Wednesday, 23 December 2009

It's Chriiiiistmas - what are you doing here?

This is my 94th post of 2009 - I'm rather sorry not to hit a century, but it's time for turning off and mulling wine rather than mulling over cultural policy. 2009 has been a difficult year personally at times, although I've done loads of exciting things too, but I'm very excited about 2010.
Nearly 5000 people have visited Arts Counselling this year, twice as many as in 2008, which is pleasing. 11% of those have visited more than 100 times. Probably only these people will be looking at this time of year, so here's a link to Arts Council England's Christmas greetings for them, by Pomme Chan and INTRO.
Have a good break if you're getting one, hope you get at least time and a half (or at least a thank you from the boss or the public) if you're working, and see you in 2010.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Give me enough rope: albums of the noughties

I'm now going to really expose my shortcomings as a high brow, by listing 10 of my favourite albums of the decade. And show my age by using the word album probably...

No classical, no jazz, no hip-hop or r'n'b, nothing too ou-there, I'm afraid. I could have done a Mercury and put Bill Frisell and Medeski, Martin and Wood on here, for instance, or Kanye West - I like them a lot, but when I go with my gut they've not made real favourites this decade. Here goes...

Time (The Revelator) - Gillian Welch (includes possibly the best 14 minute long song in the history of folk-rock)
Not The Trembling Kind - Laura Cantrell (a favourite of the late John Peel, classic debut, though check the song 'Bees' on her 3rd album for my favourite Cantrell song)
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not - Arctic Monkeys (Sillitoe crossed with Cooper-Clarke with great tunes and well-thumped guitars - yes it's obvious, but for good reason)
Is This It? - The Strokes (as fake as the Monkeys are real, maybe, but in a great way, even now)
The Futureheads - The Futureheads (Early Gang of Four crossed with Pink Flag-era Wire crossed with 'Born to Run' - how could I not love it?)
More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley (history of pop alluded to on one record, with great girl group attitude)
Dig Lazarus Dig - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (a long way from The Birthday Party but still with fire in his belly, an unlikely advert for growing older)
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco (wonderful record from my band of the decade, from when they were the American Radiohead - except good. In fact, I like Wilco so much I could have named all four studio albums from a productive decade, but will limit myself to two...)
Sky Blue Sky - Wilco (highspot so far of the Nels Cline era)
Aman Iman - Water is Life - Tiniwaren (not a token world choice, saw them live twice and they were astonishing - the Velvets with gourds. Saw them give the Mayor of Gateshead an amulet once, but that's another story.)

Ok, going to press publish before I add in Lightspeed Champion or Fleet Foxes or...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Slim volumes, rich pickings: poetry2Ks

Following a little off-blog abuse for my book choices, which is exactly what I hoped to inspire, here's my list of 10 favourite poetry collections from the last decade, all plucked from my own bookshelves rather than other lists...

De/compositions - W.D. Snodgrass (one of the best American poets of recent decades, this is a wonderfully entertaining book of bad, supposed early versions of great poems - witty and educational)
First Things When - Robert Rehder (American living in Switzerland, funny and profound)
The Invisible Kings - David Morley (pitch perfect)
These Days - Leontia Flynn (classic lively debut collection)
Dart - Alice Oswald (atmospheric exploration of a river from perhaps the decade's strongest emerging figure)
Mandelson, Mandelson - David Herd (Alexander Pope crossed with Frank O'Hara in the Age of Peter)
Tramp in Flame - Paul Farley (mature third collection syndrome)
The Drowned Book - SeanO'Brien (hard to choose between this and Downriver, to be honest)
Nelson and the Huruburu Bird - Mairead Byrne (Irish poet now in the US, fantastically hybridising before your eyes in this book)
Ideas Have Legs - Ian McMillan vs Andy Martin (a personal favourite as a book - meaning book as object, some strong McMillan poems combined with inventive design, accessible, funny but also moving and powerful)

I've not included anthologies in that list. Neil Astley's Staying Alive would be my essential anthology of the decade, though the 2nd most read is Legitimate Dangers, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin, a great wedge of younger American poets I found far more exciting than, say, those anthologised in Bloodaxe's recent Voice Recognition.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

How do you fund for resilience?

This week I was part of the panel at MMM/ERA21’s latest Peer-to-Peer event in Newcastle, the topic being ‘funding transition’. Chaired by David Carrington, the panel was myself, Penny Vowles from the Northern Rock Foundation and two leading American thinkers on funding and philanthropy, Clara Miller of the Non-Profit Finance Fund and Ben Cameron of the Doris Duke Foundation. (The audience was pretty stellar too, of course.)

It was a really stimulating conversation, encouraging and daunting in equal measure. Encouraging because it showed potential ways through the issues which seemed to face arts organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. Daunting because those issues are so deeply ingrained in the mental models of both funders and funded, and because of the political pressures we face in this country, given our public sector-leaning funding model. (Although, as Jim Beirne from Live Theatre pointed out, the issues of under-capitalisation, lack of focus on business growth and fluctuating revenue streams seem common to the UK and the US, where government funding is a very small percentage of income.)

