All entries for September 2012

September 22, 2012

On being a CPRA judge

Last week I spent two very enjoyable but very intense days in London, most precisely at Goldsmiths’ stunning – if dull named - New Academic Building to carry out my duties as jury member for the Cultural Policy Research Award. The award was instituted by the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond in 2004 and since 2008 is run in partnership with ENCATC, the network that brings together organisations that offer training in arts management and cultural policy, of which the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies is a member. The prize consists in the award of €10,000 to a young researcher to conduct a one-year research project of an applied nature on a topic of great significance for Europe.

Historically, the decision of setting up the award was the result of the observation made by senior staff at the ECF that research in the field of cultural policy was still patchy; that, as a foundation involved in policy analysis and advocacy, they felt that the available research was not sufficiently robust and that academically rigorous research that was also relevant to the policy process was paltry. Hence the decision to create a scheme to facilitate the emergence of new researchers with an interest in the type of cultural policy research that can positively contribute to the development of original scholarship in the field whilst also providing crucial new insights to policy makers.

Nine editions of the award on, and the landscape of cultural policy research has dramatically changed: the bodies and institutions – within the academy and beyond – which produce research in the field that we can broadly refer to as ‘cultural policy’ have grown significantly in number, and so have the available training opportunities. The field now has a number of dedicated publications: academic journals such as The International Journal of Cultural Policy and Cultural Trends, professional publications in most countries, and so on. Interestingly, the nature of the competition is also following suit and changing slightly and broadening its scope: for instance, this year, a significant proportion of the shortlisted applicants (including the one who eventually was awarded the prize) had entered the competition with projects that claimed (rightly) to address topics of key importance to Europe but whose focus of analysis and fieldwork was located in other geographical areas, often in the developing world, and shared an interest in questions of policies for development seen as contiguous to cultural policy.

This trend has led to some really vigorous and intellectually really stimulating discussions among us jury members as to what ‘research relevant to Europe means’ and on other equally intriguing issues such as: how to understand the notion of ‘applied’ research in relation to rigour and scholarship, and most notably what the criteria of ‘policy usefulness’ means for the proposed projects. Reaching a decision was actually a rather lengthy process of detailed analysis of the project ideas, candidates’ oral presentations and their ability to front questions and objections from the floor. This year’s winner, in the end, was Christiaan de Beukelaer, a 26 years old PhD student from Belgium enrolled at the University of Leeds. He will be spending his €10,000 doing ethnographic fieldwork in Africa, with a view of challenging our (very European/Western) faith in the UNCTAD-sanctioned model that sees the creative industries as key to economic development.

The CPRA winner, shortlisted candidates and the jury

In these years of austerity, €10,000 are not an insignificant amount of money and, as a researcher and a teacher, it is such a great pleasure to be able to offer a young researcher (often mid-way through a PhD) much needed cash to carry out precious fieldwork, or develop his or her own research agenda. However, if I’m honest, this is just part of why I love being a CPRA member… The CPRA shortlisted candidates present their projects not to the jury alone, but to a fairly substantial group of peers, who attend the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum. This is an ENCATC initiative established in 2006, which aims to offer young and early career cultural policy researchers the opportunity to meet fellow researchers and develop a personal network of colleagues with whom to share projects, experiences and good chats at the pub once yearly, when the Forum is convened just before the opening of the ENCATC big conference. The Forum coordinators at ENCATC put together various activities for the Forum participants, ranging from methodological sessions, to more pragmatic forms of training (for example, last year I led a session on ‘how to get published’ that was full of tips and very practical advice). The jury members are always involved in these activities, and this means that – in my second year as a CPRA judge – I’m starting to get to know some of the ‘Forumites’, and I love it!

YCPR Forum participants 2012YCPR Forum participants - group photo

I really, really enjoy my time at the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum. I am so impressed by these young researchers, and how bright, motivated and determined they all are. Also, they are great fun. The Forum usually takes place in late summer/early autumn, when your average academic (well, at least me!) is worn out by an exhausting summer writing schedule, or by dissertation marking & teaching, and the morale is low. Yet, two days at the Forum suffice to stimulate and invigorate me: these young cultural policy researchers are so articulate (very often in a language which is not their native one), so lucid in their thinking and original in the projects they are developing. If these young scholars are representative of the work being developed in the field, then there is a bright future ahead for cultural policy research. And the feeling that, at least in some little part, by being a CPRA judge and helping out at the Forum, I am supporting this burgeoning research community makes that load of marking so much easier to bear!


