The Status Quo Will No Longer Do! (The Corporate Takeover of Art & Artwashing, or Social Justice in a Cultural Democracy?)

The Status Quo Will No Longer Do! (The Corporate Takeover of Art & Artwashing, or Social Justice in a Cultural Democracy?)

I was kindly asked to talk alongside Labour MP Laura Pidcock, Jessie Jo Jacobs (Policy and Campaigns Officer, Northern TUC) and Ramona McCartney (National Officer for the People's Assembly) at the People's Assembly event, "In Place of Austerity", in Newcastle on 20th January 2018. It was an incredibly inspiring day! This is the transcript for my talk...

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Elisabeth Murdoch's appointment to Arts Council England National Council is a corporate takeover of the arts - a takeover facilitated by Sir Nicholas Serota and his wife Teresa Gleadowe

Elisabeth Murdoch's appointment to Arts Council England National Council is a corporate takeover of the arts - a takeover facilitated by Sir Nicholas Serota and his wife Teresa Gleadowe

The appointment of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth Murdoch to Arts Council England’s National Council is not only deeply troubling, given her close ties to the Murdoch corporate empire, but is also a glaring example of how nefarious the UK arts establishment has become. The appointment of ex-Tate boss Sir Nicholas Serota as Chair of Arts Council England has clearly ushered in a new era of favouritism and nepotism in which a tiny select elite grease the palms of each other and their friends and family. This blog post explores a path from Serota to Murdoch via a Ukranian oligarch and his own wife, Teresa Gleadowe. It calls for an end to the corporate takeover of the arts!

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Participating without power: The limits of instrumentalised engagement with people & place

Participating without power: The limits of instrumentalised engagement with people & place

I believe that there is not enough emphasis placed upon understanding the theoretical and historical perspectives and contexts of 'participation' that are, for me, crucially important to both practice and research that engages with people, place, power and politics.  Similarly, I also believe that, whilst this field is situated within 'the social', there is not enough emphasis on how practice and research may fit with broader understandings of art and society, nor, for that matter, with wider theoretical from other interrelated disciplines.  Too often I attend conferences or read articles about socially engaged art, participatory art and Creative People and Places only to find an often insular, narrow discussion of practice which often is positioned within existing frameworks of practice and research which themselves are often ultimately defined by the state.

This article therefore attempts to open up new ways of thinking about community development and social engagement in art programmes like Creative People and Places.

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Boiling over. The Boiler Room's white, elite colonial appropriation of Notting Hill Carnival

Boiling over. The Boiler Room's white, elite colonial appropriation of Notting Hill Carnival

There’s been a lot written about Boiler Room’s involvement with Notting Hill Carnival and its future funding from Arts Council England’s Ambition For Excellence programme to produce a film about the event.  I do not intend to rehearse those discussions here.  There have been many valid points raised on both sides of the argument.  Rather, I want to address some serious issues that this fiasco raises about the role of public money in funding the arts in England.  My contention here is not only that Arts Council England’s funding of Boiler Room does not meet the goals of the Ambition For Excellence programme, but that it also does not support their Creative Case for Diversity objectives either.  Rather, it reinforces colonialism and white, upper and middle-class privilege.  Indeed, this funding represents the deeply neoliberal agenda of turning art into a globally-marketed consumer product.

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An open letter to Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England from artist Richard Parry about arts organisation V22

An open letter to Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England from artist Richard Parry about arts organisation V22

I received this letter from Richard Parry as a comment to my blog post entitled SHHH, BE QUIET! (Reflective prose about library closures, Arts Council England & middle-class asset stripping.)  Richard has been researching the arts organisation V22 for some time (as have I).  His letter which he has agreed to publish as a blog post here instead of a comment is the result of his research and relates to a number of Freedom of Information requests he has made to Arts Council England.

