Critical Spaces Consultancy Workshop

Critical Spaces Consultancy Workshop

On 23 May 2014, ICCE hosted the London Consultancy Workshop for Critical Spaces.

Critical Spaces is a critical catalyst for socially-engaged artists. This includes all artists working in social contexts, including site-specific, situationist, public, community and outreach artists. We are currently developing a free online platform which will support these artists by:

  • Helping them to find other socially-engaged artists for critical conversations and collaboration – locally or anywhere in the UK, and using specialist terminology.

  • Sending ‘Critical Tasks’ directly to their inbox. These are short exercises created by other artists to stimulate critical thinking.

  • Creating a map of socially-engaged artists across the UK, to increase the visibility of artists working in this way.

It will also help curators and commissioners to search for artists to work with more easily.

So far, 281 artists have registered their interest in this initiative. As a result, 17 workshops have been held across England to support critical thinking, local networks and peer support… And, to figure out how this type of activity can be stimulated on a national scale.

ICCE hosted the last of these workshops, where the final model for an online platform was presented to and tested by a curated group of 17 people. These were predominantly socially-engaged artists, but also included a mixture of consultants, commissioners and curators working in this field.

To compliment these workshops, we will shortly be launching an online survey for those who were not able to attend any of the R&D events.

 

The need

Critical dialogue and reflection is essential for improving art practice. The use of art to deliver social policy has both brought new possibilities for artists and led to a decrease in criticality and critical language.

Where studio and gallery-based artists are dealing exclusively in art language, social art practitioners are immersed in the language of the Third Sector. They are undertaking professional development training to learn about public licensing, charity status, viral marketing, policy changes and bid writing. Studios become offices, and the curators are charities and governmental bodies. None of these spaces are asking artists to develop and define the value of artistic practice on their own terms.

On top of this, a new breed of student is demanding that their £27k art school degree leaves them industry-ready. These previously experimental spaces – where young artists would generate new terms, processes and concepts for seeing – are fast becoming business schools.

For artists working in the social realm, the designated space for reflection is often the evaluation report. Rather than critical contemplation, evaluation is in fact advocacy. In addition, the looming threat of the quantitative measurement of well-being and payment-by-results means that social value – and by extension social art practice – is increasingly articulated in economic terms. This brings art practice much closer to an economic debate than it is used to.

Within an increasingly pressurised situation – where the artists’ livelihood and an externally-defined value system become intractably intertwined – the critical justification of this work easily becomes a secondary concern. The space for artist-led, autonomous, critical discourse – essential for developing sophisticated practice – is in short supply.

“There is a power struggle that is starting to happen between artists trying to access resources and money. I think there is room for us to come together in some way, when the economic situation outside is splitting us apart and preventing us from serving the people we are trying to reach through art.”

– Myles Stewart, Artist and Art Therapist

“We are so used to scrabbling for funding, keeping ourselves afloat and justifying what we do, that we don’t actually look creatively at the very terms in which we think and act. The spaces where artists used to come together to think differently are diminishing.”

– Matthew Taylor, Artist and Researcher

“We need to create some kind of support network where we can develop alternative instructions and forms and processes [for demonstrating artistic value] than those being directed by policy – and we need to do that collectively.”

– Sophie Hope, Artist and Researcher

Further information

Critical Spaces is an initiative by Hannah Hull in partnership with ixia public art think tank.

www.criticalspaces.co.uk

Hannah Hull a situation-specific artist, creating social sculpture and political interventions.  As part of her practice, she delivers and consults on creative practice for social change.

www.hannahhull.co.uk

ixia is a public art think tank. It promotes and influences the development and implementation of public art policies, strategies and projects by creating and distributing knowledge to arts and non-arts policy makers and delivery organisations within the public and private sectors, curators, artists and the public. ixia is a charity and is funded by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO). ixia also teach on the MA Arts Administration and Cultural Policy in ICCE.

www.ixia-info.com

Engaging the World: EU maps out Culture in External Relations

Engaging the World: EU maps out Culture in External Relations

 

Researchers from the Institute of Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths, Rod Fisher and Dr Carla Figueira, are part of a group of independent experts and cultural organisations helping the EU develop a strategic approach to the use of culture in external relations.

