Saturday, 29 August 2009

Brahms for breakfast?

I've been in a number of conversations recently about campaigns to increase public engagement in the arts, and the best way to do that without either dumbing down, or making an offer you can't live up to, or simply banging your head against a brick wall. I came across the Americans for the Arts tv ad campaign to encourage young people to do more arts. There are probably some serious policy issues to discuss, but I'm sharing this primarily because they made me laugh.

Vincent :30 from Americans for the Arts on Vimeo.

If you've recently had a sense of humour or irony by-pass, or are one of those arts people born without a sense of humour, I suggest you move along now, as there is nothing for you to see here.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Self-employment in the visual arts

AIR – Artists Interaction and Representation – have had research done by a-n on employment patterns for visual and applied artists. This was in the context of the Future Jobs Fund and the work done by New Deal of the Mind that I talked about a short while ago. I commented then that the focus on employment by employers, and the exclusion of self-employment, was problematic. The summary of the findings appears to back that up. I quote…

Whilst previous research by a-n, ACE and others over the last ten years suggested at least half of all practising visual and applied artists were self-employed, the new AIR survey reveals that has substantially increased.

72% of artists are self-employed
25% are a mixture of self-employed and employed
2% are unemployed
1% is employed

In terms of status by career stage:

88% of established artists are self-employed
73% of mid career artists are self-employed
67% of emerging artists are self-employed

Significantly, the overall level of self-employment amongst artists is considerably higher than for the creative industries as a whole, where it stands at 41%.

They also note that self-employment is currently excluded by the Office of Statistics when analysing the efficacy of art and design courses in creating employment, which seems perverse, given the career trajectories of those graduates.

Whilst this pattern will not be replicated right across the artforms, it is important that it is taken into full consideration by government and policy makers looking to ‘create jobs’ within the creative industries.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

What next for the left and ex-Culture Ministers?

James Purnell was in the process of making quite an impact when he was promoted out of DCMS, not least in allegedly reintroducing the word excellence to the daily lexicon of petty bureaucrats everywhere. (Just as an aside, I was looking through Raymond Williams’ Keywords recently - as you do - and neither ‘excellence’ nor ‘quality’ is discussed. ‘Standards’ is though…)

Purnell came to speak to the National Council and Executive Board and was straightforward, frank and clearly committed to the arts, culture and social justice. I rather warmed to him, and was sorry to see him go off to DWP so soon. (I was especially sorry when he seemed to fall into cack-handed Daily Mail-appeasing workfare proposals, but that's another subject.) Anyway, earlier this year he find himself on the back benches in a classic example of an assault that ended: ‘You and whose army?’ ‘My army…oh, where have they gone? Damn…’

He has now reappeared heading up Demos’ Open Left project, ‘a project aimed at renewing the thinking and ideas of the political Left … an open conversation across the Left about the kind of society we want and how we can best bring it about’. There are a small number of artists featured on the site so far, with their ideas of what it means to be on the left. Some are obvious – Billy Bragg being no surprise – others less so. I’d never clocked Anthony Gormley as an artist of the left, for instance, though some of his work obviously has a real interest in ideas of self and community. His essay is typical of many in being kind of interesting, but also disappointing for anyone expecting an articulation of a vision for social change encompassing the poor and excluded. I struggled slightly to find the socialism in his essay, as in some of the others, but perhaps that’s not really the right thing to look for, even in its mildest or most liberal forms.

The Open Left project should also be read in relation to Demos’ set of essays, What Next for Labour? Beneath the howls of despair (it was written about the time James Purnell was drafting his resignation) are some really important ideas and debates. A stronger emphasis on ‘a stronger sense of the social — of communities, civic associations and social institutions…. a politics of social life’ sits alongside voices emphasizing the empowerment of individuals, usually in the context of the state withdrawing from ‘interference’ or ‘regulation’. You can feel this dichotomy running through cultural policy, for course, although interestingly cultural policy is more or less absent here.

