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!Read More
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?Read More
This is part two of a three-part series of posts about Opportunity Areas. Part one is here.
Part two explores Sarah Butler’s work in a little more detail. Creative consultations, writing stories for Creative People and Places, advocacy of socially engaged writing as part of regeneration agendas, poetry hoardings ‘covering’ demolished social housing sites whilst new builds spring up and working for the New Deal for Communities. It reveals, perhaps, how artists can be increasingly drawn into complicit relationships with local councils, the state, funders, charities, schools and property developers.Read More
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...Read More
There are two texts that have been at the centre of my thinking for many years; inspirational works that demand structural change and true cultural democracy. I’m sharing them here to hopefully start a broader discussion within arts and culture that looks outside the crumbling bureaucracies of the totally administered Creative Industries.
TINA 1 and 2 as they are fondly known are both the work of three artists:
Stephan Dillemuth (Munich), Anthony Davies (London) and Jakob Jakobsen (Copenhagen).
Part one was published on 12th June 2005.
Both texts can be freely distributed without the permission of the authors.
There is no alternative: THE FUTURE IS SELF-ORGANISED
As workers in the cultural field we offer the following contribution to the debate on the impact of neoliberalism on institutional relations:
• Cultural and educational institutions as they appear today are nothing more than legal and
administrative organs of the dominant system. As with all institutions, they live in and
through us; we participate in their structures and programmes, internalise their values,
transmit their ideologies and act as their audience/public/social body.
• Our view: these institutions may present themselves to us as socially accepted bodies, as somehow representative of the society we live in, but they are nothing more than
dysfunctional relics of the bourgeois project. Once upon a time, they were charged with the role of promoting democracy, breathing life into the myth that institutions are built on an
exchange between free, equal and committed citizens. Not only have they failed in this task, but within the context of neoliberalism, have become even more obscure, more unreliable and more exclusive.
• The state and its institutional bodies now share aims and objectives so closely intertwined with corporate and neoliberal agendas that they have been rendered indivisible. This intensification and expansion of free market ideology into all aspects of our lives has been accompanied by a systematic dismantling of all forms of social organisation and imagination antithetical to the demands of capitalism.
• As part of this process it’s clear that many institutions and their newly installed managerial elites are now looking for escape routes out of their inevitable demise and that, at this juncture, this moment of crisis, they’re looking at ‘alternative’ structures and what’s left of the Left to model their horizons, sanction their role in society and reanimate their tired relations. Which of course we despise!
In their scramble for survival, cultural and educational institutions have shown how easily they can betray one set of values in favour of another and that’s why our task now is to demand and adhere to the foundational and social principles they have jettisoned, by which we mean: transparency, accountability, equality and open participation.
• By transparency we mean an opening up of the administrative and financial
functions/decision making processes to public scrutiny. By accountability we mean that these functions and processes are clearly presented, monitored and that they can in turn, be measured and contested by ‘participants’ at any time. Equality and open participation is exactly what it says – that men and women of all nationalities, race, colour and social status
can participate in any of these processes at any time.
• Institutions as they appear today, locked in a confused space between public and private, baying to the demands of neoliberal hype with their new management structures, are not in a position to negotiate the principles of transparency, accountability and equality, let alone implement them. We realise that responding to these demands might extend and/or guarantee institutions’ survival but, thankfully, their deeply ingrained practices prevent them from even entertaining the idea on a serious level.
• In our capacity as workers with a political commitment to self-organisation we feel that any further critical contribution to institutional programmes will further reinforce the relations that keep these obsolete structures in place. We are fully aware that ‘our’ critiques, alternatives and forms of organisation are not just factored into institutional structures but increasingly utilised to legitimise their existence.
• The relationship between corporations, the state and its institutions is now so unbearable that we see no space for negotiation – we offer no contribution, no critique, no pathway to reform, no way in or out. We choose to define ourselves in relation to the social forms that we participate in and not the leaden institutional programmes laid out before us – our deregulation is determined by social, not market relations. There is no need for us to storm the Winter Palace, because most institutions are melting away in the heat of global capital anyway. We will provide no alternative. So let go!
