunningham wrote the book Creative Industries after the First Decade of Debate, and in 2008 you could listen to many of the leading researchers within cultural and creative industries at a one-day symposium at Milton Keynes, ”The Creative Industries: Ten Years After”. Nätverkstan was there, read about it here. This facts file from UK Department of Culture, Media and Sports from 2002 might be useful: ci_fact_file.pdf.
The visit to London is part of a study visit done by Kulturverkstan, the two-year Project Management Training Programme, run by Nätverkstan. Photos taken with Iphone.
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