Tue 25 & Wed 26 Feb 2014
Reporters & News
During the initial debate about No Boundaries feedback suggested that the role of young people in the Arts should be considered. To this end, the project initiated a young reporters programme for Bristol and York. Based on the successful Watershed project, Future Producers, the aim was to have a cohort of young people acting as a virtual newsroom during the conference – adding an additional level of perspective to the debate on anything they considered newsworthy.
The cohort were:
Sophie Setter Jerrome
Co-ordination during the conference was via Watershed staff in Bristol and Pilot Theatre in York, with Arts Council England’s digital team offering advice and support.
The involvement of young people in this project was subsequently featured in Arts Professional - A fresh perspective:
All the reports can be found on this page.
The twitter-sphere had a lot to say about Google-employee Abigail Posner’s TED-style presentation on Wednesday afternoon, not all of it all that good. Mixed in with the tweets from those upset with the lack of biscuits on offer (and also a few clearly lost One Direction fans who I think were trying to vote for something but were having trouble) were some pretty scathing remarks that centered on, but were not limited to, her enthusiastic delivery, her big-business attitude, and also her outfit: a jumpsuit that seemed to perplex some of our more committed jeans-and-a-jumper fans.
But whilst some of these are legitimate criticisms (not the jumpsuit one, though, I maintain she pulled it off), I think that her comments on our purpose in posting content online and the connections that can forge were too interesting to be written off as purely corporate-spiel. The idea of creating a moment through technology is one that appeals to me, and is a welcome change from the common attitude that holding up your phone distracts from the ‘now’.
I think that Posner’s speech was the antithesis of the culture that sees digital technology as the end of everything free and exciting: the end of solitude and wandering around with no mobile directions to guide you (although frankly if you’re so keen to get lost then google maps might be for you after all). Authors have bemoaned the mobile phone as the end to story writing: having the internet and all its answers in your palm has destroyed the conflict that storytelling relies on.
To these people, I’d first suggest that they’ve never experienced the conflict of wanting to check your Facebook messages but not wanting to have to reply to them, because that’s tough stuff. And I’d also put forward that maybe it’s time to be a little more creative, and view the dawn of digital technology as a new opportunity, not an endgame.
This lack of creativity was equally apparent in our answer to Posner’s question “why do we share?”, as too many of us let our cynicism do the talking, claiming that her using footage of her children laughing at a YouTube video of a goat in her presentation was ‘exploitation’, and all of her sharing was merely a calculated attempt to win favour. But really this is too interesting a question to be so easily dismissed with blind pessimism.
So what’s the appeal of sharing our lives online? Posner suggested it was about ascribing meaning to an otherwise easily-forgotten moment: that picture of the flowers on your walk reminds you to go back there, the picture of your family you posted to instagram is really no different from the images previous generations preserved in photo albums, and that selfie is a reminder that, yes, your hair did look good that day! People are always keen to tell you to reflect on what’s happening, drink it all in and make sure you’re appreciating small, precious moments… so what’s wrong with documenting them? A lot of the time, when someone goes to tweet or Facebook about what they’re doing, it comes from a real sense of contentment and happiness that they just want to share with other people, and that kind of self-awareness and gratitude should be encouraged, I mean it’s exactly what everyone’s always saying this generation lacks!
Sharing also lets you build up a profile of yourself online. You can present your thoughts, your opinion, your photos, all of the things that make up your identity. This is a platform for shaping and curating your world, for marking out who you want to be. This mi?!ght sound fabricated, but it’s the same as our ‘real’ life actions, we always display what we want to be known and keep the rest quiet. You can accuse people of painting a deceptive picture of their life, but until you start putting up the pictures of family arguments and poorly cooked dinners on your mantelpiece alongside your kids school pictures, you don’t really have a leg to stand on.
And how cool is it to be able to easily go back through all these recorded moments and see a snapshot into the best moments of your life, and how different you were even just a year ago?! This is an echo of your life that gives you time to appreciate your experiences, and also the chance of eternal life if they ever invent that technology that reanimates you based on your online presence. It’s win win!
This is all without even taking into account the fact that we’re often not even just sharing ourselves. Posner talked about the videos, links and images that we send out to our friends, content that has nothing to do with us personally much of the time, but we’re still desperate for others to see it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little bit of carefully timed narcissism, but this proves that the internet is about so much more than that: how beautiful is it that we see something that moves us, or makes us laugh, and our first thought is to show it to other people? And how amazing is it that we can do that?!
Posner was right when she said that not everything has to be strictly utilitarian, and I think that really we’re sharing because we can, because we want to, and because it’s so incredibly natural and human to want to share. And the internet is the most human creation I can think of, with it’s absolutely pointless sites, link bait and, as evidenced by Posner, really weird videos of goats. And I can’t wait to share more of that with people.
Sophie Setter Jerrome, Young Journalist, Bristol.
The beauty of Dr Benjamin Barber’s talk was that he sparked and incited a passion within me about defining cities and democracy amid shining a light on how the private versus public space conflict affects both. He seamlessly lays the foundation of the ‘No Boundaries’ theme and how it does and doesn’t correspond with Session 5′s Internationalism theme.
