BUILD BIG NEW ARTS CITADELS NOW! (Big, THEY say, is better.)

Clambering men in big bad boots
Dug up my den, dug up my roots.
Treated us like plasticine town
They build us up and knocked us down.

 

From Meccano to Legoland,
Here they come with a brick in their hand,
Men with heads filled up with sand,
It's build.

 

Chorus:
It's build a house where we can stay,
Add a new bit everyday.
It's build a road for us to cross,
Build us lots and lots and lots and lots.

 

Whistling men in yellow vans
They came and drew us diagrams.
Showed us how it all worked out
And wrote it down in case of doubt.

 

Slow, slow, quick, quick, quick,
It's wall to wall and brick to brick,
They work so fast it makes you sick,
It's build.

 

Chorus.

 

Oh, It's build(x4)

 

Down with sticks and up with bricks,
In with boots and up with roots,
It's in with suits and new recruits,
It's build...

 

Chorus.

Build, The Housemartins, from The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, 1987


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HOME, Manchester.

Austerity works, THEY say. Cuts will force you to work like Chinese people, THEY SAY. No foreigners, THEY say.

But, THEY also tell us (from their all male, mostly white and middle aged panels and committees) that WE simply must improve diversity; must be more welcoming to audiences; encourage participation by reaching out to those poor uncultured souls who don’t know how good art and culture really is for THEIR wellbeing – not the people’s – theirs: arts and cultural organisations.

WE, THEY tell us, must dance to their Creative Industries drum – accept spurious neoliberal business models NOW! WE MUST TRY HARDER! THEY know what’s best for us. THEY will decide. Take part in our phoney new white paper NOW. Everyone’s a PLACEMAKER nowadays aren’t WE?

THEIR rhythm intensifies. Louder. Quicker.

(Not long left? Who knows?)

More research needed. Evidence must be found. (It will be found.)

Deafening.

Wait.

THEY are clapping now. WE are clapping now. (We some of us are clapping now.)

THEY’RE chanting now. Chanting ‘INVESTMENT’. If YOU are deemed worthy, THEY will (might) invest in you. No evidence of need. Not really ticking the boxes. That’s ok, if THEY say so.

Whispers behind closed doors. Silent handshakes. Nudges. Winks.

NO. Not for US, for YOU, the new THEM.

Hold on, THEY’RE shouting something now. Louder. Quicker.

BUILD!

THEY’RE shouting ‘BUILD’. Build big. Build shiny. Build extensions. Powerhouse anyone? THEY want to build big new arts and cultural institutions NOW. THEY say new citadels will improve inclusion; attract new audiences; more.

REGENERATION? Bit old hat now.

PLACEMAKING. Yes, that sounds nicer. THEY say that massive new arts citadels can play their part in placemaking. Temples for the culturally converted. Baptisms of fire – no… wait… money, yes money – baptisms of money. Not for visitors, you understand. NO! Money for the new high priests of placemaking.

(Gentrification’s sure to follow placemaking. That’ll be good for business. Somewhere higher, clapping again. Cheering. Wringing of hands.)

What about US? What about struggling artists, little arts organisations, collectives, community groups, grassroots organisations? Smaller galleries, theatres, music venues, more? Join together in approved PLATFORM ORGANISATIONS. What? Remember the old umbrella organisations. Rainy days. Bit dull. YOU could ‘reimagine’ them much more positively, more neoliberally. Platforms. What? Don’t want to join them? What? You’re fading. Distant voices. Fading. Distant. Gone. Anybody there? No. Good, THEY laugh and cheer. That was easy.

No Boundaries 2015. NEW BOUNDARIES 2015? Give dissent an early voice then slowly, slowly chip away. Unleash the ‘new’ thinking towards the end. THEIR democracy in action.

Maria Balshaw was all about Manchester. Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse is all about Manchester. New capital for arts new capital is Manchester. BUILD. Build new citadels. New citadels with ‘clever’ names – no mention of art or culture – HOME and The Factory. How playfully ironic, THEY laugh. Manchester were clever, according to Balshaw. They played THE GAME. They deserve it. Others should take heed, she says.

So to John Knell, a man who has recently worked on Manchester City Council’s new Cultural Strategy and for Manchester International Festival, Manchester City Galleries, Arts Council England and Watershed (No Boundaries 2015 co-venue alongside HOME, Manchester). Oh and he’s also Chair of Trustees at Sound and Music – a sort of umbrella or, perhaps even, platform organisation. His speech at No Boundaries 2015, entitled How Does The Money Flow? revealed a truly conservative streak. Knell was not happy about shadow culture secretary, Michael Dugher’s recent ‘posh arts’ comments. He also took a swipe at those seeking rebalancing of arts funding. Knell said we must invest in less – small no good, likewise medium, even some big institutions might have to go – we need to spend more on big national institutions. New platform organisations (like his?) for the rest, if they’re lucky, death if not. Underpinning Knell’s proposed new less-is-more arts strategy was his belief in a ‘whole ecosystem model’ – apparently a model driven at every stage by ‘structured investment’ that will, to his mind, ‘create more public value’.

THEY clapped. (Wary, perhaps already aware, of Osborne’s planned 25% - 40% cuts in November.) THEY employ him. He works for THEM. Many senior Arts Council England staff openly support his ideas. (But then again they are also quite happy with Osborne’s divisive Northern Powerhouse land grab, it would seem from a look at some Twitter feeds.) Osborne loves Manchester. His constituency’s near there. Yesterday, he said ‘We are the builders… the party of work, the only true party of labour.’ He said the Tories sought to occupy ‘the common ground’ – a very nasty appropriation. He talked, as always, about his love of (pet) infrastructure projects. BUILD NOW!

THEY are suddenly more godlike than ever. They will choose. And the ‘lucky’ few THEY deem to have potential will get their infrastructure – arts and otherwise. The new white paper on the arts will reinforce this. Those arts institutions who, according to Knell need more investment, not less, now know what will happen no matter the savagery of Osborne’s cuts – THEY will be ok.

You see, the trouble here is that building doesn’t fit with THEIR (natural sounding) whole ecosystem model as a place of targeted investment championed by Knell. There is little or no seeding. No nurturing. No support. No diversity. No independence.

Only neoliberals believe you can use a nature-as-metaphor as a means to generate financial investment. BUILDING (at least in the human sense) can NEVER complement natural ecosystems – only destabilise, colonise and, sometimes, destroy them. And the arts and cultural sector (the Creative Industries) are NOT like an ecosystem. All attempts to convey capitalism by relating it to nature are inherently flawed and deeply divisive.

PLACEMAKE. INVEST. BUILD. NOW!

THEIR rhetoric is not for artists, the small, the medium-sized, people, communities. It is for THEM. The language of arts and culture, like almost every area of our lives, is now perfectly aligned to neoliberalism.

No wonder so many in ‘THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES’ openly loath Labour’s democratic turn.

But I do not want to see the field of arts and culture become some sort of building site, or industry for that matter. We need to completely restructure and rebalance. End old status quos. Build trust not new citadels. End austerity.

Ringing. What? There’s a distant ringing. Beautiful chiming. Tiny chimes. Multitudes. Growing.

Where?

Somewhere.

Everywhere.

Everywhere bells beginning to toll…