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Participating without power: The limits of instrumentalised engagement with people & place

Participating without power: The limits of instrumentalised engagement with people & place

 

This article seeks to reveal the limitations of state-initiated arts and cultural projects as well as spurious notions of ‘empowerment’ by examining them in terms of homogeneity, universality and technocracy.  It focuses on issues of instrumentalism with the arts and explores how state-initiated ‘community engagement’ programmes like Creative People and Places may effectively reproduce state agendas linked to social capital theory and thereby to neoliberalism.  It asks a series of questions: Whose values really underpin cultural value?  Who are ‘we’ and who are ‘we’ trying to ‘engage’?  Whose culture are ‘we’ trying to (re)make and why?  Do ‘we’ need new infrastructure; more managers?  Do people in areas of low cultural engagement have their own forms of culture that some may just not consider ‘cultured’?  If cultural democracy offers a different view of people power, so why is it loathed by the state?

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Artwashing London – ‘Artist-led’ Studios, Library Takeovers, GLA Cultural Advisors, Property Developers & Offshore Tax Havens

Artwashing London – ‘Artist-led’ Studios, Library Takeovers, GLA Cultural Advisors, Property Developers & Offshore Tax Havens

London is awash with ‘artist-led’ initiatives that use ‘meanwhile’ spaces as temporary galleries, studios and all the usual stuff.  There are many bigger companies doing this too.  Nothing new here.  Sometimes, like in the case of Bow Arts and Balfron Tower, for example, they are rightly called out for artwashing.  There are many more cases of artwashing now than ever before.  More and more people are getting interested in its cynical misrepresentation of arts and culture as a ‘community good’ when really art is used as a front for big businesses, national and local government ‘regeneration’, property investors and a whole host of other people wanting to make a profit from, what is for many people, social cleansing.  Even artists are getting in on the artwashing act.

But why would any arts organisation want to set up its primary base in a tax haven -  particularly one who claim to be all about supporting local people and local economies?  And, why would Arts Council England and the Mayor of London (amongst others) be happy giving funds to a company that’s ultimately based in the Isle of Man?

This is the tale of one such case – V22, an ‘artists-led’ and, indeed, ‘artists owned’ arts organisation with a few different incarnations.  It’s a bit complex, but that seems to be how they like it.  It is one part of a mammoth case of interrelated artwashing that’s going on in London right now.

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Tell me again, why do arts organisations (really) want to work in communities?

Tell me again, why do arts organisations (really) want to work in communities?

Tell me again, why do you want to work in Stockton? asks ARC Stockton chief executive Annabel Turpin.  Of course, this question could apply anywhere and, I argue here, it could also be applied more deeply, perhaps.

Annabel Turpin’s blog about the invasion of London arts organisations in ‘the regions’ reflects a growing sense of frustration within regional arts organisations who feel they are not treated as equals in many such ‘partnerships’.  I argue here that the same thing is in fact happening within the regions – that large Arts Council England funded ‘local’ arts organisations are going into their communities with the same lack of understanding and for the same reasons.

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Can you measure ‘great’ art? An imaginary conversation…

Can you measure ‘great’ art? An imaginary conversation…

This blog post is a first draft of a spoken word performance script as yet unperformed. It is inspired by a ludicrous reference in this blog about the ludicrous forced adoption of Quality Metrics by Arts Council England.  Simon Mellor is their Executive Director.  He makes rather odd reference to Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party (1957), a play that is, of course, all about the killing of individuality, of an individual at the hands of Kafkaesque state conformity; about conformist brainwashing and execution.  The agents of the state in The Birthday Party are McCann and Goldberg.  I imagine a conversation between these two agents of the "hard" state and Simon (Mellor), a representative of culture, or state "soft" power.  Webber (also referred to as Stanley) is the unfortunate recipient of an incessant barrage of state-sanctioned pressure to comply, to conform.  Petey is an old man: quiet but also considerate.

All words are quotes from either Simon Mellor's blog or from he Birthday Party script.

The performance would be interspersed with propaganda images from Arts Council England's website...

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Hipsters and artists are the gentrifying foot soldiers of capitalism

Hipsters and artists are the gentrifying foot soldiers of capitalism

This is my first article for The Guardian Comment is Free section.  I've added my own pic here...

It's a response to Matt Hancock's recent maiden speech about UK arts and culture in which he said, "The hipster is a capitalist."

I'd love your feedback...

