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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ORANGE PAINT AND FIBRE GLASS FRIGGIN SHEEP: A conversation about artists & communities & life

ORANGE PAINT AND FIBRE GLASS FRIGGIN SHEEP: A conversation about artists & communities & life

This is a transcript of another Twitter conversation between @rattlecans and the poet Martin Daws.  It stemmed from my tweet, which reflected Martin's call for paid artists in place of multi-million pound art centres.  I asked: "Instead of a £50m art venue, a city could pay 200 artists £25k a year for 10 years to work with communities; do what they want.  What do you think?"  This is what happened...

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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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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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Complexity, uncertainty & scalability: How Assemble's Granby 4 Streets won 2015 Turner Prize

Complexity, uncertainty & scalability: How Assemble's Granby 4 Streets won 2015 Turner Prize

Did Assemble really play such a big part in Granby 4 Streets?  How 'community-led' was the project?  What was the role of the Community Land Trust?  How did Assemble come to win the Turner Prize 2015?  Who were the private social investors and what did they do to help make the project happen?

he intention here is to blow open the façade behind Granby 4 Streets, Assemble and the Turner Prize 2015 win.

his is a long read and part of my research into art-led regeneration projects that are often far more complex than is often portrayed.

argue that the media and art world picture of Assemble is overly simplistic and masks a far more complex and uncertain set of events that, ultimately, relied on 'mystery' private social investors to force local government to act in support of the project and to lever money from national grant funders.

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Art, oil, politics & empire: #Deadline Festival shatters democratic facade of arts institution

There have been many brilliant interventions at major UK arts institutions recently primarily focusing on fossil fuel funding.  Collectives like Art not Oil, Liberate Tate, Reclaim the Bard and many more have created (and will no doubt continue to create) a host of spectacularly Platform London powerful, often sublimely beautiful acts of resistance  against the involvement of fossil fuel corporations such as BP and Shell in and around some of the country's biggest cultural institutions.  Tate, Royal Opera House, British Museum, The V&A, National Gallery, Edinburgh Festival, British Film Institute, National Portrait Gallery, Southbank Centre, Royal Shakespeare Company, and many others are prime targets for their carefully coordinated interventions.  Members of Platform London are often directly or indirectly involved in these actions too.

Deadline Festival was different from these often shorter forms of intervention.  The idea was to host an unauthorised three-day arts festival in the public spaces inside Tate Modern, occupying and reclaiming the space for a packed programme of installation, exhibition, poetry, theatre, performance, workshops, films, debates and participatory intervention.  The festival was produced and curated by Platform London.  It's programme was announced in advance.  (I will not discuss the programme in detail here.  Click to see it in full.)  I helped gather and organise a team of super-committed and deeply passionate volunteers from afar in the weeks and days before the festival and helped out at Tate Modern on the last day as an act of practice and research: praxis.

There are no false notions of neutrality or 'disinterest' in my approach.  I firmly believe arts and cultural (indeed all) organisations must divest themselves of any sponsorship by fossil fuel magnates.  I am also deeply suspicious of any attempt to corral arts and culture together under the neoliberal semiotic The Creative Industries.  Furthermore, I also find the broader sponsorship, patronage and board-level embedding of Big Businesses within publicly funded arts and cultural institutions to be incredibly problematic and divisive.  Take Tate: company founded on the profits of the slave trade; sponsored and supported by the state and a list of major capitalists that just goes on and on and on.  Nasty 'investments' and 'commercial activities'?  Massive contributors to climate change, war and terrorism?  Neocolonialists?  Dismissive of workers' rights?  GREAT!  You're in!  And it would seem, at least in the case of BP's sponsorship of Tate, that the price of neoliberal endorsement in return for green washing or art washing and incredibly important institutional cultural capital to be used globally as a valuable source of soft power is a pittance.  Who said arts and culture were always expensive?

