I am writing while listening to Adele singing ‘Someone Like you’ at the Brit Awards in 2011. The song is intensely emotional in the literal sense of e-mote, to move, and though I am not crying, I feel that the song matters deeply, that her voice connects directly to a non-conscious part of me that is otherwise hard to reach.
The conventional wisdom is that the song is all about the experience of losing somebody you love, and that we relate to the song at that level of projective identification. That may be true for some, but I think it is a relatively shallow interpretation. The emotional connection feels deeper than shared memories of heartache.
I became aware of Adele’s voice long after she was a superstar, and enjoyed it all the more because I had not been swept up by her stardom and could appreciate the music on my own terms. I found myself playing Youtube videos of her songs for hours on end. I felt slightly uneasy about this, if only because there is definitely a part of me (admittedly not a particularly worthy part) that feels a bit shocked to be moved by a 20-something from Tottenham singing about her ex-boyfriend.
In this respect, it may be possible to connect details of Adele’s biography, particularly her father walking out on the family when she was two, and playing a limited role in her upbringing, to the reason her album 21 in general, but ‘Someone like you’ in particular, feels more primal than a mere loss of a young lover. On this theory, she may think she is singing about her ex-boyfriend, about romantic pain, but really it is about a deeper sense of existential abandonment, the perennial search for missing parts of oneself.
That’s pure speculation, but the point is that music seems to connect to the form of our emotions, not the content. Music doesn’t generally make us feel e.g. sadness, joy, grief etc, but it does tap into the form of emotion we are feeling and changes its ‘shape’; how deep, how intense, how sublime and so forth.
“Music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern.”
There are lots of sources on musicology who have addressed these questions in more depth than I can here. For instance, I remember Czikszentmihlayi writes of three levels of musical appreciation in his classic book, Flow. From memory, these are hedonic appreciation(sensory pleasure in the moment), analogical appreciation(this is like something else, makes me think of people, times and places etc- this level is often used to explain the success of ‘someone like you’). And then there is technical appreciation, which you only really grasp when you are a trained musician who knows how much skill is involved in producing the combination of harmonies, melodies and so forth that gives rise to the musical experience.
There is also a psychological explanation that is more cognitive in nature, unpacked in a relatively recent piece in the Wall Street Journal called ‘Anatomy of a Tear Jerker’.
One key feature of a powerful song, it seems, is ”appoggiatura“: “A type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”
The article suggests tear jerkers share at least four features:
1) They began softly and then suddenly became loud.
2) They included an abrupt entrance of a new “voice,” either a new instrument or harmony.
3) And they often involved an expansion of the frequencies played.
4) All the passages contained unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.
The authors argue: “Music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern.”
“The more emotions a song provokes—whether depressing or uplifting—the more we crave the song”.
There is also a neuroscientific dimension. Measuring listeners’ responses, Dr. Zatorre’s team found that goose bumps correlate with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, even when the music is extremely sad. Moreover, as the music business already knows, the more emotions a song provokes—whether depressing or uplifting—the more we crave the song.
Apparently ‘Someone like you’, with the sonorous voice, periodic surprises and soulful lyrics is a classic in this regard, so if you do nothing else good today, take a few moments to enjoy.
I’m in the middle of evaluating the Arts and Social Change strand of Citizen Power Peterborough. I don’t want to get into the details of the programme itself – read here if you’d like a primer – but rather, to talk about a few interesting problems that the evaluation has thrown up.
Evaluating something like Arts and Social Change isn’t about measuring ‘success vs. failure’ – if everything in the project was a ‘success’ in that narrow definition, then there would be no learning and the project as a whole would have failed. Citizen Power Peterborough has above all been an experiment – and nowhere more so than in Arts and Social Change. The goal is to find out what impact, if any, the arts can have on positive social change, and this has been pursued through a number of targeted arts-based interventions in Peterborough. Some projects have been hugely successful in terms of impact, others partly so (with important findings), and all have been able to adapt as they progressed, reflecting on-the-ground realities, new ideas and preliminary results.
The Arts and Social Change programme has run according to a set of principles; one of those principles is emergence. To paraphrase broadly, this is the idea that interventions in complex structures (like the communities of Peterborough) will lead to multiple, complex outcomes – the kind that can’t easily be predicted at the outset. These kinds of findings are extremely valuable, because they can only be brought to light through hands-on experimentation.
So, to recap: a huge experiment in a complex structure, where accurate prediction is all but impossible, where there are high levels of reflexivity, and where only the broadest of goals (increasing attachment, participation and innovation) were known at the start. How do you evaluate an experiment like the above?