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ARTLAND: Flagship arts & culture for some, catastrophic cuts for everyone else #Budget2016

ARTLAND: Flagship arts & culture for some, catastrophic cuts for everyone else #Budget2016

Oh, look: "Good news" for the (implicitly neoliberal) "Creative Industries"!  MORE NEW BUILDINGS!

[Sounds of corks popping.]

Hang on a minute, isn't there a big fiscal black hole that needs filling?  Not to worry, that's not Art's burden.  Not Art that's part of UK's world dominating Creative Industries (and I mean that in an Imperialistic colonising sense, of course).

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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…

THE NATIONAL FUNDING SCHEME IS A SCANDAL. A ‘SCHEME’ IN THE MOST NEGATIVE SENSE. A SCAM.

Michael Landy, Cor! What a Bargain! 1992

Cor! What a Bargain! Michael Landy, 1992

Liz Hill’s revelations about the National Funding Scheme in Arts Professional this week are undoubtedly shocking. How has the art world reacted to the exposé? Almost blanket silence. Any interest from the national press? Nope. Not yet. This silence typifies an arts establishment that happily trumpets any ‘positive’ news about the arts but increasingly closes ranks whenever there’s a whiff of failure or scandal. This story reeks of both failure (not that failure is necessarily a bad thing) and scandal.

I do not wish to rehearse Liz Hill’s detailed work in exposing the on-going affair nor her previous article about the NFS from 2014.  But I feel it only right that I write a little about my feelings as a response to the entire debacle.

Scandalous activities aside (for now). The National Funding Scheme was and still is for me an incredibly insidious attempt to redefine how UK (English?) arts and culture is financially supported. The NFS is not state funding. The NFS is a platform for philanthropic giving to specific causes – once arts and culture, now anything ‘charitable’. It is not national. It does not funding other than in the sense that it distributes money donated to a specific organisation/ project. As payment for their services, NFS keeps almost half of the eligible gift aid. The NFS is then nothing more than another way to give to some organisations; a method more expensive and less charitable than most, it would seem from the recent Arts Professional article. The name was sanctioned by Jeremy Hunt and the DCMS; the ‘charity’ (for that is what the NFS is) is funded by Arts Council England and Creative Scotland. To describe this organisation as the National Funding Scheme is misleading. It suggests that philanthropic giving is (or is destined to become) the primary source of arts (and charitable) giving in the country. This is certainly the intention of Panlogic Limited – one of two private companies who deliver the platform on behalf of the NFS.

Thankfully, it would appear that the NFS is failing badly. Failing to gain a broad base of national ‘partner’ organisations; failing to attract very much in the way of philanthropic giving (excepting a few big name successes); and failing to be financially viable. In short, it’s failing to be a National Funding Scheme. For me, philanthropy will never be a viable form arts funding in the UK. Nor should it ever be considered as a replacement for state funding. I’ve written often enough (as have many others) about the need for state funding of arts and culture to be more democratic and equally distributed but we must defend it against attempts to replace it with philanthropy. No need to worry in the case of the NFS. They’re doing a great job of discrediting state-supported philanthropic giving initiatives. To be clear, I’m not opposed to philanthropic giving. There are many ways already available to give to arts and cultural organisations that are not backed by the state. Fair enough. I just cannot understand why anyone would think it a good idea to pay for something like the NFS. It would seem to be another (expensive) case of literally reinventing the wheel – and not a very good replica at that!

A National Funding Scheme that’s not national nor distribute funding (in the traditional sense of the word). A ‘scheme’ supported by state and other funders with large sums of public money to make arts organisations money that ends up losing lots of public money. A ‘charitable’ organisation that hives off all of its work to two private companies and pays them using public funds then requests more public funds to pay the two private companies even more to apparently fail to deliver on their promises. A business model that requires the siphoning-off of 45% of Gift Aid from donors in order to (potentially) become economically viable. Oh, did I mention that THE SAME PERSON SITS ON THE BOARDS of the NFS and its two private subcontractors!  The NFS, Panlogic and Digital Information and Giving Limited also all share the same office address!!  Public money becomes company income. I could go on but enough for now (almost).

