August 12, 2019

But are you doing anything?


BirkbeckArts

Each year, the School ofArts at Birkbeck University holds an Arts Week – a programme of free talks, workshops, exhibitions, screenings and performances. At the end of May this year, I took part in one of these events, a panel discussion on ‘gestation and incubation’ and their relationship to outputs and productivity in the academic and creative worlds. Titled ‘But are you doing anything?’, the idea was to explore how ‘thinking, talking and meditating rate as work’. We were asked for our interpretation of ‘activities/ways of doing when it comes to incubating, hibernating and gestation’; and whether ‘thinking and learning, if not shaped into visible outputs, [can] be perceived as a form of practice’. The panel members were chosen for having ‘a foot in two camps’; i.e. we are all practitioners in the arts at the same time as having academic roles: Lina Džuverović, Curator and Lecturer, Film, Media and Cultural Studies Department, Birkbeck; Rachel Garfield, Artist and Head of Department of Art, University of Reading; and myself, Arts Manager and Associate Fellow, Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, University of Warwick. The session was chaired by Simone Wesner, Lecturer, Film, Media and Cultural Studies Department, Birkbeck, and an alumna of our Centre.

The panel discussion and subsequent contributions from the audience, were fascinating and thoughtful. The organisers of ‘But are you doing anything?’ will be creating a podcast from the recording of the event; and they’re looking at how they might develop further discussion on the topic. In the meantime, here are a few of my thoughts – based on my practice as an enabler for others working in the arts, my academic interests in the practices of others, and my own experiences as an academic writer and researcher:

What are the circumstances and processes involved in the ‘gestation’ stage of the creative venture? They are surely varied, and include: how it’s done (e.g. gestation might be in one block or at different stages of the overall creative process, or affected by interruptions); how long it takes; what form it takes; and its relative importance to the overall creative project.

At the session, I proposed the idea of gestation as a spectrum (cf. diagram below), starting from the fairly ‘passive’ or ‘invisible’ commencement of the process, which might begin with just noticing and letting things in (what children’s writer and illustrator Benji Davies calls getting ‘seeds of ideas, stor[ing] them, and a few years later, they turn up somewhere’. Then – although as I suggest later, we shouldn’t necessarily see this as a straightforward progression from one step to another – there are the acts of mulling over, reflecting on, and thinking, which might be followed by the action of trying things out, then shaping and refining. In the arts, these would include, for instance, as a ceramicist suggested to me, a potter discarding the first nine pots s/he makes for the tenth that is built on the experiences and ideas of the preceding ones; or actors and director in the rehearsal room ‘getting a play onto its feet’ to see what it looks and feels like, whether it works, rather than ‘just’ talking about it (thus, the talking about it would be somewhere on the spectrum between thinking and doing). A similar process is at work in the field of writing. Academics and other writers I’ve spoken to vary in the amount of drafting and re-drafting that they do. In my own academic work, I tend to do quite a lot of my thinking through the act of writing, i.e. writing several drafts to get to what I want to say more exactly. So this action of drafting and re-drafting would certainly fit into what I have termed both the ‘trying things out’ and ‘shaping, refining’ stages of the spectrum.

Coming back to the point that this is not necessarily a one-directional process, I suggest it’s a constantly two-way engagement, backwards and forwards, as it were, between the elements of this spectrum (hence, the arrows in the diagram). In addition, we could also think about a ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ process between gestation and the part of practice that directly produces the output – i.e. gestation doesn’t just occur as a completed phase before production, but can also happen at various points during the production stage. Thus the movement between the invisibility of the ‘early’ stages and the greater visibility of ‘later’ stages is one that will also have a backwards and forwards motion.

Gest

How much of gestation is solitary and to what extent can it be collaborative? If there is a spectrum of gestation, then some of the activities I’ve included in it can and do involve forms of collaboration, such as informal conversation or more formal discussions, and also trying things out.

