Friday, 26 February 2010

Giving up art for lent?

Will Self has written in the New Statesman of his idea that we should give up art for Lent in order to get in touch with ourselves. His typically sparky essay ends: 'Our deep faith in Fortuna's free market remains intact, and no dissident theses have been nailed to the doors of Tate Modern. Archbishop Serota sits secure on his throne. As for me, I find I do need a period of contemplation away from the hurly-burly of religious gallery observance. I feel strangely drawn to visit a modern church, where it's quiet and calm, and divinely ugly.'

Perhaps he got the idea from Arts Council England North East's communications team, as they've just conducted a similar experiment, which is documented in the video above. The Usher family from South Shields were asked to remove all art from their lives for a week and see how it felt. (No doodling, no humming, no all singing all dancing as the mum puts it.) They were then rewarded with a week of rather special artistic activities, including workshops with Kate Fox and Beccy Owen round the kitchen table.

Perhaps we should promote a national-no-art-week, as a counter-intuitive way of helping people appreciate the arts more?

Dark and true and tender is the North

Whether the North East forms part of a larger Northern identity has been the subject of much debate recently. Obviously this has resonance for Arts CouncilEngland as we (they!) get closer to implementing the new management structure. Alarm at power shifting is, I think, generally greater than it needs to be, but there's something interesting culturally about it.

The Journal newspaper have been running a campaign 'Case for the North East', which alongside many strong cases has included some rather odd and (to my mind) parochial statements suggesting there is no such thing as the North - it's 'a convenient line drawn on a civil servant's map' and 'the truth is we relate as much to London, Scotland and Europe as we do to the rest of the north'. Economically there may be some truth in that, but culturally I couldn't disagree more. (And whoever built Hadrian's Wall, or thought up the word Northumbria - North of the Humber? - might be with me.)

Of course the North East is as different from the North West as a Geordie accent is from Scouse, and both are different from Yorkshire. But then Tyneside is different from Teesside. They do though, have things in common - industrial and class heritage most particularly. The stereotypes of 'Northernness' cut across the country - and so do the positives. I think that's an interesting thing to explore - and the understanding of our variety and diversity that results a real inspiration.

Two things are happening at the moment that explore ideas of northerness is a more exciting sense than the Journal's campaign. (And don't get me wrong, I want resources and power to reside in the region - just not for almost charitable reasons.) Firstly Northern Stage (now run by that lovely southern lady Erica Whyman, or Why-Aye-man as she's known in Newcastle) is celebrating its 40th birthday with a major project exploring Northernness in a global context. And then The Civic in Barnsley are hosting Northern Futures, a competition for northern talent. I guess one can see the dangers here though, as even I thought they could have included some North Eastern names in their examples. (Or indeed more people who still lived in the North.)

(Of course, I would say all that, wouldn't I, having spent the first 22 years of my life in the NW, 5 in Yorkshire and the last 17 in the North East. I did spend a year in London Village, but that just reinforced my northerness.)

Friday, 19 February 2010

Art at the right time (part x in an ongoing series)

I've referred before to my theory that art finds you when and how you need it, and it happened again this week with a particular song from Field Music's new album. The refrain 'them that do nothing make no mistakes' has been in my head all week. It's a good mantra, I think, for funders, funded and commentators, to apply to ourselves and others. And a hell of catchy tune, which also has a use of the word 'tight' I find absurdly pleasing.

Here's the video for you to enjoy. (Has Sunderland ever looked so lovely?)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Time for innovation

Time is tight, it seems. A few months ago I thought might be in wind down mode by now, before leaving the Arts Council, which just goes to prove how stupid I really am. The next few weeks may be a bit quiet on Arts Counselling as I have a lot of work to do, a lot of travelling to meet people to talk about resilience, and a lot of writing to do. I'll try and share some of that thinking as I go, but the blog is already feeling the squeeze.

Anyway, very briefly, I want to point you at two really interesting papers about innovation and research, bth of which are co-written by NESTA's Hasan Bakhshi.

The first, which was published a few weeks ago is Not Rocket Science. As MMM put it The authors’ proposals challenge two entrenched prejudices, which block arts and cultural organisations from playing their full role in society and economy:
- arts and culture are largely excluded from R&D by definitions based on its Science and Technology (S&T) origins
- the arts and cultural sector relies on a conception of creativity that mystifies too much of its work, preventing it from accessing valuable public resources.

The second is an interim report on Innovation in Arts and Cultural Organisations, co-written David Throsby. This includes descriptions of two case studies with TATE and the National Theatre, exploring the use of digital technology. (In the National's case the broadcasting of a show into cinemas around the country.) This makes the link between this kind of innovation of the actual business models of the organisations.

Both well worth your time, even if you don't have the time!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Lord of the Rings?

On my way home tonight I detoured so I could go past the first ring of Anish Kapoor's Temenos in Middlesbrough. This is a huge sculpture, or the first part of five over a decade (or so) - lauded as the world's biggest public art initiative when it launched in July 2008. You can see what I wrote about it then here, read about the raising of the ring here and see a photo above. Be assured, the Transporter Bridge is not that far away - this really is big. (There's also a great photo on the Evening Gazette website here, but I'm not borrowing that out of respect for the fantastic project manager Sean.)

There is only the first ring in place, but it is impressive and enjoyable in its own right, like looking at the first few marks an artist might make on a drawing or a painting. (Except, of course, you don't need years' of detailed engineering studies and so on to start a painting. )

The ironies of the piece, its location, conception and materials have only deepened since the launch, with the potential closure of Corus's steel plant just down river at Redcar. Regeneration has not got any easier, or any less important. But the imaginative impact perhaps only gains power from that. I can't wait to see it take shape over the next months - apparently the 'net' takes some time to be made taut.

(The eagle-eyed who read my July 2008 blog will deduce the project is slightly late getting finished. An accident early in the construction process led to some delays. It's nothing to the gestation period required for great big horses though...)