Every now and again I have a really inspiring meeting that draws together common threads from our work in Arts and Society with thinking from other people and the wider world. Yesterday was one such day. I was meeting the artist Lucy Steggals about the Creative Intersections project we are doing with King’s College London and our recent event showcasing the journey of this work with participating artists and academics – and recent learning and reflection from Arts and Social Change in Citizen Power Peterborough came flooding into the frame whilst hearing about Lucy’s experiences in Gravesend and the Isle of Sheppey.
We’ve just published a case study on the artist’s residencies. Called ‘Context Matters’ this is a reflective and observational document by Richard Ings about the experiences of the two residencies that I have curated for Arts and Social Change. Very much intended to be about sharing learning and experiences, this takes the first-hand views of the two artists, Joshua Sofaer and Simon Grennan along with the two community groups they worked with; Morland Court Residents’ Association and Peterborough Street Pastors respectively. This coupled with the Made in Peterborough commissions programme; the first with Encounters who devised the Take Me To project and the second with Joanna Rajkowska’s Peterborough Child sculpture – consolidated much of the fascinating consideration and challenge that needs to be borne out when working in ‘Any Place’ successfully where there are mutual outcomes needed for the many parties involved from the funder to the commissioner, from local residents to the artists themselves.
In embarking on the journey of working in communities with the arts, much of the consideration lies in where and how the artwork is conceived. Initially informed by the brief given to the artist and underpinned by the strength of support to the ideas within it from the local partnership, there needs to be a framework with which to engage at the beginning. This is then followed by flexibility so the ideas can be shaped and informed by local conversation and context. This need for flexibility and open acknowledgement across the stakeholders is crucial. We don’t know for sure how it is going to proceed until we’ve met the local people. If the first path chosen is not working then another needs to be taken and this takes time.
Establishing the trust for this to take place with the people you are working with is also paramount – and as an artist (and in our case, commissioner/producer) you give something of yourself to that. Friendships are established, mutual professional bonds develop, time (and sometimes budget) is spent way beyond the project brief to get the job done because you become invested in it and the people involved. You become part of the group.
Different artists work in different ways of course. For some, their approach means engagement locally begins once the work is installed and for others the work is informed entirely through local people making the decisions on the artwork. There exists in the middle and at the edges a process of co-design and co-creation. In introducing an artist to a place, much is led by the nature of the introduction to the local community. As an ‘outsider’ in many cases, whether it is as a facilitator, workshop leader or artist, this can play a significant role in the expectations and understanding of people locally – who if to be engaged need to have a sense of: Who are you? Why are you here? Who is the work for? Why should I bother to get involved?
All of which needs to be skilfully woven with the artist’s own integrity and practice. This is not about the artist dictating direction necessarily but about having a voice to shape and lead the project among all the parties involved.
In turn, this throws up the fascinating subject of where the art is created and where the real value of the work is held for the different people and stakeholders involved. In ‘socially engaged’ projects, sometimes it is necessary to pull back from the final product as being the end game (and therefore the sign of success) to instead consider the journey and process that has been crafted and experienced.
To quote Richard Ings in the case study “there is, in artist residencies generally, a creative tension between the artist’s prime function, which is to make art, and they social role they may be asked to play (or find themselves playing) – and about the role that the group or community they are working with should play in the realisation of this art”
If you are interested in these considerations and challenges, socially engaged artist Hannah Hull and ixia are exploring these ideas through the Critical Spaces network. Hannah is bringing together artists and conversations along this socially engaged arts/artists working with people theme to generate an artist-led critical voice and practice in the public realm.
There will also be more to follow from the RSA as the full suite of case studies and evaluation of Arts and Social Change, and Citizen Power more broadly are published online in the coming months.