If you were following the #NB2014 Twitter feed you may have read my tweet: “Can’t quote @BenjaminRBarber fast enough. Could I link people to his talk and be done with my opinion? Everything he says is spot on #NB2014″. And to be honest, I still stand by that so as soon as the link to his talk goes up I’ll be the first to tweet about it.
Having never encountered democracy in the way Barber expressed in my personal life, amid growing up in a society where ‘democracy’ equivalated to politics and voting, not communities and understanding, I couldn’t agree with him more about how ‘democracy is a way of life, a way of living that takes into account our diversity and encourages our collaboration and imagination’. It has taken seventeen years for the identity of our society, ‘democracy’, to be presented to me in a way that makes a lasting connection that makes me proud to be part of it instead of the the systematic impersonal association I’ve grown up with. And isn’t it sad that this intimate concept wasn’t instilled with me in the ritualistic system of academia where I could have grown up with a healthier outlook on the ‘intercity intercommunity world without boundaries’. Oh no, it was a ten minute talk in the fifth session of a two day event. The chance of me being present for Dr Benjamin Barber’s talk is so slim and against me it only makes me more grateful for this innovative way of thinking. I use innovative loosely because it’s simply too ironic: I wouldn’t be surprised if the founding fathers of democracy looked upon Barber’s definition of it ‘taking into account our diversity and encourages our collaboration and imagination’ and offered up high fives all around. It’s so obviously the original meaning and intention it’s sad how it’d now be regarded as a creative new age way of thinking.
‘The city is the human habitat and community, it’s what defines us; where we’re born and grow up and get married and are buried.”
But that’s just it, ‘cities oddly, though made up of communities, are all about private space’ and even though ‘communities can’t thrive without public spaces they are defined by private space’. It’s this insidious war on public spaces ‘over the thirty or forty years of market commercialization and privatization of public space’ that needs to be addressed. We need to acknowledge that there’s ‘not enough public space to do the public work culture needs”. After all, guess who’ll be the first ones to complain about a culture deficit? Us.
So for the love of all things without boundaries can we inspire, support, nourish, develop and maintain our public spaces and remember they are for the people by the people, not by ourselves for ourselves.
P.S. had experienced my first and only technical difficulty during Session 5: Internationalism but I love how engaged the standby punk-poet Henry Raby had me from his infectious high energy right from the get-go with his spoken word. Even with hindsight, I’m still pretty sure his slip up was staged – he pulled that one off with amazing craft. I loved his energy and I’m ashamed to say part of me was sad once I found out he was just providing mid-technical-fault entertainment for York.
P.P.S no seriously, he deserves some credit: http://www.Facebook.com/HenryRabyPoetry.”
Emma Morsi, Young Journalist, Bristol.
The idea of opening spaces up to the public has been held up today as crucial to the sustainability of culture. The demand is present for this idea in York; just before York Art Gallery closed last year for refurbishment, they invited everyone to come through their doors, for free, to scribble on the pristine white walls with whatever they wanted. Hundreds of people came, and the day was reported as a great success. Similarly, the scheme Edible York used the in-between spaces that were empty, such as roadsides to plant small-scale crops for the enjoyment of everyone. I believe the permission of the local council was not sought – the plant beds were torn down, and rebuilt into raised beds only once the value of them was seen through feedback of the community.
It seems to me that the gallery trusted the public only because their contribution was temporary. It was expected that the council would turn down the Edible York scheme because they didn’t want the city to be carved up, and only made it permanent as these were spaces that were fallow concrete. My question is this: in such a historical city, where the emphasis is on preserving our buildings, does then our architecture limit the amount of trust handed over to the citizens? Does then in fact our city become static?
While this mentality may be excused as we take into account the painstaking work conservationists undertake to help our beautiful buildings shine; but I feel it also exists at the University of York. Hardly known for its architectural beauty, the University of York is still ringed with bureaucracy. In the 1960’s students painted huge scissors on the road outside the library to demonstrate against financial cuts – the University celebrates this political move now with a photo on the walkway up to the library. However, I cannot imagine that were this protest repeated on the student campus that the University would not remove it immediately and take responsive measures against the individuals who did it. Endless forms necessary to put on any event at the University reinforce this distrust. The University needs to democratise their open spaces, hand over the reins to young people, and listen to how they can positively revolutionise the landscape in which we work and live.
Briony Cartmell, Young Journalist, York.
As day two rolled in and a sea of bleary eyes arrived at the Guildhall in search of coffee and croissants, Arts Council Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette delivered his opening talk on a holistic case for the arts. Beginning with a disclaimer that he was not about to say anything especially novel or come up with claims we haven’t been emphatically maintaining for years, he eventually boiled this down to the statement that “we’re very good at talking to ourselves about ourselves”. Highlighting firstly a level of insularity within the arts and a failure to communicate beyond the “clique” to policy makers, to governments and to audiences (existing and potential), a second point Sir Peter’s claim seems to raise is one concerned with favouring language over action: the implication that we might be, to put it bluntly, all talk and no trousers. And as the audience debate heated up this morning, it seemed language and the very nature of how we talk about the arts, and might use this to make things actually happen, was the pressing issue on everybody’s lips.