One tactic is to do what many people would do when faced with a big problem: break it down into a series of smaller, more manageable problems. Arts and Social Change ran as a series of interconnected strands, linking with other parts of the Citizen Power programme: these strands were much smaller and more responsive, with fewer participants from all sides. They had more specific goals (such as ‘increasing community cohesion’) and tentative measures for their individual success or failure. Evaluating the strands themselves in this way will certainly be part of the final evaluation, and it’s incredibly exciting and positive to get to delve into the programme at that kind of level.
It would be missing a trick, though, to evaluate the whole programme by the success of its parts. Talking to people involved, one of the programme’s real (and if we’re not careful, hidden) successes has been its impact upon the ‘bigger picture’. To give an example: one of the first documents I came across whilst researching, was a letter to the Evening Telegraph (Peterborough’s local paper) from a resident, describing an intervention that had been quite strongly criticised by the paper: “…I found it one of the most enlightening and thought-provoking activities that I have ever taken part in. I still find it hard to believe that the city council had the courage to help fund this, but I am very glad that they did.” Read her words carefully once more, and try to recall the last time a Council-funded programme made you feel that way. How do you measure enlightenment? Was it ‘good value for money’? The author measures the cost favourably against some other council spending (and she makes a convincing case), but could you price the “most enlightening and thought-provoking” events in your life? I know I couldn’t. Impacts like this, if they can be nailed down and cogently articulated, give the lie to those who see the arts as an ‘optional extra’ – a luxury to be cut when money’s tight.
Consider this: I like knowing my neighbours, but I have enough social capital that I don’t rely on them – if I have personal or professional difficulties, I have plenty of places to turn to. I like where I live, but if I had to move, I’m pretty certain I’d be fine. It’s not like that for everyone. We’re talking about real interventions in places where community ties, family bonds and professional networks are all under incredible strain, and where without support, a space for dialogue and the ability to explore together, things are unlikely to improve. Art can make that happen, in a way that little else can, and Arts and Social Change is in a unique position to show how. I’ve heard neighbourhood managers talk about how an intervention has fundamentally altered how they see their work, civil society leaders tell of a re-invigorated sense of collective self-belief, and residents describe moving from isolation, to feeling that they are involved in a shared project – a shared life – with those around them.
But how to capture all that? We’re all going to face some extraordinary pressures over the next few months and years, and Peterborough will face as many of them as anywhere. If we can articulate the many things that have been learned by Peterborough’s residents, then we can share them, and play a part in handing powerful tools (for free!) to communities who need them most.
I write this with a nice glass of Pinot Noir next to me in hopes this will aid the creation of moments of insights, as suggested by Jonah Lehrer in his RSA talk on creativity last night. Indeed he speaks of the increase of alpha waves that lead to those ‘aha’ moments being induced by putting your mind at ease – hence the wine. Do I regard my glass of wine as leading to a wasting of time? Certainly hope so, but Lehrer spoke of how we have too narrow a view of what productive time looks like, critiquing our obsession with efficiency and lists. He quoted Einstein with ” Creativity is the residue of wasted time “ in making his point about wasted time leading to new discoveries.
Joe Hallgarten’s recent blog speaks of the value of cross disciplinary reflection and it is the potential for new insights unlocked through imaginative interplay between incongruous influences that drives a project we are doing with Kings College. In the Artist as Citizen and Cultural Intermediary , we are looking at the conditions that enable partnerships between artists and academics from very diverse areas of practice but also at what practical benefits might be realised from these differences.
The project was also inspired by Richard Sennet’s recent book Together which explores how we are losing the ‘cooperation skills needed to make a complex society work’ and of course these skills exercised through working with people who think and practice differently to ourselves. But I wanted this project to go further and consciously create an environment where curiosity about the ‘other’ and accessing new lenses to re-see one’s work was the driving force with a valuing of difference as the underpinning principle. The invitation for difference worked – the project attracted interest from across the College, mostly from science and medicine and we have attracted artists and small arts organisations, who for the most part, have no history of working with academics. The ‘with’ word is critical. We tend to settle in transactional partnerships,that can suffer from being utilitarian and miss the possibilities generated from real exchange. There can be a failure to grasp what the ‘other’ has to offer.
I’ve long been a believer in epiphanies being more likely in such places as the shower where, as Lehrer suggests, one has the space from incessant external voices such as mobile phones. Putting your mind at ease releases our alpha waves which in turn offers a chance for the inner quiet voice and those discoveries which can come out of the blue. As an actor, I always learned my lines while walking – the combination of activity, mild distraction of the senses and the rhythm of my steps worked for the most demanding of speeches. But how can you bring a metaphorical shower to a meeting of strangers that will lead to the formation of partnerships? Interestingly I found many of Lehrer’s prompts for the generation of creativity worked for us in practice this last Tuesday.
