Back in June 2013, some six weeks ago, I attended a one day conference for the creative industries, held at the lovingly restored Assembly Rooms on George Street, Edinburgh. This same venue is currently at the heart of a transformation to get it ready for the Fringe, which will also see most of the street closed off to traffic and given over to al fresco hedonism. We await the results of the bacchanalian town planning revolution.
My notes from the conference are brief but hopefully give a flavour of the themes being discussed on the day. The event was produced by AmbITion Scotland, among others, and further details are available from them just here.
Eleonora Belfiore (University of Warwick) opened the day to discuss ‘Reframing Cultural Value’. She hosts a blog with resources on ‘the #culturalvalue initiative’. Among the points made were that ‘cultural value’ is at the heart of policy decisions relating to the cultural sector, but that the debate was based on market logic. This logic now permeates a ‘marketing society’, seeping into previously market-free areas of policy and activity. This has introduced new characteristics to relationships between stakeholders, the public sector and so on. It also throws up issues of market failure, but in a social sense rather than economy. She cited FS Michaels as an exponent of the idea that an economic narrative is now dominant, with value established a measure of return on investment.
Belfiore commented that this has seen something of a de-politicisation of the value debates relating to the arts: arguments are not being made on the basis of intrinsic values, but rather technical questions related to ‘impacts’. This puts the arts and cultural sectors into the invidious position of attempting to argue their case in economic terms, but they fail to fully engage because their passion is elsewhere and ultimately they don’t really ‘understand’ the nature of the discussion. It’s a charade and audiences and agencies recognise this as well.
How then to reframe the arguments away from economics: It is necessary to ask and establish where the value lies for the wider public, how do they perceive and appreciate the arts? To also ask where in the arts ecosystem cuts can best be made, while maintaining the key elements of that system? To also ask what the arts are for, and ultimately who gets to decide? This is a strategic discussion calling for strategic vision, thinking further ahead. Fiona Hyslop’s speech has served to create a space in which we might have such a debate, to enable difficult questions to be asked and to show that Scotland is taking the debate into new areas compared to the rest of the UK.
‘The Art of Living Dangerously’ was introduced, a project being conducted within Scottish Higher Education and a report due for publication later in 2013. Among its themes are: risk, collaborations, spaces, sustainability, planning and power. Among the international comparisons being made is Denmark where a welfare system exists that supports artists, without stigma, incentivising work that can be toured. Policy ideas being suggested for the UK include a voucher system that could see venues and organisations competing for artists: the intention is to see a degree of power shifting to the artists as they then bring the money with them.
Ben Cameron spoke, bringing a strong New York accent to proceedings. He advocated the importance of having a clear strategic underpinning to creative industries organisations: a vision (on which such organisations tend to be quite clear); a mission (less clarity here); values (this is an area where organisations have a choice). He called for a form of ‘arts reformation’.
Bob Last discussed the concept of the ‘creative industries’ as a legacy of Chris Smith’s time in office during Tony Blair’s years. Part of a neoliberal project perhaps? The terminology enabled the merging of more art forms into a ‘one size fits all’ solution as far as policy makers are concerned, also leading to an ‘uncreative’ wasteland? In an era that demands evidence-based analysis, what happens when you are unable to produce the sort of clear-cut answers and evidence that is more readily available to others: the arts produce emotional outputs, rather than the clearer data associated with (e.g.) medical science.
Last proposed that the debate be framed around ‘intent’ rather than outputs. He also put forward the notion of ‘collective capital’ as something that the broader industry can invest into, if a way can be found to value it.
Hannah Rudman, of AmbITion Scotland and Envirodigital, introduced an explicitly ecological thread to the day. Her resources are available here: http://www.delicious.com/hanrudman/culturing The environmental theme was linked to broader questions of justice, civil liberties, equality and so on. As such it was argued that although the creative industries may bear only a small responsibility for today’s environmental problems they can play a larger part in their solutions. Social media plays its part here too, enabling the social network to become visible around events, festivals, cultural organisations and so on – individuals are thus enabled, engaged, given agency and able to help establish norms for their communities. As a result practical steps such as car sharing and other sustainable practices gain a foothold. Rudman also advocated that artists engage with scientists in order to tell stories.
Questions to finish the day
A round of questions to a mixed panel finished off the day. Points to emerge included the idea that ‘everything’s now in play’ when it comes to funding: Kickstarter, etc. Such tools can also act as ways to encourage engagement with your work, for some they are a way in to particular arts-based professions. When it comes to public funding the point was made that organisations and individuals need to show that they can make work independently first – the public sector needs to have confidence that it is investing with some chance of success. It was felt that although artists have little problem arguing their case for what they bring to society the policy makers and funders are less clear on such points. Finally, the theme of ‘audience engagement’ was reframed as ‘who do we need to attend in order to make this event kick off?’ – a more targeted approach with rewards that benefit the event as much as the ‘desired’ audience.
Image: ‘Ceiling features, the Music Hall’ | flickr.com/photos/bethmoon527/8019233869/