The only question that remains is how to get rid of the carcass and deal with the stench:
• We are not interested in their so-called assets; their personnel, buildings, archives, programmes, shops, clubs, bars, facilities and spaces will all end up at the pawnbroker anyway…
• All we need is their cash in order to pay our way out of capitalism and take this opportunity to make clear our intention to supervise and mediate our own social capital, knowledge and networks.
• As a first step we suggest an immediate redistribution of their funds to already existing, self-organised bodies with a clear commitment to workers’ and immigrants’ rights, social (antiracist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic) struggle and representation.
There is no alternative! The future is self-organised.
• In the early 1970’s corporate analysts developed a strategy aimed at reducing uncertainty called ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA). Somewhat ironically we now find ourselves in agreement, but this time round we’re the scenario planners and executors of our own future though we are, if nothing else, the very embodiment of uncertainty.
• In the absence of clearly stated opposition to the neoliberal system, most forms of collective and collaborative practice can be read as ‘self-enterprise’. By which we mean, groupings or clusters of individuals set up to feed into the corporate controlled markets, take their seats at the table, cater to and promote the dominant ideology.
• Self-organisation should not be confused with self-enterprise or self-help, it is not an alternative or conduit into the market. It isn’t a label, logo, brand or flag under which to sail in the waters of neoliberalism (even as a pirate ship as suggested by MTV)! It has no relationship to entrepreneurship or bogus ‘career collectives’.
• In our view self-organisation is a byword for the productive energy of those who have nothing left to lose. It offers up a space for a radical re-politicisation of social relations – the first tentative steps towards realisable freedoms.
• Something which predates representational institutions. To be more precise: institutions are built on (and often paralyse) the predicates and social forms generated by self-organisation.
• Mutually reinforcing, self-valorising, self-empowering, self-historicising and, as a result, not compatible with fixed institutional structures.
• A social and productive force, a process of becoming which, like capitalism, can be both flexible and opaque – therefore more than agile enough to tackle (or circumvent) it.
• A social process of communication and commonality based on exchange; sharing of similar problems, knowledge and available resources.
• A fluid, temporal set of negotiations and social relations which can be emancipatory – a process of empowerment.
• Something which situates itself in opposition to existing, repressive forms of organisation and concentrations of power.
• Always challenging power both inside the organisation and outside the organisation; this produces a society of resonance and conflict, but not based on fake dualities as at present.
• An organisation of deregulated selves. It is at its core a non-identity.
• A tool that doesn’t require a cohesive identity or voice to enter into negotiation with others. It may reside within social forms but doesn’t need take on an identifiable social form itself.
• Contagious and inclusive, it disseminates and multiplies.
• The only way to relate to self-organisation is to take part, self-organise, connect with other self-organising initiatives and challenge the legitimacy of institutional representation.
We put a lid on the bourgeois project, the national museums will be be stored in their very own archive, the Institutes of Contemporay Art will be handed over to the artists unions, the Universities and Academies will be handed over to the students, Siemens and all the other global players will be handed over to their workers. The state now acts as an administrative unit – just as neoliberalism has suggested it – but with mechanisms of control, transparency accountability and equal rights for all.
There are two texts that have been at the centre of my thinking for many years; inspirational works that demand structural change and true cultural democracy. I’m sharing them here to hopefully start a broader discussion within arts and culture that looks outside the crumbling bureaucracies of the totally administered Creative Industries. TINA 1 and 2 as they are fondly known are both the work of three artists:
Stephan Dillemuth (Munich), Anthony Davies (London) and Jakob Jakobsen (Copenhagen).
Part two was published in February 2012.
Both texts can be freely distributed without the permission of the authors.