September 20, 2012

The work of participation

Last Thursday I attended an event in Nottingham– The Unselfish Artist – organised by the East Midlands Participatory Arts Forum, EMPAF. The event was an opportunity for organisations within the participatory arts sector to showcase their work – under the rubric of the World Event Young Artists (WEYA) festival which was happening across the city last week.

The day included workshops, poetry readings, discussions and exhibits from various organisations across the region. I attended an interesting session about the artist as activist, which encompassed a range of perspectives on different types of politics. It was led by Gaylan Nazhad, who recounted his experiences as a documentary film-maker in a territorially contested village in Kurdistan, and by Kevin Ryan of Charnwood Arts, Leicestershire, who described his work as a kind of creative conduit for the residents of a relatively deprived area of Loughborough as they negotiated and struggled with local council and developers in re-shaping their community.

These kinds of projects – and the different kinds of politics they represent – feed into a developing research interest of mine in the meaning of ‘participation’ in participatory art – and particularly in the place of the artist in that process. ‘Particpatory arts’, as I understand it, emerges from the ‘community arts’ movements of the late 60s and 70s exemplified by organisations such as the Welfare State International artist collective for whom art was connected to political intervention. These artists drew on radical theatre, folk-art, carnival and spectacle to generate work with communities that was underpinned by belief in the potential for creative expression to empower and inspire progressive change. Filtered through the cultural policy agenda of the late nineties and noughties, the ‘community’ side of this vision has been translated into art that contributes to various socially valuable goals (improving health and well-being, easing social exclusion, even helping fight crime and anti-social behaviour). This period allowed for a significant expansion of the sector as both local and national government co-opted arts organisations as an alternative means of tackling - and being seen to tackle - such problems cost-effectively. This expansion of ‘the sector’ might, then, also have been accompanied by some taming of the romantic, emancipatory politics which forged it.

The story about the social contribution of the arts has been well discussed and critiqued by colleagues in the Centre here. One thing less considered in that story is the role of the artist – and perhaps especially the participatory artist and organisations who work at the coal-face of these social agendas. If my account of the historical development of participatory arts is accurate, how have the participatory artists who have lived through that history made sense of their own work in relation to it? To what extent have their artistic careers been negotiations with the various imaginaries of the policy-makers, local and national, who control the budgets from which they draw? And how are those artists entering this field now prepared for it? Do artists still have a politics of participation?

Participatory art can be easily stereotyped as a rather unglamorous extension of social work or an add-on to a pressured education or welfare system (think dance classes in care homes or art/craft workshops with children excluded form school - and notwithstanding how significant such activities can be for their participants). It can also, in the light of the policy ‘backlash’ against the notion a social mission for the arts generated by, for example, the McMaster report, be seen as lacking in aesthetic ambitions for ‘excellence’. The work of organisations such as Artichoke or the participatory events that contributed to WEYA, though, also suggest that participatory art can be inclusive, beautiful and challenging. At the very least, given that the meaning of participation is not obvious even to the Minister in charge of this particular portfolio, the time for a reflection on the artistic work of participation seems ripe.

Of course there might be other stories about the historical developments of work in this sector too. I’d be keen to hear from artists and organisations who would be interested in shaping these ideas into a research project. You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at d.wright.3@warwick.ac.uk .

And you can follow my research on academia.edu here.


September 12, 2012

The Art of Management and Organisation

Art of Man installation

The Sixth Art of Management and Organisation Conference, University of York, 2-6th September 2012.

This was an emotive event for me, given my participation in organising a few of the previous international conferences, and again meeting many delegates who were there at the very first ‘Art of Man’ conference at King’s College London in 2001. Organised principally by Steve Linstead, this year’s theme was ‘Creativity and Critique’, and featured a range of events and exhibits from installation video to performance to Yorkshire sword dancing (the latter only as part of the opening night dinner, I assure you). Attendance at past conferences was generally kept below 200, so as to maintain a certain intensity of interaction, familiarity, community and network. Through the ACORN (aesthetics and creativity in organizational research) network everyone keeps in touch. Institutions like the Copenhagen Business School play a major role in flying the flag for the kinds of research represented at this conference.

The conference had as many practical and interactive seminars as academic paper-led seminars, this year strongly featuring documentary film. My own role was part of the ‘documentary as research’ experiment, which was meant to be an ‘intervention’, but ended up more of a ‘polite engagement’, if I can put it that way. The conference also featured our very own Dr Chris Bilton delivering a keynote (more of an ‘endnote’) disabusing the creativity enthusiasts among us that creativity is not what it’s usually taken to be.