Deadline Festival was intended to coincide with the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris and, like the ongoing events in Paris, the festival reflected a much broader recognition of the co-dependent nature of fossil fuels, finance, climate change, terrorism, war, imperialism, colonialism, politics, and neoliberalism's myriad of other insidious suckers that creep across our planet, strangling ever aspect of human existence everywhere into one totally administered, totally exploited mass.  Western art and culture are the new crown jewels bought with looted artefacts from every corner of the world and the untold lives of colonised people.  Neoliberalism is neo-colonialism.  It's gilded banners of 'global trade', 'democracy', 'growth' and (most distastefully) 'peace' belie a one-dimensionality underpinned by exploitation, deceit, control and destruction.  The dominant few people in the few countries that dominate our world have constructed their fossil fuelled palaces on top of the oppressed; on top of nature.  But these foundations are restless and their palaces built upon nothing more than the shifting sands of false consciousness.  Subjugation of people, of languages, of 'resources', of cultures, of nature is always doomed to fail.

We would do well to learn from our pasts.  We would do well to learn from all our pasts; to realise that the Western system is a totally exploitative system that openly capitalises from and colonises people everywhere and every element of nature.  Neoliberalism is 'sensitive' when capitalising on people, land and natural life close to home; aggressive and crude whilst exploiting those further afield.  And, for me, some of Deadline Festival's events brought this home beautifully.  Ivo Theatre performing the act of translation via a battery-powered live feed from the climate talks in Paris as the rights of indigenous peoples and other colonised areas of our planet were being ripped from a climate accord already 'cleansed' of any democratic freedoms by the fiddling fingers and squashing thumbs of dominant Western corporate and state interests.  And the Who gets to change the climate? workshop delivered in Arabic and English by Basel Zaraa and Ewa Jasiewicz.  There were many, many moving discussions, performance, images, and more.  But, for me, language lies at the heart of neo-colonialism.  Us and them.  Always, us and them.  Naming The Other is the prelude to colonisation.  Recognising that The Other takes many forms and that difference is good may lead to a movement built upon decolonisation and de-linking.  An opportunity for the voices of the many oppressed people in the world to be recognised as equals and different.

Imperialism and climate change are inherently linked.  The struggle against one-dimensional exploitation and destruction is complex and dangerous.  Western people (like me) do not often realise how deeply engrained our culture is within us.  If writing or TV or film or theory is not translated into English, we often don't see it or understand it.  To assume that Western thought is the only thought is elitist and wrong.  We would do well to learn that culture is not homogenous but rich and different.  We blind ourselves by our Western-ness.  Deadline Festival helped open my eyes, my ears, my mind.  Our cultural institutions are public spaces where discussion, debate and disagreement should be happening all of the time.  Instead, they are too often little more than spaces of safe consumption, falsely policed by security guards and curators alike.  Places of fake-neutrality masking truths, hopes, alternatives and histories.  Tate 'tolerated' Platform London but their constantly disapproving gaze raised issues in my mind about whether the management and directors there think the space is private rather than truly public. Subtle occupations such as Deadline Festival question ownership of space and notions of whose voice is permitted to speak in our arts and cultural institutions.  Neoliberalism adores complicity...

There were so many really positive experiences at this festival to mention in this post but it was ultimately (as always) the people taking part in the festival, Tate visitors asking questions about what was happening and showing genuine interest and support, volunteers supporting and self-organising, and Platform London's team who organised the entire event on a shoestring budget that is certifiably Fossil Funds Free.

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…

‘Cultural Value’ and the Economic and Social Impact of the Arts

I attended a workshop at the University of Warwick on 9th July about Co-producing cultural policy.  The day was very, very interesting and frustrating at times.  I was guest blogger.  I wrote this.  It was originally published here: http://coculturalpolicy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/cultural-value-and-economic-and-social.html

 

A morning of valuing artists, museums as co-producers of ‘social justice’ and cultural value as power, followed with an afternoon workshop about value and impact. The long trip to The University of Warwick was certainly action packed. A day of two halves. A room full of interested and actively probing researchers (and a Director of a National Portfolio Organisation). The day was all about policy: cultural value in the morning; humanities research after lunch. So what happened?