With words like “longitudinal research” and “sociocognitive development” banded about (certainly a bit of a mouthful and mind warp for anyone at 9am), some audience members started to take these jargon terms to task, demanding that the arts go back to a stripped-back language if there’s any hope of spreading the arts’ benefits beyond the inner circle and initiating any real action. The words might sound great, they might make the ears of politicians prick up and go running for the money bags, or tick the bingo sheet of a funding application, but they fundamentally don’t mean much to your neighbours, your parents or the everyday audiences we should be celebrating the arts with. Surely it’s more likely to be a turn off than an enticement to engage in our industry. And consequently all that this generates is a situation where the arts has an internal monologue with itself, recycling the same words and terms time after time, shouting with frustration in a tunnel where the voice just echoes back, never reaching beyond talk.
It’s an idea that reminds me of Jake Orr’s speech yesterday on the future of theatre criticism, where he warned that a “world without critical reflection is a world where art is made in a vacuum”. As the Founder of A Younger Theatre, a platform that gives a critical voice to young people who want to talk about the arts, Jake’s message was to urge everyone involved in the arts to take note of and value a plurality of voices responding to the creative industries. Opposing that very accusation of the arts as a monologue that surfaced in this morning’s event, Jake emphasised the importance of creating a vibrant conversation between artists, audiences and critics, that values debate, contention and dialogue. Rather than implying that talking might oppose action, Jake claimed that it was precisely through this talking about the arts, by means of critical journalism, that change, new ideas and new participation in the arts, especially among young people, could be provoked.
However, where the points stirred from Sir Peter Bazalgette’s speech focused on the need for a simplification of arts language, Jake was keen to warn of the dangers of oversimplification as we worryingly fall head first into a tweet-sized culture which favours Buzzfeed lists over sustained and reflective pieces of critical work. An evident point of ambiguity, this slippage of difference can, I think, be best, if not completely adequately explained, by money. For from the Arts Council perspective, the organisation must, as Sir Peter’s speech emphasised, get its voice from the inner arts clique across to the public, in a movement that goes from the small and insular to the massive and expanding, as well as, as the comments on today’s talk suggests, getting beyond its associations with just funding and money (as this very “ideas-only” Arts Council conference would imply). The language employed must therefore be one of straight-forwardness, of humanity and familiarity, which can speak volumes to many.
At the level of theatre criticism, however, it seems a question of the public speaking to the arts industry, letting different voices into the conversation to take the debate out of the tunnel: a kind of reverse, or at least alternative, direction to what Sir Peter seemed to be gesturing towards. It’s also a question of these arts organisations taking on the responsibility of safeguarding and valuing those critical voices, valuing them financially as well as emotionally, and not being satisfied to let theatre criticism fall only to the hobbyist, the student and the writer who can afford not to be paid for their work. What is therefore required from the critical world are words that really matter, words that are provocative, engaged and extensive. It’s a need for language that is not jingoistic or alienating, not simplistic and predictable, but articulate, detailed, sustained and nuanced, which must speak to audiences and that inner circle of arts organisations alike.
Overall, if this is a conference about the arts taking an approach of no boundaries, it seems this possibility for a freedom from parameters and divides, especially between the public and this “we” of the arts world we’ve heard throughout the two days, this is something that must be not just articulated, but in fact enacted through, language and the way in which we talk about the arts.
Katherine Wootton, Young Journalist, York.
In looking at the future of the role of culture, many of the speakers encouraged the shaking up of arts administration but the most inspiring speeches came from those who spoke of not why we needed to change, but how we could change.
I say speeches and not debates, because firstly although speakers were responding to questions posed, there were no great conflicting views among them. Secondly, because when I was thinking about how this conference might affect policy change and guide how we think about the role of the culture in the 21st century, I really didn’t know how my fellow audience members as prominent arts managers and artists were responding – would this conference actually change anything?
Surprisingly, through interviewing various people, I found a few who were profoundly cynical. This stemmed mainly around the issue of funding; they felt that in the conference organisers encouraging people not to talk about money, it created an elephant in the room that made the contributing ideas fall flat – indeed, how are these changes to be implemented without money? It was of the opinion of these individuals that in sharing ideas about how arts administrations could become efficient and sustainable, the listeners were being actively encouraged not to badger for more funding from the government.
Well alright, but shouldn’t a cultural institution aim to be self sufficient and profitable? Naturally the question of value versus worth was discussed, and to great effect by Nicholas Lovell, who said people did not deserve to get paid for their work, but had to earn the right to be paid through the process of understanding your audience, and what they actually want.
What I picked up upon most was the importance placed upon trust in the audience, and how that allowed a cultural institution to flourish as part of the community and become sustainable. Brian Gamble opened up the Birmingham library to the community for them to schedule events in their open space, and filled the library with choir children, directed only by the choirmaster. Kully Thiarai gained the trust of 40,000 people to help them through the doors of the Cast theatre in Doncaster in a single season; a town that had internalised assumptions that it had no role in 21st century culture, and was openly hostile to the project.
The other prominent thread was that diversity was the breath of life to sustain culture, and to working together in the sector. Of course this comes through in handing over the reigns to the community; but again I caught scoffing in the audience at the act of preaching about diversity to York, a town represented as having a pretty monotonal social stratum. Admittedly, the audience wasn’t particularly racially diverse – but this isn’t a particularly “diverse” way of thinking about diversity. I spoke to Chris Monks who through running a theatre in Scarborough encountered diversity through extreme poverty, and the isolated retired community. It was his aim to incorporate these sections of society, and to listen to their contributions and this allows his theatre to remain relevant and a cherished part of everyday living.