A question we were asked to consider in the set-up of the session was to do with expectations that might curtail or undermine gestation – the demand for outputs, for showing and proving that one is ‘doing something’, and how one can negotiate or resist these demands and ‘allow for […] incubation - the dormant phase in the creative process’. In fact, as an arts manager with responsibility for securing funding for arts organisations, my role has sometimes involved me in disturbing or interrupting the gestation process of others. For instance, when I was working for a theatre company, I would have to ask our artistic director for thoughts about a show that he wouldn’t be putting into shape for at least a year, because the funding for it needed to be applied for long in advance. The same is also often the case in academic life; i.e. that demands for output by the requirements of the REF, grant funders, etc., can disrupt and curtail the gestation process. The constant pressure for outputs is graphically illustrated in these words from an arts producer who attended a workshop about co-creation that I organised: 

“I really valued the time to think and talk, but it’s tricky to get more than 1.5 hours out of the office if it isn’t directly contributing to one of my team’s outputs for that week.”

This is also something that the many artists working in schools have to deal with:

“When we'd sat round a table (us, the students and the teachers) and said 'What do we do now?', there would be periods of silence while we all thought. […]the teachers found it incredibly uncomfortable. […] it made them realise how little time they put aside for thinking in the classroom, because there's so much emphasis about bubbling along, and 'Let's be active, let's be doing, let's be talking'. […] Can we be brave enough to just be quiet and think?”

- James Yarker, Artistic Director, Stan’s Cafe, Birmingham, in Talking About CulturalValue: Voices from the Arts Community, a report for the Warwick Commission on Cultural Value, Jane Woddis, 2015.

None of the panel in ‘But are you doing anything?’ was researching the subject when we were first asked to take part in this discussion; but Birkbeck’s request means we have now begun the gestation process……

But are you doing anything?2










Mladen Stilinović, Artist at Work Again (2011). At Ludwig Museum, Budapest, 2011. Photo: Boris Cvjetanović. Courtesy of Branka Stipančić. (Image from publicity for But are you doing anything?)


May 30, 2019

New Directions in Cultural and Media Research Symposium

On May 23rd, the Centre hosted a one-day symposium, “New Directions in Cultural and Media Research.” This symposium aimed to create a productive communal space for scholars working on the cultural and creative industries in histories, practices and products alongside critical assessment of their development, sustainability and significance for contemporary social life. The symposium also set out to reflect upon the changing climate, the ongoing debates, and the new research directions of cultural, performance and media studies. As part of the CADRE research festival, the symposium had gathered together presentations from PhD researchers at Warwick, across the Faculty of Arts and beyond, whose work draws on and develops these approaches.

NDCM

In the morning session, there were three presentations from Asep Muizudin Muhamad Darmini, Han Wen, and Alessandra Grossi. Asep, from Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, presented on “Size does (not) matter: A note from the Indonesian Islamic Boarding School (Pondok Pesantran).” Asep presented his fieldwork on the use of the internet in two Islamic boarding schools - Miftahul Huda and Cipasung. The research found that despite the limitation of internet usage, students from both schools still find the learning experience enlightening and these institutions help students form their identity as young Muslims in the modern era of Indonesia.

Han, from Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, presented on “Brand research after the cultural turn: Meaning-making, complexity and reflection,” where he discussed history of brand research and its relation to the cultural turn. The aim of his presentation was to clarify the theoretical puzzles in the interdisciplinary study of brands by reflecting on three distinctive logics of interdisciplinarity - accountability, innovation, and ontology.

Alessandra, from Theatre and Performance Studies, presented on “The representation of womanhood in Victorian classical burlesque: A combination of approaches.” Using archival research as the starting point, her work seeks to understand the representation of gender in the chosen corpus of classical burlesques and whether the crossing of gender boundaries taking place on the burlesque stage could be said to have a political value. This research drew on a combination of theories, including Classical Reception, Theatre Historiography and Gender Studies.

NDCMThe afternoon session had two presentations from Tijana Blagojev and Juliana Holanda. Both researchers are participants of the Media Policy Lab, which is a project from CCMPS coordinated by Pietari Kääpä that aims to increase Media Policy awareness. The laboratory is currently developing a game to promote Media Policy among youths.

Tijana Blagojev, from the Department of Politics and International Studies, reported on her research into “Government funding of local media: Project-based financing in Serbia - Supporting local public information of fulfilling political interests?”. Tijana explained her analysis on the system of state financing of public information that was introduced in Serbia in 2014. The aim of the study is to focus on the funds received on the local level by municipalities to see how pluralism and diversity were supported in Serbia.