First up was Susan Jones, Director of a-n The Artists Information Company. Susan was, as usual, forthright and focused, delivering the hard facts about the #payingartists campaign; about ‘positive’ mission ‘delivery’; campaigning for fair pay for artists. She pointed out that ‘sometimes artists aren’t even mentioned in cultural policy’ anymore; pay had been reduced significantly in real terms since 1997; and nowadays ‘exhibition budgets exclude the notion of paying artists’. Why? Susan was clear to place responsibility on an increasing ‘shift in focus towards infrastructure’ – in cultural buildings and top-heavy management and administration teams. All great stuff! I firmly believe in this perspective too. But Susan’s emphasis was on exhibitions and galleries ‘because that’s where public funding is going in visual arts’. a-n’s new #payingartists video advertisement reinforced what, for me, seemed a rather narrow way of conceiving artistic practice today. Susan explained, however, that a-n are beginning to ‘look outside galleries – beyond exhibitions’, so, perhaps, there’s some hope of an expanded future scope for this undoubtedly ‘must address’ issue. I have a nagging concern about institutionalising artists’ rights and pay, but that’s for another day…

Director of National Museums Liverpool, David Fleming was incredibly passionate in advocating a more radical approach to museum programming than is often, perhaps, the case. He’s a firm supporter of national infrastructure buildings, ‘so long as the public get something out of it’. His approach is all about people, emotions, inter-generational activities, variety, and, ‘fighting for social justice’ – all with an authentic Liverpool voice (although he was quick to explain he’s from Leeds)! His show reel of ‘social justice’ programming left virtually no stone unturned: gender reconfiguration; queer; children’s cancer; dementia; well-being; Hillsborough; gun crime; slavery – all examples of successful ‘collusion with other bodies’ (NGOs, charities, etc.) because, apparently, ‘activists like working with the establishment’. David was blunt in his dislike of policy directed at numbers in the building, citing London museums as a prime example of government policy and funding decisions based upon ‘how many high spending tourists you can attract’. Nevertheless, his advocacy of the Museum Association’s Museums Change Lives agenda and tick-all-boxes social justice narrative left me feeling a little unsettled. Was this really radicalism or soft reinforcing of a form of, undoubtedly left-of-centre, neoliberal state instrumentalism?

Arts Council England’s Senior Policy and Research Manager, Andrew Mowlah, always had an unenviable task. The mood was set. He rehearsed many of the Arts Council’s new ‘tablets of stone’: the need to ‘reflect instrumental and intrinsic values’; fitting ‘the aesthetic… into cultural policy’; ‘making the best possible case for investment in arts and culture’; ‘metrics’; the ‘economic benefits of the UK culture industry’; ‘the wider benefits of the arts’ (beyond economics and tourism, perhaps?); etc., etc. He was steadfast in his defence of the need to ‘evidence’ culture to persuade government to continue to fund arts and culture, concluding that we shouldn’t ‘discount the value of data and evidence’. Many in the audience wondered whether anyone in government really valued the evidence anyway, no matter what its form. For me, any mention of ‘culture industry’ makes me go all Adorno…

Eleonora Belfiore was last in the morning session. Critical antithesis of Arts Council England’s cultural policy, she breezed through a cutting overview of current cultural value policy. Her assertion that the many who see cultural value as a way of determining ‘real value’ are being ‘over simplistic’ was an antidote to the positivist reductionism abounding in much of social sciences and cultural policy right now. Cultural value, like all things, is socially constructed, political, transient, and never neutral – power is always orchestrating. Ele’s example of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding… clearly demonstrated how economics and ‘fun’ programming has very dark undertones: it humiliates an already oppressed ethnic group, redoubling stereotypes whilst making a great deal of money for the media. It is, as Ele explained, the role of academia and research (and, perhaps, the arts and others) to ‘probe the underbelly of cultural value policy’.

I’m over my word count already, so let’s just summarise an excellent afternoon’s research workshop as follows: ‘Impact is not evil’ but ‘how do you engage someone like James Dyson?’ Solid ‘REF Gold’!