Overall, the messages were of support, inspiration and hope – importantly not blind hope, but optimism based upon audience feedback, and ultimately on financial return.
Briony Cartmell, Young Journalist, York.
Sat within the ancient York Guildhall, surrounded by the sturdy stone buttresses and thick glass windows, you cannot help but feel reminded of the importance of place and setting. From the beautiful hall of today’s speeches, to the sparse and blocked ancient toilets those ignorant 15th century builders seemingly forgot to take into account when this building was created, the space in which today’s debates have circulated appear to have defined the very mood and conversations that today has prompted, both officially and unofficially. And place and space are topics that although not officially on the No Boundaries agenda until tomorrow, is an idea that I can’t help but feel has been shouting through so many of the day’s events.
Two of the talks that epitomised this concept and demonstrate the polarities of this debate came from the second session of the day, Adaptive Resilience, in David Lockwood and Ruth Mackenzie’s speeches in particular. For whilst David, Founder of Bike Shed Theatre, spoke about bringing theatre into alternative, local spaces, using the idea of a cocktail bars to fund a theatre, Ruth made a push for the redevelopment of The Space: an idea that extrapolates artistic ideas to global proportions through new technologies.
In David’s idea to create hybrid spaces and bring existing spaces, such as hospitality venues, alive with the arts, he emphasised the importance of all the peripheral aspects of an artistic experience, from the catering to keeping the loos clean to the hospitality of the working team. Space, he made clear, fundamentally matters. It’s an idea I can’t help but feel is slowly starting to gain traction in the arts, at least in the area around me as initiatives such as ‘On Our Turf’ emerge, which takes theatre into alternative spaces in areas such as rural North Yorkshire estranged from the main cultural hubs of cities. The novelty of experiencing the arts outside the confines of a gallery or theatre auditorium are surely enormous. And after all, it makes a lot of sense financially too: you find an existing audience or custom and you put a new idea of event into the mix or you use another want, such as food and drink, to feed a different desire, for arts (indeed, if today’s events have shown us anything it’s that the arts community certainly like their grub and there’s a clear connection between foodie fuel and artistic ideas!)
However, where I worry about this idea of David’s is in his ambitions to scale this up to bigger venues and wider audiences. For surely this idea trades on its very smallness, its miniature-scale, cosily community atmosphere that surely feels authentic, feels familiar and perhaps (dare I even say this at a forward-thinking ‘No Boundaries’ event) comfortably traditional and nostalgic. Therefore whilst necessity and daring ambition might encourage organisers to formalise this idea and advance it and expand it, I think trying to preserve its difference and keep intact its miniatureness that eschews every corporate should be at the forefront of any development of this project.
Ruth’s plans, on the other hand, couldn’t differ more from David’s. Providing a giant digital platform for new artists to create “something remarkable”, The Space 2.0 trades, unlike David’s project, on the enormity of its world wide reach. Urging all arts participants to feel “scared” every day, challenged to aim higher and think bigger, her concept of the arts is truly one of widening out boundaries. Handing the baton of power and change to the artists who can think and create beyond anything we can imagine, she wants to be able to offer these creatives the very best and most roomy space for creativity she can. Not happy to simply rely on live-streaming or any other well-worn technological initiatives we can do already, this is about finding and clearing out new and unchartered territories of the arts: an ambition I agree that we should all aspire to for the sake of widening arts participation out to all.
Katharine Wootton, Young Journalist, York.
Busy, busy, busy, buzzing.
Once I had reached the very top of the stairs it had been established that today wasn’t a regular day at the creative hub that is Watershed. However it was only until I had seen people in full professional attire looking important with their rather large lanyards was I made aware of how immense these two days will be. From working with people in various ways I’m naturally aware of the important of being open-minded to whatever the day has to offer – THE FIRST TRANSITION TO YORK AND BACK IS SUCCESSFUL, HOOOORAAAY – and with that, here goes Session 1: New Potential.
It’s common for people to initially relate ‘diversity’ to ethnicity but Nii Sackey evolved this into the importance of creative diversity. He talked about how as an arts community we gravitate to what we know because it’s comfortable yet what’s key to success is dialogue with different people and addressing the uncomfortable. Diversity means we have to find creative ways to make things possible and reinforces that our focus should be on using what we’ve got and engage with people from that and funds will gravitate to you.
Nii Sackey set the scene with his talk about the importance of a shifting focus onto diversity, it was then appropriately followed up by Brian Gambles’s discussion on the immense model that is the Birmingham library and how this kind of diverse development should be an inspiration to further projects – whoever planned the schedule should be patting their back. With 1.5million visitors in less than six months, it seems the Library of Birmingham’s initial aim to create a visitor attraction, an ‘event space with a difference’ that ‘hands over power to the users of the library’, was a success. By ‘inviting young people to say what they want from their library’ they’ve enabled long-term partnerships and encourage the involvement of many in order to develop the community in their city. I’m also personally inspired by Gamble’s anecdote of how even the construction of it had such substantial social impact it gave someone not only employment, but a home – I am hooked, lined and sinking. To me this instills how as an arts community, although trying to expand from our social position, we should never fail to remember the more minor aspects of our influence.
P.s. Brian Gambles’s sassy relationship with PowerPoint is endearing, if you missed that I feel for you.