Recently we held a roundtable at the RSA with the British Theatre Consortium on the theme of spectatorship and engagement. We explored the presumption that those working in the arts will increasingly need to justify public funding on the basis of being able to provide measurable benefits. This is easier to quantify when arts consumption involves direct participation, but as most arts experiences are non-participatory, we challenged, arts organisations will need to make spectatorship more engaging and active.
Once you dig under the surface, this becomes a complex subject. There is of course a difference between how institutions, particularly those with a building that needs to be regularly filled engage with their audiences, and how smaller organisations for whom participation is ‘the thing they do’, come to the table together on this subject. Many of this latter group feel that their work has not been recognised or appropriately valued (financially or otherwise); as the title of the recent conference from Connected Culture, the network that celebrates adult participatory arts, demonstrates. In choosing the name ‘Because we’re worth it’ they suggest a desire to change the perceptions around participatory arts whilst at the same time seriously grappling with the challenges of ‘genuine’ engagement and participation.
It would be really valuable to explore this place where arts participation and participatory arts meet.
It would be really valuable to explore this place where arts participation and participatory arts meet. Next time we should expose these hidden dichotomies, for it is all too easy to talk about artists and arts organisations as if they are homogenous. The State of the arts conference found this too. But the fact is that arts organisations are not all the same and we need to find a way of talking about these nuances otherwise the real nubs of the matter will remain ignored.
What should the starting point be? Leila Jankovich states that nearly 80% of those who participate in creative activity also attend arts events (according to the Taking Part survey). It is clear then that engagement of any kind may lead to a greater propensity to engage with other arts experiences in the future, ‘the challenge therefore is not the quality of what is engaged with, but with act of engagement itself’. This throws a challenge back to the Arts Council’s objective of ‘great art for everyone’. If our collective goal is a more enriched, open-minded and creative society perhaps there needs to be encouragement for all forms of participation in creative activity, irrespective of pre-conceived ideas of what is ‘quality’ or ‘great’.
One of the arts biggest challenges is raising its visibility, so the act of initial engagement is a really interesting one. Getting different sorts of people across the threshold can be a real challenge. There are interesting ways of thinking about this, the Birmingham Opera Company for instance, puts 50% of its tickets on sale to the general public (for those who know how to book in advance, have credit cards, are already going to go etc…) and the remaining 50% are distributed through the participants involved in the production. Contact Theatre place young people at the heart of everything they do. Their Future Fires project supports young emerging artists to plan and deliver their own community arts projects across Greater Manchester. Daniel Ainsworth is one such emerging artist. He is exploring with film and street art how extended periods of delayed re-development impact on a community’s day to day lives. He is inviting debate around the issues of displacement, unemployment and reduced local services in times of recession.
Daniel’s project sounds like it will enable the community of Miles Platting to articulate their thoughts and feelings about their situation in ways they perhaps didn’t know were possible which I think would appeal to Matthew Taylor’s assertion that we need to have a richer account of citizenship. This is an interesting thought because undoubtedly these accounts will vary significantly. If you ask someone what play they would like to see, they can only pick from a list of what they’ve already seen, people who have not had so many experiences in the arts do not know what the possibilities could be. For an account of citizenship to be truly rich we need to be engaged in many different ways and in many different forms.
From a policy and funding perspective, there is a significant challenge in how engagement and participation is measured.
From a policy and funding perspective, there is a significant challenge in how engagement and participation is measured. We lack a sophisticated way to represent depth of engagement and participation and in measuring the impact of this. You can have six people involved in project over three months and have a hundred people attend a final show. All 106 will go on to be counted as participants, yet the impact on these two groups and the individuals in them will be vastly different. If funding does drive the numbers game then those who engage with communities on a deeper level could be incentivised to lose these long term interventions and resulting relationships for quick, high volume wins – and what a loss this would be. But if the evidence from Taking Part is anything to go by then we need a scenario where all levels of engagement are encouraged – and then we need to have a better account of what it all means.
