A short but intense period of family history research has got me thinking. Something I’ve learnt about my ancestors in the nineteenth century was that they were itinerant, going where the work took them but staying close to family members. It must have been hard supporting large families; working as labourers, living in cramped conditions, ending your education at the age of 8 because you had to work, living away from your spouse in order to earn a living. In many ways I don’t think we’ve progressed quite as much as we like to think we have. We still build houses without building the community buildings and spaces that people need for their sanity and well being. We still have to travel great distances from our homes to go where the work is. Often both parents are working and often the work is short-term. Despite advances in education, medicine, healthcare, technology; are we moving forward or in circles?
There was a meeting this January for the National Campaign for the Arts to look back at the NCA’s 2004/05 manifesto and think about the shape and content of it’s successor. The Arts in terms of manifesto’s, mission statements, business strategies and development plans is a relatively young player, so it is heartwarming to think that so many existing arts bodies and interested parties can come together under one roof to consult and plan for the future. But I hope that we keep an eye to the past and leave room for the essence that is at the heart of all ‘art’ and art activity – it’s impact on the beholder, the recipient, the participant. Like parks, open spaces, good architecture, they may stand alone but have a much more beneficial impact as part of the whole. Art needs people to touch it, taste it, feel it, experience it. Forced into prescriptive approaches, which due to admin systems and the Arts Council England‘s funding processes it often falls into (Brought on by the need to be fair and impartial and thereby, the very nature of the beast.) Art has become either tethered and inaccessible, or ‘prescriptive’. I generalise, of course I do, but the trend is there. Robin Simpson in his blog Cultural Playing Field pleads for a more holistic approach, sounds good to me.
A Local Authority I recently had contact with have gained funding to ensure access to the arts and creative activity for as broad a range of people as possible within a geographic area. How are they going to achieve this and their target of xxx amount of people within a relatively short time-scale? Taster workshops. Taster workshops, offering access to a variety of arts provision across the area. An example of an achievable solution to a challenging task but does it really improve the hours of access young people have to ‘quality’ arts provision as stated in the government remit? Will those young people whose lives don’t encompass theatre, dance, music, visual art really sign up for a taster workshop if they don’t yet have a vision, a picture of what it is they’re signing up for? Or perhaps because they do have a vision and it’s a picture that they don’t relate to they most certainly won’t make the effort. Will they be bothered? Is this forward-thinking?
Another project ‘Creativity 4 Health’ aimed at engaging ‘looked after’ young people and their carers, in creative activities to improve their wellbeing and health, held ‘family days’ – picnics where a range of activities were on offer – climbing walls, juggling, karioke, graffiti boards etc. Yes, you can argue it was a dressed up ‘taster session’ but it was a holistic approach and the challenge was still getting people to come in the first place.
In the UK exciting, wonderful Art is to be found in iconic buildings, spaces designed for people to be inspired and ‘wowed’ in, of course we want more people to enjoy these public spaces. But…
What is the need. Where is the need? How do we meet it? If I want to see a rugby match I expect to go to a sports stadium to see it. Perhaps the challenge for the arts is in its diverse, eclectic nature, it’s refusal to be just ‘one thing’. So how do we profile the Arts to ensure that everyone can benefit from them?
Or is the answer something more organic and indefinable?
Is this why projects funded by ACE, which in order to gain funding have to (usually) fit within the boxes supplied, may produce great art but aren’t always holistic enough to meet the need? Is the real Art, the exciting, imaginative, life enhancing art happening without ACE’s benevolence. It’s a ‘catch 22’ because if so, then chances are that at some point it will need regular funding in order to continue thriving and once it come’s under the ACE umbrella it has to start fitting within the boxes.
So my question is, at the start of 2009 whilst the National Campaign for the Arts is thinking about the size and shape and future of the Arts – do we, the Arts world/communities/workers/supporters/campaigners have our backs to the future as we move forward or are we learning from the past?