What purpose does an ‘Art of Management and Organisation Conference’ serve? It brings together creative practitioners (from artists, consultants, curators) with academics and industry researchers. The mix really does work. The purpose is to find ways of reflecting on management and organisation theories and practices through creative experimentation (even if that creativity is purely discursive). This doesn’t mean there is no solid empirical research content to the conference – there is in fact quite a lot. There were papers on the creative industries, artist residencies, new incubator spaces, design, the uses of performance, creative pedagogy, prototyping and model making in management training, and on and on.

The location for the conference was the amazing Ron Cooke Hub at York’s impressive new ‘sustainable’ Heslington campus [If you don’t know about it, it’s worth taking a look at the RIBA’s case study on it: see link below]. There were notable conference highlights for me – David Hickman’s presentation on slavery with excerpts from films he made for Al Jazeera; Pierre Guillet de Monthoux on the avant-garde; Jane Gavan’s video installation Aire in the Ron Hub 360degree projection room; and Daved Barry, Henrik Schrat & Cathryn Lloyd’s interactive sessions called ‘City of Thought’, where we contemplated the relation between critical thought processes, architecture and urban community. 

Research questions I came away with: too many to mention here. On a practical note, the many sessions referencing or featuring documentary were an inspiration to continue to explore film as a research media. Documentary raises some significant possibilities for developing a non-‘art’ creative media. How do we broach the tensions between visual and linguistic in mainstream academic research, and how do we use ‘objective’ empirical content as a means of exploring experience and social engagement as well as research questions? How can film reestablish an active relationship between the body, space, place and dialogue within research? The conference has its roots in organizational aesthetics and the investigation of perception, affection, emotion and the symbolic landscapes of the corporate environment; these subjects still feature in our gatherings. However, the times have moved on, and most organizations think of themselves being creative actors, employing design agencies, spatial designers, creative management consultants. Apopos Bilton – how does the ideology of creativity actually inhibit organizational management and prevent an exploration of the essential thought-content and reflexivity of creativity?

See:
ACORN: http://www.aacorn.net/index.htm
York’s new campus:
http://www.architecture.com/Awards/RIBAAwards/Winners2011/Yorkshire/HeslingtonEastMasterplan/HeslingtonEastCampusMasterplanUniversityofYorkatnight.aspx

Art of Man performance


Self–Organisation

On August 22nd I attended a day-long symposium called ‘Public Art and Self-Organisation’. Hosted by public art think tank Ixia, and hosted at Enclave, (an alternative art space in Deptford, East London), the day was mostly attended by artists and art managers of one kind or another. The day was convened by artist curator Paul O’Neill, and featured engaging talks by digital artist Anthony Gross (Enclave), urban artist Jeanne van Heeswijk (Netherlands), curator Varri Claffey (Dublin), consultant and academic Sophie Hope (London). The theme of the day was pertinent to the both the decline in public funding for public art as well as the growing role of artists in urban redevelopment.

One might ask why, in the last three years of arts funding cuts, public art has been hit far harder than the established institutions of fine art. It's partly because, ironically, Public art’s revenue base is broader – local authorities, property developers, construction companies, architects, cultural organizations, local health authorities, and so on. They have all faced austerity. Also, public art is mostly project-based, hence its easier not to commission more projects than to discontinue funding an organisation. Public-urban artists are a mobile, flexible, low-paid labour force, with few fixed capital assets. Public art is not a heavily institutionalised sector of contemporary art, and, despite its central aim of public engagement and its profound civic visibility, it has always been marginal to art world and cultural sector priorities.

Public art, however, is no longer (merely) ‘public art’ in the sense in which we used the term 20 years ago. It now attracts a panoply of mainstream contemporary artists, urban activists, political artists and new media artists, all who see the social sphere as a crucial platform for ideas and cultural engagement. This seminar featured discussions on the politics of art funding, the development of cultural policy models out of engaged cultural production, the roles of artists in developing new urban spaces and alternative forms of urban regeneration.

The theme of ‘self-organisation’ was elusive, as most artistic production is self-organised in all kinds of ways. In this symposium the term ‘self-organisation’ functioned as a marker for both self-initiation and self-direction outside the usual models of project management, cultural sector patronage and local authority commissioning that hitherto have been the conditions of creative practice for most urban-public artists. There is a sense in which self-organisation is an alter-ego of business entrepreneurialism, in another sense it refers to some new means of using art as a social enterprise. In this seminar, it is resolutely anti-capitalist, participatory, pluralist and avoids the ideological territory of major cultural institutions. It is leadership without management and decision-making that works through dialogue with a gathered community of interlocutors, usually the inhabitants of the urban spaces that are the site for the art.