At the end of January I was part of a ‘Knowledge Exchange Network’ seminar organised by Leila Jancovich and her team at Leeds Metropolitan University held at the fittingly interdisciplinary home that is Culture Lab at Newcastle University. Through this Network Leila has successfully brought together policy makers, academics and practitioners to share research and ideas and to debate the issues around cultural engagement and participation. With a theme of engagement and participation in the arts on this particular day we focussed on the role that technology plays.
My contribution was around Citizen Power Peterborough and the social media approaches we’ve adopted, with some of the lessons learnt along way as a project that is trying to communicate what we are doing in the city whilst trying to involve and enthuse people in that as much as possible.
I thought I’d share some of the conversation here as it turned towards how the arts and technologies can be a tool for engaging people, here’s some of the abbreviated highlights:
- Social media offers great opportunity to share cultural content through networks of networks
- You can tell people about your work and generate a buzz when it might be challenging to do so on the street
- Social media can be a creative force behind new forms of cultural production as shown by the Royal Opera House and Mudlark/Royal Shakespeare Company
- Film is hugely powerful, participatory and largely accessible as a device for community groups. Check out Citizen Power’s Rebecca Daddow and the FREE group’s simple, effecting film
- Initiatives like NT Live showed how technologies open up new audiences and create a new kind of cultural experience through sharing live content in cinemas
- Social media can encourage people to come back to the local
- Social media doesn’t replace face to face – instead it should strengthen and deepen real life
- Be careful there is a digital divide and social media excludes some groups totally creating a new form of exclusion
- Equally social media can be used as a way over overcoming social exclusion for some groups
- But resist the pressure to always be new. Don’t innovate for the sake of it. If it works already, great, stick with it and see if you can’t make it bigger. This is what business would do.
There’s conference that brings together all the different themes explored by the Knowledge Exchange Network; internationalism, engagement strategies, place and geography and socially engaged practice on Tuesday 26 June at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. To join the off-line conversation book here.
Last week I attended the launch of the UK Arts Index at the House of Commons hosted by the Liberal Democrat MP, Don Foster. Brought to life by the actor Samuel West, a Trustee of the National Campaign for the Arts, who are one of the authors of the Index along with Audiences UK, it was introduced as a new annual health check for the arts. The Index uses robust, publicly available information which has been gathered from 2007/08. And there is a range of twenty indicators from ‘financial inputs’ (including lottery, Treasury, business contributions) to ‘cultural and community outputs’ (like attendance, participation and satisfaction indicators) which enable a final index figure to be arrived at, along with a series of headlines that outline any marked changes in the indicators over the years. Mark Brown’s Culture Cuts blog illustrates these headlines rather neatly.
as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed
The Index has been designed as a way of comparing between the English regions and much was made of the comparative levels of Treasury investment in the arts. From the 2009/10 figures investment in London was £22.43 per head and in the East region the same calculation gave a figure of at £1.89. There is a danger here in simple statistics as you do need an explanation alongside to help unpick the meaning and bring the story to life. East-based Matthew Linley helpfully looks at the findings here and what it means in terms of satisfaction of arts provision. Matthew also outlines that it is next year’s Index that will prove interesting in terms of telling the story of the economic impact on the arts as the ‘triple squeeze’ really affects arts organisations; that is, the time when funding decisions by Arts Council England and local authorities will actually hit home and audiences continue to have their disposable incomes squeezed.
The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, and his counterpart the Shadow Minister, Dan Jarvis were both in attendance and welcomed the inaugural Arts Index. Mr Vaizey stated ‘the Arts Index will be the first time that this information has been brought together in this way and I’m sure it will be a helpful tool for the sector’. I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government to as part of the evidence base to make the case for investment in the arts and so start looking for the gaps (that could be filled) in their being able to do this effectively.
