Monday, 5 October 2009

The heritage of expectancy

The first roundtable I attended at the IFACCA World Summit on Arts & Culture focused on the likely effects of recession on intercultural dialogue. Shelagh Wright drew on ‘After the Crunch’ for her introduction, with some especially telling comments about the ‘phony hierarchy and dodgy advocacy’ that limits much British debate. Even more challenging was the contribution from Farai Mpfunya of the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust. He drew on 8 years of official recession in Zimbabwe to suggest a more fundamental questioning of our ways of life was necessary. He used a phrase I found really resonant in describing what he hoped to pass on to his family, ‘the heritage of expectancy’.

This led to a discussion about who was actually wealthier (and/or perhaps healthier) – people/countries with huge amount of credit/debt leading to spending power, or those with no access to credit, but therefore correspondingly little debt? Farai's phrase also echoed many conversations I've had in the North East about the so-called lack of aspiration in the region's young people, and whether actually what is missing is not so much aspiration as expectation - the lack of which will eventually quash many people's hopes.

In the context of recession, however, the phrase is more debatable. It struck me there was in the cultural sector's thinking, as in the general population's, a continuum, only part of which was actually healthy. This continuum might go something like this:

Despondency - Aspiration - Expectation - Optimism -Entitlement -Dependency

Discussing the different ways of investing in culture, notions of trust and social capital became central to emerging out of the recession in a healthy manner. There being no genuine dialogue without trust, for instance, and the connections which make up social capital building trust, potentially forming a virtuous circle. But holding the centre of that continuum above is perhaps also dependent on the health of our social capital. (I'm picturing trying to keep a seesaw balanced on your own - you need to avoid both ends.)

What might this mean practically in the cultural sector? Well, perhaps things like:
  • leading organisations playing prominent roles in creating apprenticeship and other development opportunities
  • funders not colluding with dependency
  • an increased focus on sharing of stories to create a heritage of healthy expectancy
  • (even) more collaborative working and social networking
  • avoiding business as usual.

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