We began our first day together with metaphor, each of us sharing an object that would illustrate what excited us most about our work, in the hopes that this would create connections between us. Of course, this also required all our participants to be willing to take a risk, enter a world quite unfamiliar to their normal working lives and give time for partnerships characterised by difference. Dare I say it, the additional willingness to experiment was a crucial criteria and I think this involves an awareness of the wasting time principle that Lehrer speaks of – getting away from the focused rational and linear approach to problem solving and trying perhaps surprising and counter-intuitive approaches. Lehrer speaks of the brain being particularly good at metaphors helping us to bind things together. This technique of working through metaphor to describe what we are curious about can develop a collaborative language that helps to transcend the challenges of the differences in our working languages and our usual referential shortcuts. If we agree that we need a different kind of conversation to generate transformation, then a language rooted in metaphor is a good beginning.
Another challenge for this first meeting was how to get beyond politeness and the inevitable desire to please, natural to a meeting of strangers and move to a dynamic of critical friendship where each partner could assess the relevance of these particular strangers’ approaches to their own working practices. And this is where we applied the ‘shower principle’ with enforced moments of observation, reflection and prioritisation. Like many in the arts, I use a technique called the ‘silent gallery’ where participants can observe each others’ ideas in silence in order to conceive critical responses. Dissent and refinement of ideas is encouraged, but importantly within an environment of trust where each voice has an equal status, silence can have a distinct role in exchange.
Lehrer was very critical of the use of brainstorming techniques and quite right too in the regard that used unwisely, this provides fresh but superficial and ill expressed ideas without critique. However, as a technique to get everyone’s voice heard and to loosen rigid thinking, they can be helpful if used in conjunction with refining and critiquing the ideas expressed.
But for all this commitment to new ways of working, new perspectives and trying experimental approaches, it does also get down to the people themselves and the relationships formed. That’s another thing Lehrer spoke about - that it is still important to be there ‘in the flesh’ so to speak. The extraordinary value of just showing up. He spoke of a very revealing statistic; that in spite of the huge increase in skype as a remote communication tool, attendance at conferences has doubled. In spite of increasing demands on our time, people value being together. I’ll continue to blog about the development of this project and hope that some of our partners will be doing so as well, but for all of us it will be curiosity that sustains the exchange. And of course, a commitment to wasting time…
Filed under: Arts and Society, Social Economy, Uncategorized
Ok, so blogging to me is like writing is to Irvine Welsh – I’m a binge blogger. I promised another email on a new project which I’ll post on Monday, but here is another…
I have started reading Nietzsche again after a few years of not doing so and he’s keeping me awake at night. I started reading him when I was 15 and return to his ideas time and again. It’s a mild obsession that is probably quite healthy. Reading him is exhilarating, even if (perhaps partly because) I find myself swearing at him and protesting with him at very regular intervals.
One of the key trains of thought in his work is the importance of opposites, or better still, apparent opposites. He begins Beyond Good and Evil by chastising philosophers for their love of truth and goodness over falsehood and evil, partly because he thinks they’re self-deluding (everything for him is a perspective which reminds me of Ian McGilchrist’s brilliant Heideggerian-influenced analysis of attention in The Master and his Emissary) and insincere, but also because he contends that evil and falsehood, or how our society understands them, are positive, creative forces that enable people and society to flourish – there is a very interesting link here to “positive deviance” (another current obsession of mine) I’ll take up another time.
This has got me thinking about happiness. The ideal of happiness is deeply embedded in Western thought. Aristotle wrote of happiness being the highest human virtue that should guide how we live our lives and also how we view ourselves and others. Utilitarian’s like Bentham and Mill had a very different understanding of happiness but also considered it to be the essential goal of life.
One of their big differences is the status of pleasure in their respective conceptions of happiness which, as Foucault shows in the final volumes of The History of Sexuality, has been an enduring problem for Western culture for the best part of two and half thousand years. While Aristotle largely considered pleasure to be dangerous, anticipating much of what Freud said on the necessity of sexual repression for maintaining social order, Bentham often seemed to make a virtue of pleasure, at times suggesting that happiness can be subsumed within it.
The Government now seeks to measure happiness as a way of determining the performance of government. When David Cameron first spoke about introducing a ‘happiness index’ to measure how the country is doing many people rejected the idea out of hand. Much of the commentary (from left and right) was rather silly, but legitimate questions were raised regarding the challenges of defining happiness and then measuring it.