I would contend that for this Index to be truly successful it should become a tool that the minister himself and his team can use in their conversations and negotiations within government
In a constructive and collaborative spirit, the NCA and Audiences UK indicated that they are looking to build on this data and add other useful metrics to the Index so it will continue to develop into a more comprehensive, statistically robust picture. The fact that the Index uses data in this way makes the case for the long view on collecting statistics. Over time as further metrics emerge around cultural entitlement, social and wellbeing impacts these so-called ‘softer’ measurements will hopefully also form a key part of the picture.
The full Index is available here (if you are a member) and if not then the Executive Summary is available for everyone else.
Technically speaking there is not actually a blog roll up yet. But stay with me, this is what I am working on and the reason for this missive. The more I dip my big toe into the world of social media the more you realise that there is a whole load out there for the taking. I don’t mean in the illegal download sense, no, why that would be wrong, I mean in the sharing of information, views and news sense. I’m in up to my waist now and keen to go further.
Excitingly as the number of blog posts here at the RSA increase (and you may have noticed some changes with our blog appearance lately), the more readers there are coming to check out what is being said and being mulled over. There are also more bloggers out there than ever before and I’m here to reach out. I’m creating an ‘arts and society’ blogroll. I pledge to keep it updated and make the blogs suggested ones that we think are genuinely interesting, perhaps provocative, generous and with something great to say (no pressure there then) all contained in a short and sweet dedicated area just to the right hand side here where different blogs will come and go.
So how to compose this list then, well I have a few ideas already and in going through an organic process of finding out what is out there, seeing what I read myself, tweeting on this, looking at online newspapers and asking colleagues I arrive at the next step in that process… asking you. I’ll just jump straight in with it – which arts and culture, social commentary-type blogs would you recommend taking a read of? Got one you write yourself? One that makes you think? I’m all ears. And eyes.
Last night I braved the mountain that is the Angel underground escalator (and somewhat of a personal nemesis) to head on to the City University’s ‘Interdisciplinary Centre for Creativity in Professional Practice’ seminar on creative catalysts. Their speaker was an Icelandic artist/architect by the name of Illugi Eysteinsson and his energetic presentation and style of communication made it much more of a two-way conversation than that of the traditional passive observer vs presenter. But what I wanted to share was some of the key ideas that Illugi proposed about approaches to managing creative community projects gleaned from his 17 years of working in community arts settings.
Illugi advocated four considered steps:
1. ‘a piecemeal approach’ that is to say slowly, slowly, softly, softly. Build confidences, test abilities, find out what people are capable of and start to lead and coax the group.
2. Next ‘de-mystify creativity’. He says that people believe that art is an unreachable thing, something not for them but for other more educated people. By showing that creativity is within everyone the mental barriers start to fall.
3. ‘Validates an individual’s uniqueness’. Appreciate unconditionally whatever a participant does and has to offer. Everyone can make a contribution.
4. Lastly ‘create an environment to express’. This is a challenging one, aim to create a mutual bubble for the group somewhere where is it safe to explore ideas and make ‘mistakes’ and can move from the position of leader to steward.
In real life projects with community groups who by their nature are so diverse, ranging from for example a group of Kurdish women to a group of adults with learning difficulties and their carers, that there is a tangible skill in being able to manage all the external factors present which impact on the project being successful or not. Illugi highlighted that consideration needs to the given to cultural and linguistic differences, the skills and abilities of the group and the expectation and values systems that people hold so that individuals participating can get the most out of the experience as possible.
The point that Illugi made in the case of himself, was that he brings knowledge and passion for architecture, of form, shape and colour – takes this creative process and through this gently explores concepts such as design, construction and scale. Ultimately though it is the creation of the final product (in one case an amazing map of central London made to scale using food created by many different community groups) which is the thing. The photographs of this food map were truly amazing but what also appeared to have been created were stronger relationships within these groups, a greater confidence, an opportunity to express themselves in ways they had before, and for their families and friends to see them in a different light.