There is no alternative: THE FUTURE IS SELF-ORGANISED Part 2
Part one of our text, ‘There is No Alternative: THE FUTURE IS SELF-ORGANISED’ (TINA1), was first published in 2005, a period when the ‘animal spirits’ of unlimited accumulation were still drunk on their own sense of infallibility. At the time, we couldn’t fail to notice a similar over-confidence and arrogance in the attitude of the political, managerial and professional classes that were moving deeper into cultural and educational institutions.
We therefore felt unsure about accepting an invitation to speculate on self-organisation by an institutional commissioning body that had only recently staked a claim in this tendency and its discourse. The organisation in question, the Nordic Institute For Contemporary Arts (NIFCA) had itself become vulnerable when the progressive programming for which it had become internationally renowned fell out of sync with the increasingly localised and insular interests of its political backers. Without broader consultation it was closed in 2006 – its funds redirected to a more ‘manageable’ organisation without significant public opposition or protest.
In TINA1 we sought to rethink self-organisation, a term that had gained currency as a means to disguise organisational restructuring, manage critique and enhance professional careers. The text sought to place self-organisation back within its oppositional and revolutionary vocabulary, also setting it off against ‘self-help’ and ‘self-enterprise’, terms with which self-organisation had become confused and whose tendency was to stabilise and extend rather than challenge institutional hegemony.
That was 2005 – a world away – before the systemic contradictions started to become more pronounced and exploded with such frequency, and with such blinding force and violence, that the animal spirits faded, the image of eternal growth was shattered and, for most, the ruins beckoned.
The Coming Resurrection
In the midst of a period of intense struggle, violence and social upheaval, who needs economists and pundits to remind us that this is the worst financial crisis since the last? As bad as the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, the late 1920s? Isn’t the evidence all around us all the time? In the intensities of labour struggle and workers’ suicides in China and South East Asia, the further dispossession of the poor in the US, or the punishing effects of austerity measures imposed everywhere, particularly in those neoliberal European economies once regarded as exemplary, like Greece, Italy and Spain.
For decades, the catastrophic consequences we now find ourselves living through were deferred by fostering rapid market expansion and contraction, boom and bust. Here, crisis played an integral part in the seductive, syncopated rhythm of ‘creative destruction’. Bust was deferred by selling it as boom – which no doubt displayed a certain creativity. A formula of almost redemptive proportions was devised to cover up the wreckage while the supposed necessity of uninhibited free market expansion could be relied upon to sanction even the most blatant acts of global plunder. In tandem, novel ways of shifting, shunting, bundling and repackaging otherwise problematic phenomena, allowed everything – even debt and poverty – to continue to serve capitalist accumulation.
An early response to the financial collapse of 2008 was the slogan ‘We won’t pay for their crisis’, which later gave way to the more trenchant statement ‘Capitalism is Crisis’. This underlined the realisation that the most vulnerable are not only paying a high price for the crisis, but that crisis is implicit in a system where such violence, such destruction is part and parcel of its reproduction. A distinction must here be made between economic and ideological crisis. The former is integral to the logic of capitalist accumulation, which in its neoliberal mode has contended that ‘free’ markets have a tendency towards self-regulation and can therefore construe crises as a temporary manifestation of that principle. The latter is a consequence of the former; a rupture in the belief in capitalism compounded by deep social crisis. The more established middle classes, for example, have been thrown into self-doubt, having lost their sense of global hegemony and the material securities they took for granted for decades. The world’s poor, meanwhile, are, as ever, pushed further down into the mud.
It is this congruence of the economic and ideological crisis, which has exacerbated misery everywhere – and, with it, conjured potentially revolutionary forces now appearing on the surface. As the ranks of the newly immiserated and proletarianised continue to swell, the former middle classes now sit cheek by jowl with those whose hopes of escape they may have once embodied.