Sophie Setter Jerrome rightly addressed the substantial importance of technology in our society to the point it’s now an extension of who we are. And why is this? ‘In the real world people dislike it when you monologue for ten minutes without pause’, thus a platform to ‘talk about what you’re passionate about with very few restraints’ to a ‘community of like-minded people’ has now become part of our everyday fundamentals. This doesn’t then take away from the internet being a fun hobby or a helpful tool. She discusses how it’s about utilizing the feedback you get, as it’s just as important as the content itself. In this digital day and age it’s about bringing about a platform and ‘visibility to often silence groups’. Although, she states ‘we don’t see the power of online communities’, I feel, as a young person, that I do acknowledge this power, which makes me wonder: is it the older generation in our communities who currently hold the position of influence that don’t? At what point will they realize if they make their potential customers ‘so spoilt for choice they won’t have a loyalty to your brand’?
Sorry, let’s first address how badass Lynsey Merrick’s introduction, “her weapon of choice is culture” is: Badass. Right, onwards and upwards.
Merrick discussed this idea of a Creative Revolution and how this comes from ‘understanding where we’re coming from to understand where we’re going’. Instead of inappropriately forcing ourselves into the mainstream (defined today as ‘the current common thought of the majority’) I agree with her sentimentality that we need to create substantial opportunities to enable a lifelong journey in Creativity and Culture with people from a young age, with emphasis on a ‘lifelong journey’. ‘History tells us society will respond to need’ and it’s up to us to establish a need for the arts within our communities. As soon as we address the need to branch out we also need to maintain the creative diversity that Nii Sackey discussed in order to deepen and strengthen relationships to become present at the local grassroots level – it’s our social responsibility as an arts community.
‘Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life’.
What struck me the most is how simply Jude Kerry put everything I’ve always been thinking but unable to articulate: the patriarchal hierarchy in culture with children at the bottom. This notion of ‘social provisions for children is at our beckon call’, where we give children specific moments, for instance school holidays, as their opportunities to explore creatively. Kerry underlines our utmost importance should be offering a form of formal education to implement into academia. Now to me that should involve taking students out from this classroom feel to developing an opinion of the arts being just as significant as anything math’s or English has to offer. This shouldn’t mean a learning curve for people with an interests in the arts to thrive and those who are more logical in their learning style to be pushed aside, as after all we’d only be creating a backward system of what we currently have, but offering a platform where even those who find creatively interacting with learning a challenge are also encouraged to develop their potential further by regarding the uncomfortable.
Emma interviewing delegates. Photo: Lauren Phillips
My first post-session conversation with Shawn Sobers, a Senior Lecturer of Photography & Media, Dr. Edson Burton and a speaker in the first session, Jude Kelly, was extremely refreshing and insightful. Our discussion was inclusive, diverging from a range of ideologies that took us onto different topics, thus following the “No Boundaries” theme of the day. As a whole the feedback was positive with a particular appreciation for the different approaches taken towards the topic of creativity. However, Burton brought up a critical point about the absence of addressing the notion of taste, where the ‘need to feel like you have to agree with common tastes and like-mindedness’ is engraved into society. With this in mind we further discussed the complex generational change of how the loss of cultural heritage and identities over time through evolving generations has resulted in society and younger generations becoming defocused and disinterested in what were cultural stimulations that sparked creativity. From this Kelly put forward the necessity that ‘if it’s a taboo in the cultural sector we should get straight into it’ and be conscious that ‘history is run by people who have the power’. But to that I say, instead of focusing on shifting this ideology, why don’t we, the arts community, strive to be a weapon of influence? A positive force to be reckoned with in society, from diverse partnerships between organizations to academic influence, is what we need to become.
I continued my search for reflection across the room. The Chief Executive of Sound and Music, Susanna Eastburn discusses the ‘really important tone for the first session’ that Nii Sackey sets in his opening speech by being ‘honest and not afraid of addressing critical issues’. From being involved in the arts already she finds the No Boundaries conference to be a great occasion to develop, reconnect and create new relations to continue to be innovative in her practice as well as a particular interest in hearing from the ‘voices outside of the arts’ because of this natural concept of being ‘open in her communications’. Also, from a technology stance it was intriguing to see the initial attraction where people were ‘curious about the interconnection of technology’ and the ‘multi-connection of two different art spaces’. I’ve found this innovative way of experimenting and exploring technology further just in the format of the overall conference to be a wonderful ironic campaign of how much there is to offer and from our shear excitement of it how little we’re utilizing it. Ali Robertson, the director of the Tobacco Factory, mentioned how beneficial the first session had been for him yet also put forward this extremely valid point of wondering and considering how much of it will actually be implemented into our art practices and organizations. Truth be told, I’m not sure either but the fact we’ve begun dialogue like this with this flare of open-mindedness is an essential stepping-stone to getting to where we ought to be.
Emma Morsi, Young Journalist, Bristol.
“People don’t value content, they value the social context of how it makes them feel”. This was a pretty provocative line from Nicholas Lovell’s speech on how we can make money from our ‘free’ online content, and why charging fixed rates for our work online isn’t the way forward.