In the Arts and Society team we are developing a new project called ‘Making Culture Work’ that will explore all of the value that is created across a creative project – from all the different people involved be they artists, the participants, the project leads or the commissioners. It will enable artists and non-artists to be clearer about the social outcomes and benefits of their work as well as the creative ones and be able to talk about them confidently. Two fabulous fellows are jointly working with us on this, John Knell and Mandy Barnett, and John will be blogging about Making Culture Work soon, so watch this space…
Last week I watched Imagine: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman with double persona of Grayson Perry talking about his latest exhibition which is on at the British Museum until February next year. It was wonderful hearing Grayson talk about his art, and the personal meaning and significance behind his artistic choices – and the endearing Alan Measles. As a result of this the depth of understanding or critique it is now possible to have with the show will be greater, more informed and will also act as a nudge for me to go along. So why isn’t there more programming like this? And I don’t mean that the format should have to follow the style of Imagine – a programme that is broadcast at 10.45pm when most people are calling it a day and heading to bed though iPlayer may have changed all that, it is also I’d say aimed squarely at one type of audience – an already predisposed, highly literate one. And sure you could go along to Grayson’s talk but this only really works if you happen to live near where they are taking place. But TV, that is for the masses, in your home and in your face.
Hearing Grayson talk about his own views on galleries, what he considers to be bad art and how the placing of objects in galleries in order to give them significance and importance they’d not have otherwise, makes me think how vital and compelling it is to hear artists’ opinions and in the case of ‘Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ whether the visitors attending the British Museum would find this exhibition all the more enriching and insightful if they too had seen the Imagine documentary on TV.
Though television is undoubtedly a compelling medium, the drug of the nation and all that, could a greater, more varied line in accessible programming on art really make a difference to the quality of debate and to audience figures in the real world? The Turner Prize nominees are currently showing their wares at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and in a wonderfully refreshing way after you come through the exhibition on your way out, you are directed past a café. The Turner Prize café is a comfortable place of chairs and tables, pencils, notepads and reflection – and people who have just experienced the same show as you. What this social space invites is a place to contemplate further what you have just seen with the means to pour out on paper what you might be thinking and a wall to post your observations should you wish.
But what I loved about this relaxed arrangement is that all this accompanies a perfectly sized big screen showing a 10 minute film on a loop interviewing the nominees Martin Boyce, Karla Black, George Shaw and Hilary Lloyd. This is thought through further as on each table sits a neat, moveable, volume-adjustable speaker. The sharing of tables encourages conversations to strike up between strangers as the Turner Prize goers swop thoughts and emotions augmented by their new knowledge gained from the film.
For the film focuses on the artists and their work – which for me resulted in being able to put a face of a regular man or woman to those sculptures, video installation and enamel paint I’d just seen. Someone who looked like anyone one of the people around me. It was the immediacy of being able to do that which is what makes it work, your thoughts and emotions are so fresh, you need to respond. The art becomes more accessible and real as you hear the honest, down to earth account of what inspires these artists to create and how they feel about what they do create. After all, this is what the judges will know.
When one of the nominees, Hilary Lloyd said ‘there’s this idea that you should somehow have to understand art and ‘get it’. I don’t think it is like that’ the man opposite me palpably relaxed. The interviewer asked her what her installation is supposed to mean, to which she replies laughing ‘can you answer it and I’ll see if I can agree.’ Which compelled the man to write on his ‘shlurp and churp’ pad.
there’s this idea that you should somehow have to understand art and ‘get it’. I don’t think it is like that
In the film you also get a glimpse of the wider body of their work, the rooms at BALTIC are small with such few examples of the artist’s work that it is hard to feel immersed in any one of them. The film helps to change that too.
As visitor numbers at BALTIC may well have hit 50,000 in the opening fortnight I wonder what impact the café has had on people’s experiences. Judging by the wall, visitors are keen to engage with the work and express their opinions. It is fascinating to read these insights and work out who the people’s vote would award the prize to. Here are a few of these.