Whether this moves us beyond right and left (now, and arguably always, tribal terms as much as anything else) and perhaps past worrying about the S word and its presence or absence, especially given the rather new thinking from the Red Tory zone of Thinktankland, that is at least interested in the social, we shall see.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

More thoughts on Expressive Lives

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been on holiday. The first part was a real ‘staycation’, enjoying the Stockton International Riverside Festival, which just happens to be my local festival. Paul Harman, with whom I am rarely known to disagree, honest, describes it very well on Arts Professional here. Listening in as two classic brick-outhouse, cropheaded, tattooed Teesside Blokes debated whether BalletBoyz Next Generation was as good as the dance thing they’d seen last year, whilst waiting for Avant Garde Dance to begin, really made my weekend. Well, that and seeing the rest of the family express themselves in performance – my wife and daughter running away to join No Fit State Circus (only for the weekend, mind, in line up in photo above)in the DVC Choir in Parklife, and my son and his mates in Cold Pistols getting an early slot in the Fringe Festival (amusing that's-my-giant-boy photo below).

Anyway, that and the rest of my holiday in Norfolk – my, that period as ACE Executive Board Rural Champion had a lasting impact! - made me want to add a further note to my thinking on Expressive Lives, which is that there is a certain metropolitanism to the tone, and to the notion that we are now awash with opportunity. Not every place is like Stockton-on-Tees, after all, where we get to live expressive lives. (By metropolitanism I don’t mean London-centricity, by the way, though that’s a common manifestation. For another strain of the syndrome, again probably not malignant, see recent discussion in the States over the new NEA Chair Rocco Landesman’s comments about theatre in smaller places – here or here.)

This is then built on by a point made on Town Hall Matters by John Craig-Sharples, drawing attention to the role of local authority cultural services in supporting expressive lives. Although there are some passing references to local government in the publication, mainly in the context of funding, the role that culture can play right across a local authorities functions is underplayed. As John puts it, and as councils like Stockton at their best demonstrate, ‘Perhaps if we really grasp the potential of cultural services we would find that they may play as big a part in building the kind of communities to which we are committed, as some of the core services like social care’. This is about taking the arts out of their box and putting their influence to use throughout local provision, throughout the country.

I came across Town Hall Matters via Blogger’s Circle, which is an experiment in creating debate around blogs that fall broadly into the area of ‘public policy’. This is the first of my ‘Bloggers Circle’ inspired posts. If you’re interested in policy and politics have a look around.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Wrapped up in books

Well, it’s been quiet on here as the Family Robinson have been away on holiday – having fun to put the thought of this next week’s A Level and GCSE results out of our minds. Well, that’s what my wife and I were doing, not sure about the kids…

Anyway, after a day and a half of dealing with the things marked urgent, I thought I’d relax for a few minutes and create Arts Counselling’s first ‘annual feature’ and share with you my holiday reading.

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland – entertaining tale told in epistolary and note form with an novel-within-a-novel that did make me laugh out loud, and then go back to rewatch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Read this and you’ll never go into Staples without thinking of it.

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson. Beautifully imagined story of the poet Rupert Brooke and a housemaid. The facts of Brooke’s youth and artistic circle are seamlessly woven into a picture switching between Brooke and the maid – who becomes so real you think she must have been a real person too. (Arts Council England gets some nice thanks for support whilst writing of this, by the way.)

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano. A massive (though not as huge as his final book 2666) and massively lively story of the founders of the Mexican school of Visceral Realist poetry – apparently based on Bolano’s own youth in Mexico City. A bit like Kerouac’s Desolation Angels rewritten by Thomas Pynchon. A bit.

Cider with Roadies by Stuart Maconie. Not sure why I hadn’t read this before… forty-something man reminisces in humorous fashion about the punk and post-punk years growing up in the North West of England, it could have been written to give me a relaxing day. (Maconie grew up in Wigan, which is where the 113 bus that went past my childhood home went. He even worked for a while at Courtaulds like my Dad.) Warm, self-deprecating and fun, slipped down like a pint of Boddingtons.

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola. Don’t know why, felt like a bit of 19th Century French naturalism by the end of the fortnight. Suffice to say, you can’t get much further from Stuart Maconie’s good humour than Zola’s ‘never-going-to-end-well’ school of realism, but what better way to prepare for the return to work than a book about artists and their visions and travails.

I knew I was writing this for a reason: looking at this list they are all about one form of art or another, and the search for ways of making that manifest in society and in life. Hmm...

Back soon with some serious policy related stuff - just getting back in the swing.