In theory, this statement does ring true: online content doesn’t just work because of the material itself, it works because of the communities that material attracts. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of people liking your stuff making other people like your stuff and so on. We all want to feel involved with a group who shares our interests, and to have a space where we can communicate with them over a common topic. So in this sense, the social context is really what’s bringing value to the supposed focal points of the communities that form around online art.
But to take this to mean that the original content that drew in that audience is without value does a disservice to the people who are dedicating their lives to their art. For starters, it just doesn’t make sense: that content is still what created the community. One would not exist without the other, so removing either from our equation of what has ‘value’ is pointless. What’s more, when you apply this approach to other scenarios it completely falls apart: I might decide that I value the fun family time and general good vibes going to a restaurant provides me with more than the food itself, but that doesn’t mean I think I should get my pizza for free, much as I might like to.
Lovell’s proposal was that we do not inherently deserve to be paid for what we do. Instead, we should rely on the ‘superfans’ of our content to finance us, and accept that, unless our audience decides, after using our work, that we are worthy, they don’t have any obligation to pay us.
This approach has definitely worked for some people: many Kickstarter campaigns have been phenomenally successful. And that’s great! I think that fan communities coming together to finance what they love is beautiful and provides a unique sense of closeness between creator and consumer. But it’s meant to be an alternative: there for when you simply cannot get funding, or are looking to create something specifically community based. It cannot and should not be the only thing creators have to rely on. And, as well that, you might be able to fund one large-scale project via Kickstarter, but, despite the common consensus that artists can exist on lent-out sofas and sheer angst alone, they do actually have bills to pay and a body to feed, neither of which can be done through the goal-specific payment Kickstarter offers.
And what if your ‘superfans’ don’t have the money to donate lump sums? Then you’ve got zero income and an abandoned community of people who have lost something that they loved due to lack of funding. Literally no one has won here.
And why should people get to regularly consume your content for free just because it doesn’t deeply resonate with their soul? There a lot of things that people don’t value! When was the last time someone sat down with you and professed the deep love and admiration they feel for the people who sweep the streets, collect the bins or serve them at checkouts? The truth is we see a lot of workers as disposable, but that doesn’t mean we can just collectively decide not to pay them and expect them to keep doing their job in the hope that someone eventually gives them a fiver.
Arguing that art is without any intrinsic value is arguing that no book, play, film or song ever shaped who you are today. A country that doesn’t value art is one that doesn’t value empathy or creativity, both of which are key attributes of a progressive society, so we have to stop acting like our arts scene is a fun distraction for the people who can afford it, and recognise it as the entirely necessary public service it is.
A lot of the people who are putting their art up on the internet, be it films, music, illustrations or something else altogether, are young people, and this adds a particularly ugly dynamic to Lovell’s theory. We’re not just saying that art has no value, we’re saying it about our next generation, too.
We’ve reached a point where most young people I know are actively surprised when they’re offered payment for their (often considerable!) contributions to projects, as they’re so used to assuming that, as usual, they’ve just been wheeled in to do some admin and provide a ‘youth voice’ that earns a company an audience and an education whilst costing them nothing. We can’t keep telling teens and young adults that they have no worth and then expect them to merrily carry on with the work we rely on them to produce.
Lovell is right that we need to rethink the way we approach payment in the digital age: it’s so easy for people to ‘share’ (read: steal) your stuff and so difficult to actually do anything about it that we can’t go on with our current system. But the mantra we seem to be offering at the moment is “work for free, be nice to the people who exploit your situation, and desperately hope it all pays off!” and that’s just not sustainable if we want an actual arts scene.
Here’s a creative idea: pay people when you take their work, pay people when they pledge their time to something you want from them, and pay people when they contribute to society if you want them to keep doing it.
Sophie Setter Jerrome, Young Journalist, Bristol.
As York digests the morning’s debates over a feast of soup and too much cheese, here’s a Tweet-sized summary of what happened once No Boundaries got rolling and the rest of the New Potential debate swung into action.
Sophie Setter Jerrome, Young Journalist and Media Queen, Over 17 Mirrors:
Viva la digital revolution for interactive young audiences. Tailor cultural content and keep the business politics out of young creativity.
Lynsey Merrick, Participation and Learning Manager of the Lowry:
Summary: “Arts as a human right”. Creativity & culture as historically mainstream- why not now? Young ppl can bring it back in vogue #normalwhatnormal
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre:
Summary: Children currently sit at bottom of arts hierarchy. Let’s open up creativity for kids and take it beyond the gated community of schools
So lots of food for thought here that has certainly got today’s crowds talking and tweeting. There’s a general consensus that we need to bring young people into the arts and hand the baton onto them to lead the way. Exactly what defines these young people (whether children, teenagers or young adults) and precisely where these groups are sourced from and a plan of action for how to engage them, however, seems much more of a slippery topic.
Katherine Wootton, Young Journalist, York.
Being part of the No Boundaries conference at York’s Guildhall is a strange mix of old and new. The fifteenth-century hall, with its stone walls and crests carved into the high wooden ceiling, has an austere, historical feeling. It’s an unusual setting for watching Sophie Cotterill and Jude Kelly live-streamed to us from Bristol on a giant screen, and Lynsey Merrick both on the stage and the screen as her talk was streamed back in turn. But the technology was really well-used to bring such interesting talks to two separate cities at once.