Juliana Holanda, from the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies, discussed the results of the first year of the PhD research “From Rio 92 to Rio +20: Brazilian media coverage of sustainable development.” The investigation intends to analyse how Brazilian media has covered key aspects of sustainable development, especially as relates to the ways journalistic coverage has framed sustainability initiatives.

NDCMThe plenary discussion was the major element of the final session, by which it has the aim to engage research students to discuss the challenges and opportunities for media and cultural studies. Members of staff, Joanne Garde-Hansen, Chris Bilton and Pietari Kääpä, from the Centre highlighted some key ideas in the discussion. This includes the ‘transferability’ of the cross-cultural topics in different research contexts, the non-territorial nature as well as the ‘discipline’ of the cultural and media studies, and the challenge to clarify the ‘newness’ in cultural and media study from observing both the past and current research directions. Besides, the discussion encourages research students to focus on the publications and their personal profiles, using them as strategies to build an academic identity in a particular field of research. The plenary session has inspired speakers and participants to reflect upon their academic journeys, and it also summed up the fruitful discussions happened in this one-day symposium.

This blog-entry is jointly-authored by Juliana Holanda, Yuche Li, and Phitchakan Chuangchai.


May 20, 2019

As Seen On TV

Victoria Wood Unveiling BrochureIt felt like a real privilege to join the crowd of residents, family, fellow performers and fans to witness the unveiling of the latest addition to the list of statues of comedians, Victoria Wood, in Bury last Friday. Located right in the centre of the town on the gardens of the Unitarian Church, the life-sized bronze statue represents a prominent addition to the landscape of Bury – the significance of which was reflected in the size of the crowd that turned up to watch, the regional and national media presence and the role of local civic leaders and institutions in the co-ordination and conduct of what was a very joyful ceremony (with the actual unveiling being done by the actor and comedian Ted Robbins who, among other associations, acted as Victoria Wood’s warm-up man for her successful 80s sketch show Wood and Walters).

There is lots of interest in this latest example for the project on this (which I’ve blogged about here and here). It is another addition to the Northern (and North-Western) list of such statues, indicating their interesting geography and the powerful role of figures such as these in regional identities. The accompanying exhibition dedicated to Wood in the Bury Art Museum narrates her birth and early life in the town, as well as the journey to the bright lights of study in Birmingham and then London to find fame. More than this, though, speeches from the Council Leader Cllr Rishi Shori, Victoria's brother Chris Foote-Wood, and Reverend Kate McKenna from the Unitarian Church, all indicated the extent to which her brand of observational comedy drew heavily on the characters and turns of phrase she knew and overheard while growing up. The everyday culture of Northern life was, in other words, a fundamental source of inspiration and there was a keen sense that, as well as being Bury’s ‘most famous daughter’, the town could proudly claim her as one of 'their own' (in keeping with the concerns of campaigns like Mary on the Green and inVisibleabout the uneven gender spread of public monuments, Wood joins a short list of statues to women comedians. Another, to ‘Our Gracie’, Gracie Fields, is nearby in Rochdale).

BrochureNorth

This piece is a further contribution to the pantheon of such statues from the artist Graham Ibbeson, who is responsible for the Eric Morecambe statue which arguably ‘kicked-off’ the most recent phase of commemoration of figures from 20th century popular culture in 1999, as well as statues of Les Dawson in Lytham St Annes and Laurel and Hardy in Ulverston. Ibbeson is clearly a key figure in this story and his work on these monuments (and on others dedicated to iconic sporting heroes and Britain’s industrial heritage) strongly celebrates Northern working class culture. He has also been vocal in recognising the role that such monuments can play in democratising public art. Responding to earlier criticism of the trend for monuments to celebrities as a ‘vile pollutant’ of the contemporary landcape, for example, Ibbeson is sceptical of ‘some of the so-called intellectuals, the arts professionals who consider accessibility a crime against their minority’ (Threlkeld and Ibbeson, 2011: 152).