Both Clara and Ben have a great turn of phrase. Clara described how NPFF had realised it could ‘either nurse the malaria patients one by one or drain the swamps’ and decided to try and deal with the underlying issues. She also introduced us to ‘the four horsemen of the non-profit financial apocalypse’ – Overbuilt, Over-endebted, Labour Economics and Disappearing Revenue.

If there was a single idea to take away and pass on from the very rich discussion it was this:

Both funded and funders need to acknowledge the difference between capital fund and revenue funds, and use them well. Capital is not just about buildings, but about building enterprises (organisations if you don’t like that word, though Clara also suggested we ‘learn to love our inner enterprise’.) The best definition I heard was ‘investment that builds capacity to attract reliable income'. Revenue funding is about ‘buying’ – of cultural value, or activity, or ability to take risks, depending on the funder. This is not an either or: for a resilient organisation and cultural sector, building and buying are necessary. Doing one without the other is the biggest risk of all for funders. Mistaking one for the other is unhealthy for organisations. It’s often – maybe always? – about survival and transformation. The task of being flexible and responsive enough is shared – and goes all the way through the system, which in the case of the UK, takes it right up to central government.

Video and recordings of the conversation will be available on the MMM site very soon. You can also catch up on the Steady State discussions last month.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Notes on the noughties...10 non-fiction books

Here's my second-list of 10 of my favourites from the noughties... all from the Robinson bookshelves... prose non-fiction, with some notes...

Like a Fiery Elephant, - Jonathan Coe (great biography of the fantastic B.S. Johnson)
Bringing It All Back Home - Ian Clayton (best book about loving music I've ever read)
Chronicles, Volume 1 - Bob Dylan (can't think what to say here it's so obvious)
Bass Culture - Lloyd Bradley (encyclopedic history of reggae)
Blink - Malcolm Gladwell (thinking without thinking)
Resilience Thinking - Brian Walker and David Salt (just search 'resilience' on this site to see why)
Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (I like thinking with number as well as words)
17 - Bill Drummond ( entertaining art philosophy, my name in here somewhere as a member of The 17)
Getting to Maybe - Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman & Michael Quinn Patton (making the impossible happen, inspiring book on social change)
Rip It Up - Simon Reynolds (how post-punk changed the world, or bits of Britain anyway.)

Hmm, very blokey, very contradictory, glad I didn't list the books about northern soul (d'oh!) No wonder the supplements never ask, is it? I have read some of the books I should have on this list, but this are more my favourites. I spent the 80s and 90s reading about literature, art and theatre, honest.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Leaving (the first decade of) the 21st century: 10 favourite novels

Well, what with the papers being full of 'end of the decade' summaries, I've been scanning the shelves and my brain for a few lists with which to expose my narrow- and shallow-ness. Here's the first, 10 of my favourite novels published since 2000. (In no particular order, as they say on The X Factor, and missing out lots I wanted to list.)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon
Snow - Orhan Pamuk
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
The Lay of the Land - Richard Ford
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Peoples' Act of Love - James Meek
The Cold Six Thousand - James Ellroy
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
The Damned United - David Peace
The Madolescents - Chrissie Glazebrook

Odd how many of them begin with 'The'. Don't know what that means!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Own Art generates interest

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an hour long documentary about an Arts Council scheme and thought, ‘you know, the only thing missing there was some criticism.’ But last night’s BBC 1 Imagine documentary on the Own Art scheme was so absolutely positive it could almost have done with someone going ‘hang on a minute, what about…’ The programme, with Alan Yentob, explored ‘a small revolution in art collecting’ as a result of this interest free loan scheme. (Declaration of interest: I chair ArtCo, the trading company of Arts Council England which runs the scheme, alongside a similar one relating to musical instruments.) It was a really fascinating programme, warm, affectionate and optimistic.

It was a great demonstration of not just the worth of the scheme, but of the fascinating and glorious variety of ordinary people. Whatever I might have thought personally of their taste in visual arts, I'd fight for their right to exercise it. Each person spoke eloquently and with passion about their works, and the impact on their lives, their families and how they saw the world. They all contained a little surprise which defied expectations and reminded me how easy (and silly) it is to pigeonhole people and the arts position in their lives. The sculptures next to the collection of Jean Genet books, for instance, turned out to belong a gentle policeman in Yorkshire. And the down-to-earth keeness and curiosity of the Darlington mod and his wife commissioning a portrait - he thought it was mainly of his scooter, but as Alan Yentob pointed out it was entirely of him - made me mad again at how working class is more often used these days as a synonym for dysfunction than as a positive description of decent people like these. Here was an intelligent, discerning and culturally demanding working man, ordinary and unique like most people are if you scratch the surface, without pretension. I could, though, hear snootier parts of the art world sneering even as his portrait was unveiled. Well, to adapt a great new Malcolm Tuckerism, when I want their opinion, I'll give the signal -which is me being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. (Non-British readers: that's a quote from The Thick of It.) Meanwhile, I'd suggest the BBC occasionally add the couple to the commentators on the Culture Show - not instead of but in addition to the expert regulars.

Anyway, dismounting my hobby horses before they gallop away with me, it's a lovely film and I won't let any purists tell me otherwise. I'd say there was something quintessentially English about it, and there is, except that the Scottish Arts Council are very strong partners in Own Art, so will go for British. It's available on the I-player here until 29th December.