But could it be said that this re-composition is part of a more generalised revolutionary process? What we see instead is that the coming resurrections of zombie tendencies are already fully compliant with capitalist logic: nationalism, populism, xenophobia and an obsession with security – to be flanked by propaganda, surveillance, dictatorial, and/or mafia type structures.
Disciplinary austerity is presented as a necessary corrective, an emergency response to the economic crisis and global market crash. Should that fail to convince, there’s always the tale of ‘public sector over-spending’ and ‘living it large’ – a popular profligacy to justify the collective sacrifice. After all, ‘we’re all in this together’. These narratives are typical of capitalism’s meager offering of legitimating excuses.
Under the Wheels
In recent decades we have seen a very close integration of market dynamics and culture. We have witnessed the rise and rise of the Creative Industries. These promised the liberation of Marx’s alienated workers in a process of creative self-realisation and autonomy. Through creativity of the hands and the hearts, they would grant capitalism a human face. Artists, with their idealism, flexibility and enthusiasm to work even under precarious circumstances, became the role model for a new concept of capitalism, leading its ‘triumphant procession around the globe’. The hopes for this spectacle were twofold: it would strengthen belief in capitalism’s new formula, and it would disguise the fact that, like so much else wealth generated under the sign of creativity, it was the product of a proliferation of speculation, and increasing indebtedness. Meanwhile, under the procession’s grinding wheels, the sweatshops, child labour, privatisation of commons and all other disasters that accompany the economic warfare of rich versus poor, continued unabated.
As workers in the cultural and educational sector we have to acknowledge that what passes for critique and politicisation, particularly within the contemporary art community, has proven to be even more toothless than feared. Mimicking the strategies of corporate management, art institutions adopted the rhetoric of social responsibility and ethical governance as a means to appear progressive. Under the guise of art trends like relational aesthetics and the new institutionalism, and state agendas like social inclusion, the privileged continued their merry dance. Political agendas were de-politicised, struggle was taken out of politics as glamorous institutions dressed up as community centres, and corporations as charities. While this may not have entirely convinced the progressives and radical reformists, they still singularly failed to expose a deeper process of de-structuring, organisational hollowing out and the consolidation of existing power relations.
With the recent economic collapse, and the ideological crisis of capitalism, the more progressive branches of the cultural institutional landscape entered a void, displaying both panic and paralysis. In some cases institutional surfaces became more porous and open, while in others they congealed and contracted further, becoming ever more rigid and conservative. At the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, New York’s Artist’s Space, for example, demonstrated how both processes can occur simultaneously. Here, management initially supported its own ‘occupation’ by artist-activists. But the progressive dream scenario of participation ‘from below’ suddenly turned undesirable, when ‘lack of clear demands’ was cited as cause to call security and remove the occupiers from the building.
In 2008, similar institutional confusion and violence marked the 28th São Paolo Biennale, where the ground floor of the massive exhibition complex was left open ‘for the community’. When urban graffiti crew, pixadores, entered the space with their spray cans, as might be expected, they were forcibly evicted by security and police. This was not the right kind of ‘participation’. Students of Berkeley University occupying Wheeler Hall in 2010 fared no better: faced with nothing more than a sit-down protest, Administration called the UC Berkeley police, which used pepper spray to drive the students from their institutional home violently.
Where antagonisms are not successfully negotiated or suppressed, institutions tend to lay low – either reproducing the state narrative that the crisis is an anomaly that can be overcome, or quietly scrambling for ways not to be cut or shut.
If we can be sure of anything at this moment, it is this: there will be no bailout for us. In fact, it is much worse – communities, homes, workplaces and organisations have again been called upon to facilitate the next phase of capitalist development. The question is: what are we going to do about it? Which is only interesting insofar as it could equally be, what can we do about it? That is, while we remain subject to a system geared towards squeezing cash even out of the rubble it generates, the task, as we see it, is to remind ourselves that this rubble might offer a relative but significant opening: namely an awakening sense that there is no neoliberal future to build, and that we’re no longer compelled to compete as individuals for a piece of the free market world. Against this backdrop, we can measure those in the art system as it stands and by what it is they have to offer in the preparation of a post-capitalist society.