The addition of much-loved comedians, entertainers and athletes to the category of the ‘memorialisable’ does seem to be an opening up of that category, at least in comparison with the civic, military or political leaders which seemed to fill it in the past. While those statues might have been imposed on local populations without much consultation, contemporary monuments seem more likely to need to emerge from a prolonged and complex negotiation with various courts of public and aesthetic opinion. The creation of this particular statue seems to reveal the risks of this ‘democratisation’. On the plus side, money was raised through a crowd-funding campaign from local residents and fans instigated by Victoria’s brother and biographer, Chris Foote-Wood and finally co-ordinated and managed by Bury Council and her estate. More contentiously, an initial public vote on the design of the statue came down in favour of a depiction of Wood as the character of Bren from the sitcom dinnerladies, which proved controversial. When the eventual design – actually depicting Wood in a more iconic ‘stand-up’ mode - emerged, it was also subject to extensive scrutiny and critique, including through social media. It was notable that the speeches in the ceremony on Friday did not shy away from this controversy, with Wood’s brother being firm in his assertion that the family approved of the depiction and with Cllr Rishi Shori giving a thoughtful defence of the skill and craft of the sculptor, as well as a reflection on the difficulty of capturing a universally appreciated essence of a person who everyone feels they know through decades-long appearances on their front room TV screens. This is a theme I’d be keen to explore further as it points up some interesting tensions between an assumed limit of ‘popular taste’, linked to an apparent preference for ‘real’ depictions and the potential of monuments and public art in general to re-imagine and re-interpret its subjects and representations. The familiarity of fans and audiences, through TV or film, make this a challenge that contemporary sculptors of subjects from the ‘broadcast-era' might face that their predecessors did not.

It remains to be seen the extent to which this new statue is adopted and lived with by Bury residents – and it would be interesting to follow up on that in the project. Judging by the warmth of the response on Friday, though, I’d be optimistic that it will become as well loved as its subject.


February 05, 2019

Reminder of our Values

In October 2017, CMPS undertook a values exercise with students and staff all together in the same room. Please be reminded of the outcomes of that exercise here. We brainstormed, we discussed and we agreed on a core set of Values for the Centre for Cultural & Media Policy Studies. In part, this was because, as the new Centre Director I wanted to get a sense of what students felt about being with us, what they expected of each other and of staff, and what we as colleagues hoped our students valued most. We said then that values, valuing and evaluation are not only becoming more important but that they are tricky to articulate, measure and appreciate unless spoken about and remembered on a daily basis. It was also because we all felt that such an exercise was not only long overdue at the Centre, but at all universities.

So, I take this opportunity in the light of the Vice Chancellor's and the University of Warwick's recent statement expressing deeper commitment to values of equality, dignity and respect, to remind you of the Centre's values, articulated in 2017, that we stand by today and into the future:

1) FRIENDSHIP & TOLERANCE

2) DIALOGUE & SELF-EXPRESSION

3) INTEGRITY & RESPONSIBILITY

We know there are disagreements, particularly in group work and friendship groups, across cultures and national identities. We know that national and global political dramas can drag us into what seem like all-encompassing soap opera narratives where we are expected to be a fan of one show and not of the other show. We know that historical and well-remembered ideas about national identity, race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, religion and age continue to quietly shape thoughts and feelings, even when we work hard to challenge their impacts. We also know from experience how many of these ideas have been challenged by the person in front of us, who escapes all of these ideas, and is a person. A person who cares and is cared for. It is the capacity to care, to care about and to be cared for that connects us.

Outside of your personal tutor, your module tutor, the senior tutor and the Centre Director, there are the following Warwick services that support our values in practice and care about people. These are:

Dignity at Warwick: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/equalops/dignityatwarwick

The Residential Life Team: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/residentiallife/rlt/

Warwick Wellbeing Support: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/studentsupport

Independent Sexual Violence Adviser:https://warwick.ac.uk/services/supportservices/preventionandsupport/sexualviolence/supportforsurvivors/isva/

Warwick Students’ Union: https://www.warwicksu.com/


January 03, 2019

Experts' Workshop on the 2005 Convention, UNESCO, Paris, December 17th 2018.