Questions I came away with: First, as Anthony Gross himself said, imagine ALL public funding of the arts being withdrawn: What then are we capable of doing alone, on existing resources? It’s an important preliminary thought-experiment for a subject of this kind. Second, in relation to myself as a critic, researcher (‘intermediary’?), is self-organisation necessarily artist-led? Perhaps Universities have a role in this. The category of ‘artist’ has in any case become tenuous and needs revision for the emerging complexities of the urban-public sphere. If we are to develop the means of effective creative self-organisation for urban-public spaces, how can these ‘means’ be formalized as models of practice (without becoming formulae, or artistic tropes)? How can we synthesize curatorship, project management and artistic production in ways that address the growing need for autonomy in an ever restrictive social order? We need to re-work the research pioneered in advanced management and organisation studies within the context of public-urban projects, developing an entrepreneurialism that is not simply derived from business models. More urgently perhaps is the need for new ways of occupying and renovating urban spaces without the patronage of local authority-led urban regeneration.


See:
Ixia public art think tank: http://ixia-info.com/
The Enclave: http://enclaveprojects.com/
The Old Police Station: http://www.theoldpolicestation.org/



September 11, 2012

This is my 4th favourite blog post

I’ve recently had a new book chapter published –‘ List-culture and literary taste in a time of endless choice’ in From Codex to Hypertext: Reading at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, edited by Anouk Lang of Strathclyde University. The book gathers contributions to a conference in 2008 – Beyond the Book – at which scholars from a range of disciplines, together with librarians and policy makers discussed the new reading practices that are emerging in the light of new technologies and changes to the broader literary landscape.

My chapter reflects on the ‘list’ – a perennial staple of cultural journalism as a mediating ‘technology’ in the judgment of authority and value – and not one that is just confined to the field of reading. A recent example of the kind of phenomenon I was considering is provided by the relegation of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane from its position as ‘the greatest film ever made’, according to the BFI’s decennial surveyof critics and its replacement with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Vertigo was second in the list in 2002 but not even in the top 10 in the 1972 poll; Citizen Kane has been top since 1962 - but wasn’t even in the top 10 in 1952. Given that neither of these films have changed since their releases - 1941 for Kane and 1958 for Vertigo – how can one now be ‘better’ than the other, after being ‘worse’, sometimes significantly so, for so many years? The answer is of course that the films don’t change, but that cultural value is a dynamic thing. The criteria of judgment of, in this case, serious film critics aren't fixed. Lists of this kind act can, then, act as intriguing indicators of the shifting sands of cultural authority.

In the chapter I explore the relationships between different kinds of authority evident in the ‘great books’ lists of the turn of the twentieth century (produced by writers such as Arnold Bennett in 1909 and John Cowper Powys in 1916), the bestseller chart which rose to prominence with the consolidation of the cultural industries in the mid-twentieth century, the list as popular poll – exemplified by the BBC’s The Big Read initiative - and the most recent iteration of list-culture – the listmania feature of Amazon, through which readers post lists of their favourite books for the benefit of other browsers. These different types of lists share an overriding aim to navigate readers through the abundant choices that the ‘industrial’ production of literature provides them with. The early twentieth century lists were proposed as a kind of practical ‘canon’, guiding readers towards the kinds of books they ought to read and away from those which might be salacious or radical. By the late twentieth century this patrician element of list-culture was less evident, replaced with a more apparently democratic republic of taste in which the authority of ‘serious’ critics competed with the often subtle promotional tools of publishing industry (literary prizes, TV book clubs) in managing readers’ choices. And in the early twenty-first century, on-line lists, complemented by the algorithms of retailers like Amazon, mean that readers can find what they want through like-minded readers (‘customers who bought this also bought…’) without recourse to any obvious ‘authority’ at all.

There are some revealing tensions in this story. Critics of various kinds dismiss popular lists in particular as trivializing or commercializing culture – and there are elements of the list which can re-cast cultural judgment as a crude form of competition. What they also do, though, is open up the kinds of dialogue and debate which John Frow refers to as the ‘circulating energies of culture’ – the seemingly irrational pleasures of liking and disliking, and sharing your likes and dislikes with others, which are a fundamental part of the fun of cultural consumption. This is clearly a challenge to established forms of cultural authority – though one that is, in my view, broadly to be welcomed.

You can read a review of the book in the Columbia Journalism Review here, and follow my research on academia.edu.


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