Race to the Bottom
It remains urgent to examine how institutions learnt to simultaneously demand their subjects (workers, students, consumers) accept less (wages, resources, support) while having to pay more (fees, free and voluntary labour). This would include the intensification of ‘hollowing out’, where institutions outsourced large swathes of their activity bar the baseline cultural programming, which continued to legitimise their existence. And, more recently, the rhetoric of ‘de-institutionalisation’, which, removed from its original context of mental health and community care, gained some currency among art professionals as part of a pragmatic institutional response to austerity agendas.
The bogus consultative mode associated with this discourse is now widespread, demonstrating that an increased ‘openness’ to exterior (and critical) forces can alleviate the immediate impact of dwindling funds and gaps in programming by effectively securing free input into everything, from content to strategic organisational development. By way of illustration, London’s ICA, on the verge of collapse in late 2009, gathered representatives from the ‘critical art community’ for an invitation-only discussion forum, The Reading Group. Its framing questions, albeit generalised, clearly also possess a strategic function: ‘What work can we do?’, ‘How do we find alternative ways of thinking about production and labour?’ and ‘How can we act collectively?’
How, then, do we begin to relate the material impact of the ‘race to the bottom’, which can be seen everywhere – all competing against all, all the time – with what appears to be a personal and simultaneously institutional need for, and indeed desire to, cooperate, work together, self-organise? To counter this apparently unassailable dynamic, we must continue to define the system’s key characteristics and patterns, especially as these develop and change. Do we have any choice but to ally ourselves with the explosive rage this has triggered on the streets, directed so decisively at symbolic sites of knowledge, wealth and power?
What role do cultural and educational institutions play during this period of rapid change? Given the current scale of cuts and devastation, these places, where some of us happen to work, study, breathe, pose an unenviable choice: do we self-organise, break the relationship, fight it out among the ruins and accelerate the process of collapse, destruction? Or do we take on more traditional forms of opposition, slow down the process in the search for a temporary haven in the violent storm? These questions follow us into the ruins, a crumbling landscape where the terms may have changed, but the struggle, which remains a class struggle, continues.
As we move into the ruins, can art production, the art system and its institutions, for example, play a part in unlearning capital? Can it feature in a more generalised process of de-education and unlearning? Can it contribute to the exit, the movement out of capitalism? Can those in the cultural and educational sector situate notions of collectivity and communism beyond the specialisation that capitalist production continues to impose? Can these struggles be connected, widened? Can they contribute to post-capitalist, de-specialised spaces, which enable cultural production and engagement in the wildest sense?
Those of us with a need to continue to self-organise will do so in relation to the specific contours and tempos of our respective struggles. Some of us self-organise because we still can, and because we have no choice, while some self-organise to survive, to resist. Self-organisation relies on a dominant form of organisation only to depart from it. Whether it’s workers on the factory floor or artist-revolutionaries elsewhere, the desire to self-organise is first and foremost caught in the contradiction that it both affirms and breaks with the dominant order. If we, then, accept that self-organisation serves a specific purpose at a specific point in any given struggle, we might also ask: at what point is it possible to move beyond self-organisation? And what would this ‘beyond’ look like?
Into the Ruins
There is no reason to be afraid of the ruins, among which some of us now find ourselves, because they could represent the end of capitalist relations and the dissolution of its opaque administrative bodies. It’s difficult to feel concerned about the ways in which the term self-organisation has been re-purposed by those who rely on its aura of radicality to prop up their ailing power. The desired outcome of self-organisation is not the affirmation of the self, the individual, the institution – it’s in the negation of these relationships.
Take over the factory (again!), occupy the schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, rip up management dictats, diss reforms, take over all public transportation, dismiss self-help, head-lock entrepreneurs, outflank the bosses, cancel all dodgy contracts, drop ownership, turn over directors, managers, curators, administrators, break into their offices, liberate their ‘resources’.