The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was one of the fastest conventions ever to have passed the UN General Assembly, and the only major international legal instrument on culture and creative industries. I held a seminar on the Convention here in the Centre four years ago, when Justin O’Connor was a Warwick Institute of Advanced Study International Fellow. Here he is now leading a major international research project with participants from the USA, South Africa and Hong Kong, and taking a global view on UNESCO’s main programs supporting the Convention. These include case analyses in Asia and Africa, looking specifically at the Expert Facility, the International Fund for Cultural Diversity and the Creative Cities Network. This seminar, however, was more focused and gathered experts on the Convention, including the Convention management team at the UNESCO HQ.

UNESCO Expert Seminar

The discussion aimed to frame the projected longitudinal assessment around culture, economy and development – themes some of the group had been discussing since we met as the Global Cultural Economy Network in Shanghai in 2012. UNESCO has a deep and long intellectual history, easily forgotten. And the Convention, despite an ongoing intergovernmental collaboration facility and extensive civil society involvement, is not overly visible within the spectrum of member state national cultural policy commitments. The Convention, however, is not just a legal agreement, but a growing project – of sponsoring research, expert technical intervention, training and evaluation, funded projects and a range of other promotional activities. It has four key goals: cultural governance, cultural flows and mobility, sustainable development through culture, and Human Rights. For me, these are the four globally significant subjects of cultural policy today. The seminar broached each of them, and helped define the scope and criteria for the above project and for the rest of us (me specifically) help define an evolving project on the role of global cultural policy and development discourse in post-Brexit UK cultural policy.

There are 11 UNESCO Chairs (recognized academic leaders) in cultural policy in the world, one of which will be an IAS International Fellow – based here in the Centre, hosted by me -- this coming June: Serhan Ada from Istanbul, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Diplomacy. We will be doing various activities, soon to be advertised.

UNESCO HQ


August 31, 2018

ICCPR 2018, International Conference on Cultural Policy Research, Tallinn University, Estonia.

For me, and don't ask me why, the most memorable event at a conference is the conference dinner. This one was at a converted aircraft hanger (now the Seaplane Harbour Museum) and was very enjoyable indeed. Colleagues Chris, Clive, and David, could attest to that. Here’s one view (as we were being serenaded by an Estonian youth choir). See below and http://iccpr2018.tlu.ee/

Conference Dinner

I organized a “roundtable” with Daniel Gad of Hildesheim University – entitled “Arts Rights Justice: policy, activist and legal approaches”, and held on the morning of Friday 24th August. The four participants in the roundtable were myself, Milena Dragićević Šešić (UNESCO Chair Belgrade), Marcin Górski (a legal specialist) and Daniel. We did not present papers, but rather perspectives that invited immediate responses from an audience, aiming to position Rights and Justice as principle subjects of cultural policy research.

Roundtable

There is a sense in which rights and justice were always implicit in European cultural policy as a public policy, but arguably they are currently not explicit in a way that effectively engages with issues in legal or activist spheres, particularly in relation to increasing urgent issues of the cultural freedom of, say, refugees in Europe, artists under censorship or religious repression both in Europe and beyond. In Bangladesh right now, photographer and activist Shahidul Alam (whom I have met a few times), is currently under arrest for simply making a political statement. This arrest is not, de facto, a form of censorship of art itself (his photography is not at issue), but indicative of a more complex relation between artistic identity and political agency. Moreover, Shahidul is a muslim, with a particular view on Islam, so that this might play a role in the motivation for his detention; contemporary religion is a neglected area of cultural research and cultural policy, and like art itself, religious discourse is highly context-dependent in terms of our understanding its intelligibility, meaning and reception.

The roundtable members were diverse and insightful into their own experience of arts, rights and justice Professor Milena spoke on Rights, diversity and cultural policies in Europe and her experience as UNESCO technical advisor in Cambodia. Daniel Gad spoke from his role as director of the new Arts Rights Justice Academy at the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development at the Department of Cultural Policy, University of Hildesheim; it is primarily concerned with artistic freedom and protecting artists at risk. Lawyer Marcin Górski is writing a book in international legal perspectives on artistic freedom from censorship. And I am currently interested in the legal discourse on the relation between culture and human rights. Running a masters in arts and development, and have become increasingly interested in human rights approaches, the UN’s so-called “rights-based approach” to everything. More immediately as visiting professor at Hildesheim last year, I taught a short course on Cultural Rights.