Since the theme of the session was young people and the arts, it was important to have a diverse mix of ages among the speakers, and Sophie Cotterill was an excellent representative for young people and their point of view in her talk. I was amazed and impressed to hear that she’s only seventeen, as she spoke with a great deal of presence and confidence. Earlier, Nii Sackey had said in his talk that it is important to include young people in the arts because they have a different way of seeing the world, and Sophie’s talk was a good example of this. She spoke about the importance of the Internet for our generation in a way adults probably wouldn’t get, saying it’s not so much a hobby as a means of engaging in a second life. As a video blogger – again, I was hugely impressed that someone so young had produced Internet content so professionally – she has first-hand experience of this, and her advice to delegates to use the Internet to engage specifically with online communities, rather than marketing to different audiences indiscriminately, was extremely true and useful. However, I disagree with her that the Internet is a completely positive tool. I think that young people who engage with the Internet actively, using it to create content and form communities, are the exception rather than the rule. In my own life and what I have observed of my friends, I’ve often seen the Internet become a distraction from real life, encouraging a passive frame of mind and a shorter attention span. I think Sophie Cotterill’s attitude is an exception and a way forward, rather than the norm for Internet use.
I particularly enjoyed Lynsey Merrick’s talk on the importance of bringing creativity and culture into the mainstream of our society – as she put it, having a ‘Creative Revolution’ to follow the Industrial Revolution which led to our current valuing of science and technology above all else. I found this an interesting idea that clarified many of my own attitudes to the arts. I was moved by her story, taken from her own work as Participation and Learning Manager at The Lowry, of how Grace, a young carer, was helped in her situation by being involved in a film-making project, which led to her speaking at the House of Lords. It was a great example of how involvement in the arts can make a real and crucial difference to marginalised peoples’ lives. Lynsey argued that we have a social responsibility to embed creativity and culture into services for young people, and that the arts are a human right.
Jude Kelly, the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, continued this point further, by arguing that children are overlooked in a patriarchal society, and that this affects the arts sector by not making engagement with them seem like a priority. I have always despised Cyril Connolly’s chauvinistic quote, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”, so I loved her challenge to it by pointing out that the enemy of good art is in fact a fear of risk. She argued that, whilst it’s a shame that the current government don’t prioritise arts education, arts practioners should take that risk and start doing so themselves.
Whilst I found both Lynsey and Jude’s ideas inspiring, I would have liked to hear them developed further and more practical suggestions for how to achieve the engagement of young people in the arts that they argued for so convincingly, especially with the arts’ sector’s current funding cuts. Would they like to see projects like the one Grace was involved in spread elsewhere? If so, how might the organisations represented here go about doing so?
The aim of this conference is to stimulate the imagination and look to the future. Whilst I was very impressed by all three talks, I would have liked to see more of the former, in the form of a wider consideration of how we relate to the Internet, from Sophie Cotterill and more of the latter, in the form of practical future suggestions, from Lynsey Merrick and Jude Kelly. However, this was just a taster of what is taking place today and tomorrow. These talks were a promising and inspiring start to the conference, and I anticipate plenty of discussion to take them further.
Rosemary Collins, Young Journalist, York
The Guildhall has packed out, the coffee cups have stopped clinking, Marcus Romer’s guarding tigers are in place, the live link is all go and No Boundaries 2014 has begun! Promised a “brave adventure” full of experimentation and daring (putting a lot of faith in that ever fickle technology), there are plenty of expectant faces ready for two days of ideas and innovation.
Kicking off the day is the New Potential event, starting with Nii Sackey of Bigga Fish. Beginning with the statement “I genuinely feel like I’m a product of the arts”, Nii introduces two key themes of diversity and young people in the arts. Urging us to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations and find ways to embrace difference, he believes embracing diversity and integrating young people is the key “winning formula” to breaking open the arts.
Brian Gambles of Birmingham Library then takes to the stage, who whilst fighting against a technological nemesis of Powerpoint, expresses the need to revitalise the cultural organisation of libraries, handing over the reins of power to the community. Highlighting the flexibility of Birmingham Library, whose development he has overseen, to house business events, social activities and educational opportunities, Brian again emphasises the need to engage young people and let them dictate the future of our libraries. Amidst the noisy debate on the future of our libraries, it’s great to see this issue coming to the forefront of today’s debates, pinpointing that our libraries do form a key part of our culture and should matter to all those who care about the arts. How such ideas could potentially pan out to our smallest and most local libraries, on a completely smaller scale than Birmingham, however, is an issue that’s still very much up for debate.
Katharine Wootton, Young Journalist, York.
No Boundaries is working with a team of young journalists who have been tasked with identifying newsworthy stories and debates. They will capture and respond to scenes across both locations, with the aim of offering new perspectives. Jess Hoare, Watershed’s Projects Coordinator, said:
We are excited to be working with such an informed, vibrant group of young people. Together with digital communications teams from Arts Council England and the British Council, we hope that this experience will not only develop the participants understanding of the challenges facing the cultural sector, but also provide a space for them to examine the questions currently being raised.
In York, Briony Cartmell & Rosemary Collins will be writing critical blog posts; Katherine Wootton will be reporting via social media and shorter blog posts. Meanwhile in Bristol, Roseanna Dias will be working as an Assistant Editor with Book Kernel, who will compile a book of the event. Emma Morsi will be critiquing the views put forth in the programmed and open sessions. Prolific teen blogger Sophie Setter Jerrome will be responding via a series of vlogs and will discuss her experience of producing content and interacting with online audiences in our New Potential session.