In all its forms, self-organisation is a basic and necessary social process that relies on an initial binding condition or problem, which is then addressed collectively. It is a collaborative tool, a means to mobilise skills, experience, support, resources and knowledge. Looking back (and forward!), we see its role in the formation of council democracies (soviets, Räte, councils), where politics developed at the level of the factory, kindergarten, neighbourhood – and people came together to organise, practically, artistically, intellectually.
But it should be noted that decision-making and debates about executive and legislative processes can produce larger, more complex structures – a union of councils. In order to gain broader impact for different experiments in self-organisation, it will eventually become imperative to join forces, organise and unite beyond various specific and singular interests.
Issue impossible demands, make no demands, say nothing, deny everything, wreck classrooms, put social knowledge to work, re-deploy those wasted years of education, construct new tools, question and undermine normalisation, tear apart populism and nationalism, take space, refuse reform, refuse negotiations, refuse explanations, no demands in their language, anti-normative, anti-hegemonic, pain in the ass, fragile, refuse their language, scream, shout, dance, riot, smash, fuck, make noise, remain silent.
As we’ve seen in recent struggles, it is necessary to work against the tendency to cut off self-organised processes from a potentially revolutionary mainstream in order to gain momentum. The framework and infrastructures for such connections are everywhere, at all times. But how can they be brought together in such a way as to maintain ‘difference’, and allow for tensions, antagonism and disputes to be productive? In the process of its own negation, then, self-organisation should continue to question terms like consensus, alliance, solidarity and democracy.
Try out, flow, keep on, moving with others, enjoy failure, camps, communication, interaction is production, rewrite history, redefine identity, unlearn property, make demands in another language, redistribute the sensible, de-specialise, re-specialise, re-imagine the present, socialise depression, make new dictionaries, vocabularies, lexicons, indexes, catalogues, new maps.
Continuing to produce culture, despite the dominance of capital and its institutions, is not a call for a placebo utopianism, or to prepare for a separate form of life outside of production and the creation of surplus. Instead, it means testing new forms of collaboration and developing a different measure and grasp of value. Here, production embodies mutuality, togetherness, new and dynamic social relations, all of which continue to occur among the ruins, helping to accelerate the expansion of the commons and a total transformation of social relationships.
Block, parry, side-step, strike, counter, dig out, confront, tear up, get your shit together, your guts together, boycott, complete dissent, proletarian shopping, hit and run, critique, purge, find unexpected comrades, abolish, destroy money, watch the bullshit fall apart, dance among the ruins.
A key task now is to derail capitalist restructuring, continue to widen the cracks, block all attempts at reform wherever possible. We need to build, protect and defend the communes and commons that will make up post-capitalist life. As we’ve seen, most states and their institutions can switch into emergency mode at a moment’s notice, unleashing levels of extreme violence that are commensurate only with their own fear – not with any actually existing threat. New warfare is underway everywhere – on the Internet, in the street, private and public sphere; all are either in a state of emergency, or threatened by impending incursions. We have to maintain the alliances and continue to develop the destructive language that shapes the exit.
Merge, get organised, disorganise, flow together, join forces, exchange experiments, experiment with yourself, get rid of yourself, slowly, start synthesising, synchronising, syncopating, shaping structures, play with weapons, stray research labs, converging forms of communication and collaboration, anti-property, no-property, property-less, non-proprietorial, non-patriarchal education, self-educate, co-educate, experiment, dump your expertise, experiment, no programme, force open the archives, inhabit histories, dig the bones out of the rubble, re-animate the long, long memory of political struggles, victories and defeats, activate conflicting utopias, realise oneiric knowledge.
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 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,
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,
Build, The Housemartins, from The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death, 1987
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.)
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.
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.
Everywhere bells beginning to toll…