Further, I edited a special issue on cultural rights in the Journal of Law, Social Justice and Global Development, available here http://www.lgdjournal.org/[Daniel and Marcin contributed]. And Professor Milena and myself edited the research papers of the next Istanbul Cultural Policy Yearbook (2017-18) – entitled Cultural Policy and Populism – where rights issues and the subject of freedom echoes throughout the issue. I will be launching the Yearbook at the inauguration of the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Diplomacy (Prof Serhan Ada) in Istanbul on the 23rd September.

The phrase “Arts Rights Justice” was probably already familiar from The Arts Rights Justice EU Working Group (under Culture Action Europe within and the EU’s civil society dialogue platform “Access to Culture”). Its importance is that it co-joins the older debates and discourse on censorship and the repression of artists and writers with the UN-level human rights discourse of cultural rights. My policy approach started with the critical observation that cultural organisations in Europe – particularly the UK – are very good at using the rhetoric of rights and justice (particularly access and participation – enforced by law, in the UK with the Equalities Act 2010, Human Rights Act 1998 and previous iterations of both these areas of law and policy), but they are arguably not so effective at understanding or challenging the political and legal powers that issue such legislation…(the role of that rhetoric in ideology and formations of political discourse). Governments can use Rights as a form of patronage and a discursive means of promoting ideology.

By extention, Rights (as an individualisation of political behaviour and self-assertion) is instrumentally important to the global neoliberal order – which has coopted democracy and liberty (for example, an appeal to the supremacy of civil society, “access” and participation as condition of free markets, the individual’s right to choose fundamental to consumerism, and so on..). In the UK, the incorporation of policy directives for (minorities in mainstream cultural life and institutions, the elimination of discrimination, the recognition of interest groups and so on) is conducted by political fiat of national, local government and funding bodies, and not public deliberation. Consequently, arts and cultural organisations are not routinelly involved in deliberative thinking or research on rights – or indeed act as, in the UN’s terms, Human Rights Defenders in the cultural sphere. What would it mean then -- the roundtable briefly discussed -- for arts and cultural organisations to be activist or official Human Rights Defenders in culture? Why do cultural organisations (even eminent or well-endowed cultural institutions) reject potential political agency in this area?

Indeed, the growing discourse of human rights is huge and complex. On the one hand, cultural rights has an increasing profile (with a second UNHRC Special Rapporteur), but on the other hand (and despite its official recognition in the 1966 ICESCR, UNESCO’s own human rights complaints facility and its appeal to the 1948 UDHR for all its seven conventions), cultural rights remain a matter of few deliberations or cases. This is true of UNHRC or anyone else (except perhaps the Council of Europe). This presents some academic opportunities for research, which roundtable members will be exploring in the forthcoming months.

During the conference, we had a range of organised trips: this picture is the creative city development at Telliskivi, north east of the old town (and not easily captured in a single photo).
creative city


July 13, 2018

More statues of comedians

Les Dawson statue, St Annes-on-Sea, Lancashire. Sculptor: Graham Ibbeson.Last year I blogged about my developing research project on Monumentalising Popular Culture. I thought I’d write just to update on progress and developing themes.The project is examining the contemporary phenomenon of statues of comedians, on the assumption that the dedication of such memorials to popular entertainers connects with a number of inter-related issues within Cultural Studies, the sociology of culture and cultural policy making. These include, but aren’t limited to, ‘cultural value’ debates about the ways in which popular culture becomes official or legitimate, the relation between culture, identity and heritage and the role of culture in local and regional development and planning.

One thing I have discovered is that, gratifyingly, there are more such statues than I had originally thought - and thanks to the generosity of the Humanities Research Fund at Warwick I've been able to visit many of them this year. My latest running total is of twenty statues or monuments to 17 comedians (including three statues of Stan Laurel, one of which with his partner Oliver Hardy, two of George Formby and two of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, one of them together). In keeping with the general pattern identified by campaign groups such as Mary on the Green and inVisible Women, these are predominantly statues of men. Gracie Fields in Rochdale is currently the only statue of a woman in this category, with a statue of Victoria Wood due to be unveiled in Bury later this summer. A number of interesting themes are emerging from this work. I’ll just outline two here.