So is television the answer to rich public engagement? Develop audiences on TV and they will go out and seek the real, the live and the physical experience? Could programming that also includes those without a degree in Fine Art be a way to draw people into the world of an artist and alternative ways of seeing the world around them?
What I do know right now is that it’s hats off to BALTIC for their lovely Turner Prize café and their very friendly staff.
The recent news that The Pitmen Painters which began life at Newcastle’s Live Theatre before moving to the National Theatre and Broadway has found another lease of life on London’s West End reminded me again of this jewel of an example of how public investment in the arts can lead to sustained success in commercial markets creating jobs, turnover and a big feel good factor in the bargain.
So it is really pleasing to see that one of the sector skills councils for the creative industries, Creative and Cultural Skills along with Arts Council and NESTA are currently commissioning research into the relationship between the subsidised arts and commercial creative industries with respect to training and the movement of talented people between the two. What is particularly welcome about this research is the focus on the arts within the constructed creative industries definition. Too often the arts constituents of the creative industries get lost amongst the big boys of advertising, television and media.
Particularly it is the diversity in scale of creative businesses, the complexity of supply chains between many of the creative industry sub-sectors and the business classification system that make it a tough job to robustly advocate on behalf of all the creative industries.
The Creative Industries Council who met for the first time this July have been given the job of sorting some of this out, set up to be a voice for the creative industries to government. They will focus on areas where there are barriers to growth such as accessing finance, finding new markets and skills development. Given the challenge for the arts of being seen beyond the Department of Culture, Media and Sport it is good news that the Creative Industries Council is chaired by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable. The challenge still remains to better understand the role arts play and their relationships, across the whole gamut, from writers, illustrators, artists, designer makers, lighting technicians, dancers, theatre makers to name but a few – in the creative industries sector.
Creative and Cultural Skills rightly say that more sophisticated public funding decisions will need to be made in the future and the stronger the evidence base demonstrating the contribution of the arts within the creative industries sector and the wider economy the easier it will be to champion the arts as a part of that. Not that pound signs should be the only way of understanding the arts contribution to society.
In the summer the Treasury announced a discussion on the Green Book, the bible for civil servants that provides guidance on how ministerial proposals should be assessed before allocating public funds. Opening up the debate on how ‘non-market’ impacts, like health, wellbeing and the environment are considered in budgetary terms is of course a step in the right direction. Here at the RSA we are keen to contribute to this debate. We are about to begin a project looking at understanding impact and value across the whole of a cultural project called Making Culture Work. Watch this space.
PIRC, the authors of the Common Cause Handbook have really drawn me into their recent provocation that one of the most overlooked factors in encouraging a change in behaviours is consideration of the set of ‘values’ that motivate people. These are at the root of attitudes, behaviours and decisions – and ultimately the way people view the world and yet are commonly not addressed by policy makers, campaigners or community groups.
When it comes to the very real challenge of climate change the arts can enable people to take step back, re-imagine new futures and reflect on the relationships we have with each other. There’s an exhibition currently showing at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich which does just that. Matt Clark of United Visual Arts has created an installation called ‘High Arctic, Visions of a Receding World’ following a Cape Farewell trip in which the entire gallery space of the new Sammy Ofer wing has been transported to 2100 AD and the Arctic landscape as we know it has changed irreparably. It asks questions of us such as ‘how will we choose to remember the Arctic past?’ and ‘is it possible to travel somewhere that no longer exists?’ in so doing encourages people to question their relationship with the world.
A Tipping Point commission, my last car by 509 Arts kicking off in Warwick will creatively confront the fundamental influences the motor car has had on people’s lives and then translate those into an examination of sustainability. When it comes to values it doesn’t get more entrenched than this, the car is so much part of our culture, psyche and identity it is impossible to suggest a curbing of car use without people feeling that their very human rights are being infringed. But experiences of socially engaged art work like this do play their part in shaping people’s values. One of the points the Common Cause writers make is that intrinsic values, such as freedom, creativity and self-respect are often pitted against extrinsic values such as wealth, preservation of self–image and authority in a ‘good v bad’ type moral tussle when in fact, everyone holds all these values but places importance on some more than others, which in itself also changes at different times.