One question not asked was why happiness? The question sounds ridiculous to the ear, frightening even, which says a great deal about our modern addiction to the promise of happiness. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the nagging suspicion that happiness might be a false prophet – the more you search for it the more elusive it becomes. In a strange Lacanian way, the act of talking, or at least feeling the need to talk about something, often says more about its absence or lack. Examples abound: the screwed up psychoanalyst treating other people’s neuroses, the self-styled child care expert who neglects the basic needs of their own children, and the libidinous priest who preaches the virtue of abstinence.
Nietzsche considered happiness a shallow virtue. To negate suffering is to negate an important part of life itself. Suffering, he argued, produces a wisdom and deep insight into life that happiness (or what people describe as happiness) can cover up, burying the drive, creativity and life-affirming intensity hardship often produces. He urged people to seek out suffering and hardship as an exercise in self-affirmation and development. I wouldn’t go so far – in any case, it’s hardly like we need to search very hard or far for it – but his reflections on truth and suffering tell us important things about the hidden value of apparent opposites and the need to think differently and to question even our most deeply-held beliefs.
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.
Wellbeing has become a hot political issue. Now it’s going to be measured, so that the nation’s wellbeing can be tracked along with more traditional economic measures of how society is doing. The Office for National Statistics is in charge of working out how best to measure it, which is no mean feat.
A set of proposed domains has been put together by the ONS and as part of a consultation exercise we all have the opportunity to respond. Yesterday, I received two emails from former colleagues who are heavily involved in arts for wellbeing, drawing attention to the fact that the proposed domains make no mention of the arts or creativity. This is clearly a huge oversight, and leaves me slightly tempted to make dreadfully judgemental assumptions about the worldview of statisticians, but that would be short-sighted of me.
Art is the most important vehicle we have as a society to understand ourselves, our relationships with others and our place in the world.
Personally, I’ve always known, in an intuitive, guttural way, that the arts matter. Art is the most important vehicle we have as a society to understand ourselves, our relationships with others and our place in the world. Moments of celebration, bewilderment or desperation often only really make sense and come to take on their full meaning because we can connect to an artistic expression of what’s happening in our lives. Art brings things to the surface that nothing else can, whether it’s being moved to tears by a perfectly played piano, feeling the real meaning of war by looking at a painting, or laughing with liberated abandon when we recognise our own foibles in another’s artistic utterance.
Certainly, art helps us through. But that’s not to say it’s just a luxury. In my view it is a necessity. We need art in order to pose questions and propose solutions to them, to challenge, protest and defend. At the peak of an impassioned chat about what’s wrong with the world, a good friend of mine once said to me that ‘the true test of everything is the arts’. In these times of multiple crises, we need the arts more than ever, to help us understand problems and come up with solutions. It’s not just about wellbeing, it’s about survival.
We need art in order to pose questions and propose solutions to them, to challenge, protest and defend.
So, of course arts and creativity should be included in the ONS wellbeing domains. But, even assuming enough people say so in the consultation, we need to be clear that these new measures are only ever going to be capable of sketching the vaguest picture of where we are on the wellbeing spectrum.
I quite frequently get my knickers in a twist about the inherent problems of measuring things. If you ask people questions, they answer them, but there are lots of reasons why the answers often don’t really mean much: desirability bias (saying what you think you should say rather than what you really think), suggestivity (ask someone if something is dangerous and you’ve planted the seed that it might be) and reductiveness (with complex things like attitudes, or wellbeing, the answer is often ‘it depends’, which can’t be captured by the bipolar response scales favoured by statisticians).
One of the huge challenges facing the arts is the obsession our society has recently developed with having an evidence base for everything. You can only fund your interactive art workshop for, say, young people in care, if you can prove that it ‘works’, according to one arbitrarily defined ‘outcome measure’ or another. I passionately believe that we should take steps to ensure that the things we do with and for people are effective ways of doing what we’re trying to do, and in that sense I am a firm believer in evidence based practice. But, what constitutes good evidence is a crucial political question. In the case of what ‘counts’ as an indicator of wellbeing, the exclusion of the arts is one example of the injurious ways in which we can easily get it wrong.
Filed under: Arts and Society, Enterprise, Social Brain, Social Economy
As part of the RSA’s rolling programme of internship opportunities, we are pleased to announce that we have three new paid positions opening up in early 2012. These are designed to give successful applicants the chance to experience what it is like to work within a fast-paced research organisation, to get to grips with emerging theories and concepts in different fields, and to hone their abilities in everything from fundraising, to project management, to the research itself.
