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“I love pan-outs”

PRESENTATION – responding to the question “how can we be stronger together?” – at Northern Stage in Edinburgh 2012 – with presentations by Chris Thorpe, Vicky Featherstone, Katherine Zesserson, Kath Mainland and me –

Some of the things I’m going to talk about are drawn from conversations with colleagues who’ve been meeting under the banner of What Next including Jude Knight. I have been asked to offer a short provocation about how we might be stronger together.

In March 2011 there was an event called What Next in London that brought together a group of people to talk about “what next” for the arts? We discussed similar themes to those discussed at the Stronger Together event in June 2011. Some of the same themes were discussed in the Let’s Work Together event in June 2011 by Liverpool Arts Regeneration Consortium and Arts Council. And Open Space events hosted by the Devoted and Disgruntled team are touring 24 towns and cities the UK in 2012. I am sure there have been many other conversations too that I don’t know about.

So where will all this talking take us?

The context remains, as it has for the past two years, one of decreasing resources.

Perhaps more seriously, the context is one where it is unclear whether arts and creativity are publicly valued by government or the electorate.

At best you can say there is ambivalence. It is different if you are talking about the NHS. Or Education. Or probably sport after the last three weeks.

So should we keep talking to each other? Or what action should we now take to be stronger together? I think we should start by looking at who we mean by together?

When I think of a way to comprehend togetherness I think of a well-used device in film: the classic pan-out. Memorably used at the end of Antz starring Woody Allen. The whole feature is shot on the scale of an antz-eye-view: including epic journeys, armies marching to war with termites, marathon expeditions to a land called Insectopia. And at the end of the film (there’s a mild spoiler alert here for anyone who has been saving Antz for a rainy day) we get a human-eye-view, the camera pans out from the ant colony, we see a tiny termite mound just next to it, five yards away there is a bin crammed with rubbish, we recognise it as Insectopia. We see a small section foot path, we see a park, it’s Central Park, and we see a city skyline, it’s New York.

I love pan-outs, they put everything in to context, showing you what together really means.

So what is the pan-out for this event? – what is the pan-out shot for Stronger Together?

Shot 1 – a room of about 100 people, there is a bloke with a hat talking about pan-outs and people who care passionately about what they do, because art is a way of understanding the past and inventing the future, these people would probably do it for nothing, some of them probably do do it for nothing, because it matters, the bloke at the front looks perilously close to talking about arts funding, but he starts talking about values instead, he asks the question what values do we want to have? He claims that people increasingly don’t want to live in a country in which the market place seems to celebrate and reward short-term gain over long-term benefit. He starts talking about human potential as something to be better appreciated alongside profit potential. He says that we know that the arts are good at that. But he asks the group assembled to think about the role of creativity beyond the arts. He says that that maybe together isn’t about the arts together, rather it’s about all those people and organisations who care about human potential and creativity coming together.

Shot 2 – a city, Edinburgh, mid festival, hundreds of thousands of hopeful glances. Hoping for the best. Hoping for something that touches them. But there’s not just a festival in this medium shot, there are schools too, across the city, and teachers walking to those schools, colleges and universities, to prepare for what and how they will teach this autumn. Many of them want to explore their own potential to find new ways of teaching. There’s a big painted sign on one school roof that reads. The 3R’s as in 1795:

  1. Reading
  2. Reckoning
  3. Wroughting

The third one meaning making – creating with your hands. And there are sports fields too across the city, sportsmen and sportswomen, there suddenly seems to be more of them all wearing team GB t-shirts, trying to be the best they can be. And there is a rally in St Andrew Square outside the offices of Royal Bank of Scotland. There is a massive banner that says Common Cause and thousands of people who work for major national charities, they want to identify a new era of values, they are creative in their protest and their approach, you can just make out a website address on the banner

Shot 3 – a nation, there are massive flags that fly above cities and towns, they denote the connection between thousands of cultural organisations that have come together to explore the role of creativity from TMA to What Next? To Arts Together to ITC to Festivals Edinburgh to LARC to NGCV to rural touring networks to Devoted and Disgruntled to Live Art UK to SOLT to National Museums Association to Forest Fringe to Arts and Business to Arts Council England to Association of British Orchestras to Arts Marketing Association to A New Direction (Steve Moffit) to Creative Scotland. And there are similar flags for Common Cause organisations, for the NUT, for Association of Headteachers, for Universities UK, for the Russell Group, for local government departments, for the BBC. And in the south-eastern corner there seems to be a massive sports park, with massive screens replaying a large scale piece of hopeful, public performance art performed by thousands of volunteers, showing that it’s not all about the creative genius of the director, it is about the creative potential of each individual citizen.

The long-shot demonstrates that we are good at this creative stuff together, that it’s not just about us in the arts, it’s about all people who care about human potential, who care about creativity. It’s about all of us coming together to work towards a new set of values.

So if this is us together, then how on earth do we connect and coordinate so that together we are stronger? Maybe there are three things that we can to focus on.

Firstly, we can work to develop our case together.

  • as many do, we can meet with more organisations outside of the arts and catalyse a bigger debate about values
  • we can place the value of human potential at the heart of this debate
  • we can develop a thread to our narrative that is about long-term change

Secondly, we need to lobby decision makers together

  • we can get organized as a sector, and cross-sector, and lobby for a long-term vision for a creative Britain
  • we can explore the relationship between five groups:
    • arts
    • sport
    • common cause
    • education
    • local government

Imagine five circles in a Venn diagram, like an Olympic logo.

  • we can recognise that the last 24 months has seen a massive injection of funding in the arts, celebrate the coalition’s investment, and demonstrate that it has established a “creative cauldron” as celebrated by David Cameron

Thirdly, we need to mobilise our audiences

  1. we can publicly talk about the opening ceremony as a great piece of public art – theatre, visual art, dance, music etc. A piece of work that is about, with, for and by the people.
  2. we can imagine other playful ways to jump off the Olympic ceremony bounce, we can establish a “Creative Britain Week” (with coalition support) in which we celebrate the nation’s creativity
  3. we can have a conversation with our audience by programming events to talk about values and about the kind of society in which we want to live

Stronger together can be a broad coalition – in education, in local government, across the charitable sector – seeking out common values with people and organisations who celebrate human potential – seeking out a new era of values based politics – to be strong
together as a civic collective – a coalition that is beyond “right” and “left” – that is beyond short-term questions of comprehensive spending reviews – and that asks us all what matters in the long-term? – what are the values and qualities of our lives that go beyond the market place?

Unless we are stronger together with a much wider group of partners, and seek to make arguments to government about investment in these priorities over a generation – then we are in danger of running round the same wheel like charming but oblivious mice.

20 Aug 2012

Categories: Culture, POLITICS and the everyday

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