Clearly, there are many people implicated in this sorry tale (some have been named in Liz Hill’s report). How did THEY let this happen? Why didn’t THEY do something? WE NEED A FULL PUBLIC INVESTIGATION!

It riles me to see significant amounts of public arts funding money being wasted on a scheme like the NFS whilst many individual artists cannot get a penny and many arts organisations/ projects are facing cuts. This failure REDUCES arts funding available for other smaller, perhaps grassroots, activities. It is perverse that a scheme (perhaps ludicrously) intended to increase arts revenue ‘nationally’ has actually leeched public money away. It continues to do so. More is apparently needed. This money is predominantly destined to pay companies ran by a man who also heads the NFS.

THE NATIONAL FUNDING SCHEME IS A SCANDAL. A ‘SCHEME’ IN THE MOST NEGATIVE SENSE.  A SCAM.

We cannot and should not stay silent. This affair cannot be allowed to be brushed under the carpet. We must demand an explanation. We are struggling. We need to have faith in the state to do the right thing; to use dwindling state arts funding carefully and wisely…

THE STATUS QUO WILL NO LONGER DO – three provocations at Arts Council England national office

What a week.  A great week.  A deeply challenging week.  A week which saw me invited to Arts Council England’s HQ in Bloomsbury Street, London, thanks to CidaCo and Anamaria Wills in particular, to present a resilience lab to almost thirty people from arts organisations from Birmingham and South East London.  I co-presented the afternoon with the lovely Sue Ball.  We were encouraged to be challenging, provocative.  I presented three provocations.  They were:

  • THE STATUS QUO WILL NO LONGER DO
  • COOPERATION AND COOPETITION: OPENNESS AND TENSION AS OSCILLATING PRODUCTIVE FORCES
  • SELF-ORGANISING AND THE COMMONS: SUSTAINABLE CREATIVE SPACES?

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First, I briefly like to say what a lovely, super hi-tech place ACE national office is.  Superb facilities.  Coffee was a bit weak though…

Anamaria introduced me as a ‘loud, pick-a-fight-with-anyone Geordie’…  She ended the afternoon claiming I was a Marxist (I’m not)…

Anyway, the three presentations are available online (by clicking the pics or links below) for comment, criticism, sharing, whatever…  The first presentation features An Introduction to the Arts – a poem by the brilliant Luke Wright who kindly gave his permission and good wishes for my endeavours.  Thanks Luke.

Please view them with notes (bottom left corner) enabled so you can read my provocations (most of my slides are just pictures).

THE STATUS QUO WILL NO LONGER DO

THE STATUS QUO WILL NO LONGER DO

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=506D631092AC8D21!28485&authkey=!APZLpyaJ8f9w1mQ&ithint=file%2cpptx

COOPERATION AND COOPETITION: OPENNESS AND TENSION AS OSCILLATING PRODUCTIVE FORCES

COOPERATION AND COOPETITION - OPENNESS AND TENSION AS OSCILLATING PRODUCTIVE FORCES

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=506D631092AC8D21!28486&authkey=!ABKQuwAXk7O5EyA&ithint=file%2cpptx

SELF-ORGANISING AND THE COMMONS: SUSTAINABLE CREATIVE SPACES?

SELF-ORGANISING AND THE COMMONS - SUSTAINABLE CREATIVE SPACES

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=506D631092AC8D21!28484&authkey=!AN5U5rmFv5DX754&ithint=file%2cpptx

‘above ground level’ - old as new, new as old: grassroots social practice in a post-industrial port

This is my presentation for Paul Hamlyn ArtWorks North East ‘Pilots to Practice’ conference at BALTIC.  I gave this as a PechaKucha – using a narrative performance style of delivery.

It’s about dot to dot active arts’ current project, ‘above ground level’, taking place in Blyth, Northumberland.

Please make sure you use notes button at bottom right of window.  So you can see my narrative.

It was well received at the conference.  I’d love your comments and feedback…

image

Click the pic or the link below to see the presentation…

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=506D631092AC8D21!18861&authkey=!ALznQ1K_jOArSG8&ithint=file%2cpptx