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March 03, 2015

Warwick Commission Report

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/research/warwickcommission/futureculture/

I spent part of last Tuesday evening reading the University of Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value report Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth. It is an impressive piece of work that attempts to see ‘how Britain can secure greater value from its cultural and creative assets’. The commissioners are high profile, senior figures in the world of culture, most of whom have a gong, chaired by Vikki Heywood. The mix of commissioners feels very England and London-centric, but this is probably required just to get taken seriously in government. The University’s own involvement features prominent individuals from the Business School and Cultural Policy, not least, Assoc. Prof. Ele Belfiore. In summary, the report suggest we aim to provide improved wellbeing and economic growth by giving everyone access to culture through education, participation or as a cultural consumer, at a local and regional level and through digital space. The words that jump out at me are ‘all’ and ‘everyone’, suggesting that anybody should be able to access culture and that, when they do, everybody in the country benefits by feeling better and being better off. The language of the report is more carefully chosen than mine and doubtless layered with nuance which I can’t convey.

The report sets up the idea of an Ecosystem of Cultural and Creative Industries, stressing the interdependence of the different disciplines; film and TV rely on theatre for experienced practitioners; all sectors rely on cultural education to provide an engaged, young workforce with a sufficiently broad frame of reference. The ecosystem idea focuses on growth, but fails to acknowledge that death and decay are a typical part of a sustainable ecosystem. Diane Ragsdale provided an interesting take of this in her 2012 speech to Audiences NI Holding up the Arts: Can we sustain what we’ve created? Should we? What the Warwick Commission report does well is to establish a set of five ‘goals for growth and enrichment’, each followed by a series of recommendations. I’ve summarised these at the bottom of the page. These offer something useful which I have been grappling with for a while; a means to assess cultural sustainability. I don’t mean a complex system of metrics to measure the worth of companies; I’d even avoid using the word ‘value’, as I presuppose that anyone bothering to read this accepts the inherent value of Culture. What I mean is to consider arts groups in the light of the report and just see how they’re doing.

I think of the arts organisations I work with as a consultant, those in Northern Ireland which I’m researching and the others I know of socially, through my wife’s work or my son’s activities. I read the report sitting in the bar at Chickenshed in north London while the boy was rehearsing for the spring show, Changing Stages. Chickenshed is definitely contributing to cultural education and can certainly be considered as ‘diverse to the core’. Granted there is a hefty showing of the middle-classes among the students and their families, but every social and ethnic background and ability is welcomed without question. Among the companies I’ve been researching in Northern Ireland, I think immediately of Big Telly and the Creative Shops Project, establishing sustainable, locally generated work in a few of the many empty shops around the Province. This initiative is innovating for growth, is everyday arts, making culture personal and is unquestionably local. Similarly, Cahoots NI in their recent and forthcoming children’s theatre projects in Belfast’s Castle Court Shopping Centre, tell of the many families exposed to theatre for the first time through their work. ‘We thought theatre wasn’t for the likes of us’, is the kind of thing Cahoots is hearing from the people who’ve seen their shows.

I think also of The Grimsey Review and the work of Bill Grimsey and his team to promote the reinvention of the high street. This fits with the work of Big Telly and Cahoots NI, and is the kind of thing that joined-up policy making should be considering alongside culture. Grimsey’s ideas are all about community and certainly local, but his idea of The Networked High Street is comparable with the reports recommendation to create a digital public space. The latter links to the idea of the Third Place, Professor Ray Oldenburg’s assertion of the importance of informal, public space to society and the individual; this may be in the real world but increasingly exists online in social media and massively multiplayer online games.

I’ve really only scratched the surface of the report and I’m sure there is some really useful tetimony to be found on the Warwick Commission Webite, but it’s certainly made me think. I look forward to fruitful collaborations born out of it and I do hope we get some of the joined-up policy making sought in goal 1.



Five goals for growth and enrichment


Goal 1: A Cultural and Creative Ecosystem generating stronger cultural wellbeing and economic growth and opportunity for all citizens and communities.

Recommendations

  • Joined-up policy making
  • Scaling investment
  • Innovating for growth

Goal 2: Production and consumption of culture and creativity should be enjoyed by the whole population and deliver the entitlement of all to a rich cultural and expressive life.

Recommendations

  • Building and measuring participation
  • Diverse to the core
  • Celebrating everyday arts and cultural participation
  • Making culture personal

Goal 3: A world-class creative and cultural education for all to ensure the wellbeing and creativity of the population as well as the future success of the Cultural and Creative Industries Ecosystem.

Recommendations

  • Consolidating our cultural and creative education
  • Addressing children’s creative aspirations
  • Underpinning graduate and skills pathways

Goal 4: A thriving digital cultural sphere that is open and available to all.

Recommendations

  • Creating a digital public space
  • Accelerating digital R&D

Goal 5: A vibrant creative life at local and regional levels that reflects and enriches community expressions of identity, creativity and culture across the UK.

Recommendations

  • Fostering local creative growth
  • Promoting regional equity

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