First, fifteen of these statues have been unveiled since the turn of the century. If we add to these similar statues to pop/rock artists, such as to David Bowie, or Amy Winehouse, or AC/DC’s Bon Scott, unveiled in this period, as well as a slightly more established recent history of statues to athletes, we can perhaps identify a growing trend for the commemoration and celebration of figures from twentieth century popular culture. This implies that people from these realms have now joined the category of the ‘memorialisable’, which might previously have been the preserve of political, military, civic or industry leaders or figures from what is traditionally understood as ‘high culture’. Among the many reasons that I think this is interesting is that, while in the past it might have been that choices of who to commemorate were imposed on local populations, contemporary selections seem more likely to have to be justified and negotiated over by residents, enthusiasts, councils and planning authorities. What’s more, in cases such as Frank Sidebottom (alter-ego of Chris Sievey), Ronnie Barker or the soon to be unveiled Victoria Wood, the statues were produced within five years of the deaths of their subjects, implying something of an appetite and enthusiasm for the chance to claim and celebrate such figures and their connections to a town or region through this kind of memorial.

Second, but relatedly, there is something of an uneven spread of the statues geographically, with the majority being located in the north of England, and nine being in the North West (I’ve made a google map of the ones I’ve found you can see here). Analysts such as Andy Medhurst and Mike Featherstone have speculated about the place of comedy in British regional identity, inflected by the more general ‘North-South divide’ and its relation to patterns of economic inequality within the UK. The North has also long been identified as a source of the UK’s most abiding and significant popular culture, even if ‘success’ in such fields has often involved its protoganoists moving away to London or beyond. In examples like George Formby in Wigan (and on the Isle of Man) and Gracie Fields we see the commemoration of figures who, even at the height of their national and international fame (they were the biggest male and female box-office stars of British cinema in the 1930s) were ineluctably associated with their Lancastrian roots. As interesting to me, though, is that the first of this ‘new generation’ of statues– the Eric Morecambe statue in Morecambe on the Lancashire coast- is also in this region. It was a key part of a local strategic investment to revive a tourist destination that had suffered years of relative decline. That so many nearby towns and councils followed this route suggests a degree of entrepreneurialism on the part of local authorities based on the belief that such monuments can both appeal to local pride and attract and enhance the experience of potential visitors. It also suggests the development of an increasingly well-navigated route through local government and planning structures to make such memorials possible.

I’ll be working on plans to develop research into these themes and others – over the summer with a view to speaking to both people who are directly involved in the decision making processes and the making of the statues themselves, and those who live with them. I’ll also be talking about the project at the ICCPR conference in Tallin in August. I’m keen to hear of any more examples, so please do contact me via twitter or in the comments below.


June 02, 2018

AHRC Protest Memory Network Kicks Off

Writing about web page https://protestmemory.wordpress.com/

PM1The first workshop of the AHRC funded and Warwick-led Network, The Afterlives of Protest kicked off at the Humanities Lab at the University of Sussex this week (30/31stMay 2018). For the live tweeting of the event go to #protestmem and for a fuller version go to the blog posting on the wordpress site on above link. The first day started with badge making, and our wonderful student-designed logo (by CMPS' very own Nazeer Jaunoo from the MA Global Media and Communication) which looked amazing and was creatively adulterated in many ways by the participants. Badge-making was so successful we might consider protest sticker-making, poster-making and banner-making at forthcoming events, so the network itself creates its own protest research memorabilia.

Highlight papers from Hannah Awcock on Geographies of Protest Stickers (she spent time in Brighton with her camera out capturing more material stuck to street furniture!) were juxtaposed with performance-based food presentations from Alison Ribeiro de Menezes and Carmen Wong, who baked Empanadas, inside of which were handkerchiefs with protest slogans stitched on. Presentations from Anna Feigenbaum, Sam Merrill, the Text Analysis Group (Sussex) and Louise Purbrick made for an exciting and eclectic first day, with lots of time for discussion.