We hope that our internship opportunities are different to those of similar organisations. In addition to being paid, they are also intended to be flexible enough to meet the needs of people facing more difficult circumstances, and to accomodate individuals of all ages, from younger graduates to those wishing to try something new midway through their career. What is most important to us is that the internships are reciprocal; we want to add value to you, just as much as we expect you to add value to us. Indeed, we aim to have long-term relationships with those who work for us, which is why we offer one year’s free Fellowship to all of our interns.
The three new opportunities are as follows:
Enterprise and Social Brain Internship – working with the Enterprise team on a new piece of work looking at the competencies people need to thrive in a 21st century workplace, and with the Social Brain team on a number of their emerging projects.
Arts and Social Change Internship – assisting the Arts and Social Change team to carry out an evaluation of their work in Peterborough and to develop new pieces of work as part of the nascent arts and society programme.
Connected Communities Internship – providing extra capacity to the Connected Communities team and assisting them with a variety of on-going research projects which look at the relationship between social networks and well-being, health and other life outcomes.
The internships will begin sometime in early February and will last for two months. The deadline for applications is Tuesday 10th January. Interviews will be held approximately w/c 23rd January.
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.
Systems often work to protect their integrity, maintaining the relationships and consequences upon which they are constructed. This can lead to deeply entrenched problems where relationships are weak or adversarial, where different components of the system are working to different objectives, and where a significant number of essential components are hidden, unknown and missing.
In the case of problem drug and alcohol use and recovery, we’ve illustrated why this can mean that recovery can be so difficult to initiate and sustain when considered as a system. But recovery is undoubtedly one of those complex ‘systems’ and we’re all tangled up in it. Thing is, we rarely recognise this unless we have been personally affected by addiction or the resulting problems.
From a systems perspective recovery needs everyone to work towards a shared goal. This doesn’t have to mean that there has to be absolute agreement about what recovery is, or that there needs to be a single definition that all must agree with, or a single journey that everyone must travel. No; it can be flexible to allow for the personal recovery process, for appropriate goals, for a localised approach dependent on local resources and assets.
It can seem easy when thinking systems, to forget about the people involved in them. Individuals can become impersonal groups. I’m not just thinking about the people on their recovery journey here, but also the keyworkers, the nurses, the service managers, the commissioners, the receptionists, the community group leader, the off licence owner, the librarian, Mr & Mrs J. Bloggs, the sister, and mum. At the end of the day, it’s all of these people who make a recovery system work. And if they don’t buy into, understand or work towards recovery for all, then more must be done to engage, educate and train them. With this in mind last week was a little up and down for me. It’s great to see the Skills Consortium focussing their next national conference on ‘building recovery in the workforce’ but it was awful to see that funding for the Drug Education Forum has been cut. More is needed, not less!
We’re beginning to see the impact of individuals working together in open and generous ways in our Recovery Capital project. They’re taking the time to develop a shared vision for recovery for the city and are modest in their understanding that they need to work together to achieve it. It makes such a difference. Working closely with the CRi implementation team for the new recovery service for Peterborough (starting in January 2012), with the Safer Peterborough Partnership, with local councillors and community organisations and importantly with local people in recovery, we can already see tangible results in the community.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, drawn out or resource heavy. Over the last 3 weeks we have been running some informal activities in the community for anyone in recovery. We have invited someone from the forthcoming service to come along and join in with the painting, make the tea and have a chat.
By week 3 the group have decided to give themselves a name – Free Recovery for Everyone, Everywhere (FREE) – and have prepared a proposal to run a series of activities independently over the Christmas and New Year period for people in recovery in the city. The CRi team have kindly agreed to support the activities when and where the group ask for it. The group are making keyrings to advertise the 24/7 freephone recovery support number that few people seem to know about and will be distributing them across the city. Over Christmas they hope to design a mural for the new recovery service.
I once heard Clive Martin, Director of Clinks say that ‘compassion is a methodology’ when talking about rehabilitation programmes in prison. I think it would benefit the development of recovery systems across the country if we start to understand individual attitudes and behaviours as interventions – thinking specifically about practitioners, commissioners and the wider workforce here – and take the time and provide the space for better engagement, learning, and understanding. Build the relationships, strengthen the links, and make the connections. We’re rightly focussing on how to do this at a grassroot level among people in recovery. More must now be done across the workforce and into the community with community recovery champions at the helm.
Any and all interventions on parts of a system will have consequences on other parts of the system, as well as on the system as a whole. These consequences cannot always be anticipated or planned for. If the intervention itself is generosity, openness and a commitment to recovery, then my hope is that we can be more brave and more daring in everything else we try as we will have created the environment in which the unintended consequences are wholly serendipitous and beneficial for all.