The young reporters will be posting to the Reporter’s section of our website throughout the conference. You can also follow the conference on twitter using the hashtag: #nb2014
Technology is the answer… but what was the question?Proving there are indeed No Boundaries, even in death, Watershed have been working with xHumed to bring Cedric Price – one of the most influential and visionary architects of the late twentieth century – to No Boundaries. In advance of the conference, Imperica caught up with CP to re-visit the questions he was perhaps waiting for, with the answers in his very own words from that talk in 1966…
I started my career as a producer for the BBC: producing dramas and documentaries first in radio, then in television. I had the good fortune to work with some of the finest writers and performers in Britain: Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Alan Rickman, Jim Broadbent, Simon Callow, Bill Nighy, Nick Bicat, Simon Schama, Peter Barnes, Janet Suzman, Elizabeth Spriggs, the London Chamber Orchestra.
I went on to run four companies: one here in the U.K. and three software companies in the United States.
Back home near Bristol, I now write plays and non-fiction.
This trajectory regularly strikes people as peculiar. I’m frequently asked: am I a businesswoman or an artist? The implication is that I can be one or the other, not both. My interrogators routinely fail to see that there could be any connection between the different parts of my career.
Free tickets for young artists
One of the objectives for No Boundaries is to host conversations which engage people from all parts of the cultural industry. To this end delegate passes are priced in a tiered structure. Whilst demand has been high for delegate passes at the Artist / Independent tier, we have also had feedback from Artists who aren’t able to cover the cost of attending but would like to be part of this two-day debate. To respond to this feedback we have created an extra pricing tier with 20 delegate passes available at no cost to independent artists. In the first instance we are prioritising working Artists from all disciplines under 30 years old. We will allocate passes depending on availability in York and Bristol via a ballot system.
To apply please email email@example.com before Tuesday 11th February, 5pm, with the following info:
- Confirmation that you are an artist working professionally from a base in England and where this base is
- Your Name
- Email and phone contact details
- Your artistic practise
We will let all applicants know of the results of the ballot by Friday 14th February – places will be subject to demand and availability.
If you have already purchased an artist ticket you can still enter the ballot and if you are successful we will reimburse your ticket in full.
(Supported by University of the West of England and University of Bristol)
Jo Verrent, Senior Producer Unlimited
Delegate passes for Artists and Independents have now sold out in Bristol, with limited availability left for remaining tiers, so we recommend you book soon to avoid disappointment. If you would like to join the waiting list for ticket cancellations please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to book at a tier that is sold out in Bristol, please note that contributors will be split between both Bristol and York, with talks broadcast between the two locations.
The first wave of speakers announced for No Boundaries 2014 includes RSA chair Vikki Heywood, Bigga Fish CEO Nii Sackey, poet Luke Wright, 9/11 Memorial and Museum director Alice M. Greenwald, Birmingham Library director Brian Gambles, National Arts Strategies President Russell Willil Taylor, Google’s strategist Abigail Posner, and, back from the dead, visionary architect Cedric Price, who will present a unique PechaKucha presentation, courtesy of digital specialists xHumed, who adapt ideas from revolutionary thinkers in history to modern day topics.
In addition to the talks programme, No Boundaries will also present a range of playful interventions, including an evening with musician, artist and creator, Fred Deakin, a sweet-smelling perfume workshop from Odette Toilette and an inspiration exchange from contemporary performance artists Third Angel. More names will be announced in the run up to the conference on our contributors page.
Download the press release about the first wave of speakers announced here.
Delegate passes for No Boundaries can now be booked through the link here.
To ensure that a wide spread of leaders, activists and artists can attend in order to promote the strongest dialogue across the industry the pricing of the delegate passes is tiered depending on the total level of annual public subsidy (in all its forms) the organisation you work for receives.
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre
Judy Kibinge, Filmmaker and Executive Director of Docubox
Judy Kibinge is a Kenyan writer, director and film maker. She founded Nairobi-based production house Seven and has recently set up DOCUBOX, a Documentary Film Fund that gives small grants and training to talented film makers from East Africa. In this interview Judy talks about creating work in a space where everything is new…
Benjamin Barber, Political Theorist
Benjamin R.Barber, famed political theorist, and author of the book, If Mayors Ruled The World, discusses the impact that Arts and cultural organisations have on cities, and what more should be done to make those in charge understand the value that culture brings to a city.
For more of Benjamin’s thoughts on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbW_Gm8S6s2sVVApqmBlZQg/videos
View the Transcript.
Basma El Husseiny, managing director of Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy)
Globalisation and Internationalisation feature as a core theme of No Boundaries, reflecting the changing world we live in and the many conditions under which the Arts looks to flourish. In this interview, Basma El Husseiny, managing director of Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) in Egypt, suggests that the protests movements at their core have been about dissatisfaction with current institutions and wonders what that means for arts and culture institutions.
Tim Harford, Economist
Earlier this year, Economist Tim Harford puts a different spin on the ever-continuing view of the role of culture in supporting economic growth.
Todd London, Artistic Director, New Dramatists
Is Todd London’s call-to-arms in the USA about the role of funders and the term ‘innovation’ reflective of the situation in the UK?