The second day (the day after the evening's Radical History Walk of Brighton ending at the Cowley Club, a collectively-run libertarian social centre) we were treated to Anna Reading's presentation of Protesting Methods, and her Moving Hearts Project. We had Lizzie Thynne on remembering the miners' strike, preserving public space through film with Winstan Whitter, a mapping of Spare Rib magazine from Margaretta Jolly, and reflections on anti-poverty campaigning from Rachel Tavernor. The day was topped off with an excellent visit and presentation at the Mass Observation Archive, a wonderful resource for students and researchers interested in the everyday lives, thoughts, ideas and beliefs of those residing in the UK since the 1930s.


May 09, 2018

Exhibition at the City Arcadia Gallery

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/research/priorities/internationaldevelopment/

‘Poverty, Inequality and International Development: an exhibition of Photography from the 2018 GRP International Development Annual Photography Competition. City Arcadia Gallery, Coventry 1-4 May 2018. Curated by Dr Jonathan Vickery.

The GRP International Development Annual Photography Competition this year attracted many high quality submissions, with photographs from around the world. The breadth of places and subjects represented testify to the global reach of Warwick students as well as its diverse international student community. Countries represented include Nepal, Myanmar, Cuba and Vietnam. Each year a selection of submissions are exhibited in Millburn House on the Warwick campus. This year the GRP-International Development have funded a public exhibition in Coventry city centre – at the City Arcadia Gallery.

City Arcadia Gallery

The City Arcadia Gallery is run by a city artists association, Artspace Partnership, and is an old converted shop in the 1960s shopping centre, the City Arcade. The location (near the pioneering Shop Front Theatre, and Coventry University’s Fab Lab) means that the Gallery is visited by many passers-by (from shoppers to students to homeless people) that otherwise wouldn’t visit. This year’s GRP International Development research theme is ‘Poverty, Inequality and International Development’, and the context was apposite to this neglected part of the city. Last year’s theme – Gender and Development – attracted some excellent submissions, but this year two new genres of photo appeared – urban landscapes and social realism.

When people think of International Development, they often think of poor people in dysfunctional places, or more accurately, think in terms of global media representations of poor people in dysfunctional places. We all think about, and understand, the world out there with the aid of images and the cultural archive of images to which we maintain access through media and also retain in memory. And yet, so-called ‘developing countries’ are often culturally productive and creatively colourful places, and poverty is not simply a “lack” of economic resource, or a visually apparent set of social conditions.

Exhibition Curator

This year’s Annual Photography Competition opened with a challenge – How can images of development (of people, of places and spaces, of activities or organisations) teach us about the nature of global poverty, and how it is being resolved or can be solved in the present or future? How is poverty entangled with colonialism and its legacies? How do gender and other vectors of inequality cut across our approaches to poverty? What are the limits of global governance to poverty – and how can we use visual media to stimulate the need for alternative paths to sustainable development?

The questions raised by this exhibition can be phrased as follows: How do we define and represent poverty – without voyerurism or visual exploitation? And how is poverty concealed or invisible when presented photographically? How are images and narratives of poverty represented both by and to media audiences, and how can these be countered by more “engaged” forms of visual research?

Exhibit


November 12, 2017

New Academic Year and Re–Freshed Start for CMPS

group 1

On the 18th October 2017 CMPS had a get together to mark the occasion of a new centre director, Joanne Garde-Hansen, a re-freshed identity through the incorporation into our centre name of the significant amount of media and media policy research and teaching we do, and the first of our Seminar Speakers for 2017-18.

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Prof Seamus Simpson from the University of Salford engaged us all with his presentation on international civil society activism in Europe and the articulation of public interest goals in recent policy debates around possible changes to historic spectrum allocations. Simpson debated the role of European civil society actors on the potential reallocation of spectrum away from broadcasters and towards the mobile communications sector, as well as the implications of this on public service broadcasting.

group 2

PhD students discussed their latest research and colleagues from inside and outside the Centre re-connected over lunch and chatted about the year ahead.

It was also really an honour to have the past Centre Directors all in the same room together and we took the opportunity to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate all the good work of the past and usher in some new opportunities for the future.

CDs

Not least of all, of course, our new intake of postgraduate students for 2017-2018 will bring with them fresh opportunities for Centre colleagues to demonstrate the excellent teaching and research they undertake, and the students will share their experiences of media, creativity, communication and culture from their own contexts.


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