The greater the exposure that people are able to have to varying creative experiences like High Arctic and my last car and a greater number of commissioners in this field then the richer the public (and dinner table) debate will be on social and environmental issues, how we feel about them (our values) and respond (or ignore) them in our daily lives.
Overall there is a very compelling case for examining values more closely to gain a better understanding of how it could be possible to bring about lasting social and environmental change. This September the inaugural Interrogate Festival being held at Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon is focussing on social justice and income equality by bringing together a combination of debate, workshops, film, performance and comedy and is part of doing just that.
But do people do what they say? There is evidence that the ‘value-action gap’ - which is to say that pro-social or environmental beliefs and attitudes do not necessarily translate into positive social or environmental behaviours – is actually smaller that you’d think so says Professor Gregory R. Maio, a guest blogger for Green Alliance…
So at the moment I am ingratiating myself with the current debates and discussions around arts and climate change. Those in this field or familiar with it will be aware of the RSA Arts and Ecology work that has taken place over the last few years, and we have been considering on how to build on this and to help further the debate.
The other night the Green Alliance held their summer reception at the Royal Opera House their deliberately provocative topic for the evening was ‘What have the arts ever done for the environment?’ And following a fantastic excerpt from the Opera Group’s Seven Angels about a neglected garden to fix the arts in our minds, the debate ensued under the chairing of Alison Tickell from Julie’s Bicycle amongst a largely arty panel of Jude Kelly, Matthew Taylor, Dr David Frame, Ben Todd and Peter Randall-Page. The thing that got me was how the debate reverted to type around the ‘instrumental vs intrinsic’ debate. Artists should not be instrumental it was claimed to much nodding and agreement. The arts as a moral compass? That’s an abhorrent idea. Yet the plot thickened later on with declarations such as ‘I don’t like it that artists shouldn’t be allowed to show works that have a moral view’ and ‘artists should not be afraid to make you think (about) how you live your lives, what is necessary’.
Why can’t both instrumental and intrinsic qualities be valued together or indeed separately in and of themselves at different times? Where is the space for artists to decide? Why is there a homogenous view of artists and what art should be? Audiences are hugely varied, they can cope.
The idea that we should stop cutting down rainforests because of their inherent value is absolutely valid but not cutting them down because they could contain the cure for cancer is important too. Why the need for either, or? Perhaps it is because the inherent value gets lost somewhere within the messaging if it becomes all about the message. But then where do you draw the line between say, an artist, an illustrator, a graphic designer or a creative communications professional. Creativity is so very blurry.
The debate is picked up head on in the John Knell paper ‘Arts funding, Austerity and the Big Society’. It asserts that the case for the arts needs to be re-made and in doing so that instrumentalism needs to be reinvented. Knell argues that ‘the so-called arts for arts sake plea – is a form of instrumentalism and that understanding the deeper value of the arts is better advanced by envisioning a spectrum of instrumental arguments that can be made, rather than a polarity in which one pole always trumps the other’.
This brings us to the ‘value’ word. In the same paper, Bill Ivey talks about a need for a new set of research metrics that link the public’s contact with a vibrant arts scene to overall quality of life – with the long term result that the health of our cultural, healthcare and transport systems are considered of equal value by policy makers. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The Liverpool Arts Regeneration Consortium is paving the way on this front with its recent intrinsic impact study that investigates a range of reactions an audience member may have to a specific performance or visual experience such as ‘captivation, intellectual stimulation, emotional resilience, spiritual value, aesthetic growth and social bonding’. I’m looking forward to reading this in more detail as the next step for climate change art has to be exploring impact, so we can better articulate value in this context for policy makers and provide ways to better engage the public with this work. Don’t you think?