The Preparatory Action ‘Culture in EU External Relations’ launched this week its final report ‘Engaging the World: Towards Global Cultural Citizenship’. This report is the outcome of a sixteen-month inquiry led by the Goethe Institut, Brussels, covering 54 countries – the 28 EU Member States, 16 countries included under the European Neighbourhood Policy and 10 Strategic Partnership countries (including the USA, China, Brazil, South Africa, Russia). It has uncovered a very considerable potential for culture in the EU’s international relations and has also explored the ways in which culture and cultural expression have been deployed already by European actors in multiple relationships with their counterparts elsewhere.At the same time, the inquiry has analysed how stakeholders from countries outside of the EU have partnered with European cultural actors and how they view their relationships with Europe.

The report validates the need for the deployment of soft power by the European Union through enhancing the role of culture in its the external relations and those of its Member States and the process set in motion by the European Commission’s 2007 ‘Communication on a European agenda for culture in a globalizing world’, which was endorsed by the Parliament and the Council in 2008.

The country reports examine the cultural situation, potentials and challenges in the respective countries, focusing on strengthened cultural relations between the EU and the country in question. Reports are available online for: Algeria, Armenia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Georgia, India, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Moldova, Palestine, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Tunisia, Ukraine and USA. Reports will also become available for Libya, Syria Belarus, Jordan and Azerbaijan.

More detailed information on the outcomes of the Preparatory Action here.

Daniel Merrill – Intercultural Co-production and the Cultural Entrepreneur

 

 

 

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This article uses the vehicle of an international arts project to explore some considerations of the idea of cultural entrepreneurship. As such it will not focus on the practicalities of undertaking the project, or indeed many of the specific activities that happened as a part of it, instead exploring how considerations of the cultural entrepreneur come through in such activities.

 

1. The Projects Origins

In 2014 I successfully applied for the Artists International Development Fund, which is made available by Arts Council England and The British Council. The aim was to undertake musical research through active collaboration with artists in three countries – Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. The fund “offers early stage development opportunities for […] artists based in England to spend time building links with artists, organisations and/or creative producers in another country”. The project was to involve six weeks traveling between the three countries creating rapid collaborations with musicians in each country, exploring the potentials of combining my own music with contemporary arab music. This project arose in the form of a collaboration with Amina Abodoma, an entrepreneur based in Alexandria, Egypt who I had met whilst undertaking a Masters at Goldsmith’s Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship, her work with I-Act and as Manager of Teatro Eskendria has seen her playing an important role in the cultural sector within the country.

Having helped to co-produce an event for Egyptian band Masar Egbari at London’s Cafe Oto, a concert that proved interesting in its inter-cultural reach, Amina and I started to explore ideas about how to further develop concerts projects that would bridge between the Middle East and the UK. Throughout her time in the UK Amina had gained insight into the working of the cultural sector in the UK, and a project to develop reciprocal knowledge was conceived.

The project itself fits into both of the primary forms of international co-production as outlined by Staines, Travers and Chung being both a co-financing and an artistic collaboration. Previous experience has demonstrated that the importance of funders is often misunderstood by artists in developing projects. When seeking funding it is not simply about raising the money to do what you wish to do, but engaging potential funders in what it is that you are doing; starting a discussion. Funders often have much more to offer than simply the money, and a fruitful discussion will help move a project on tremendously. Co-funding not only makes this a multi-linear conversation, but helps to add assurance to further potential funders that your project has an established network that will   allow it to develop. This was therefore essential in this project, which received support in the UK from Arts Council England and The British Council, but by Goldsmiths University, Norwich Arts Centre and Colchester Arts Centre, and Teatro Eskendria and I-Act in Egypt. These organisations provided either financial support or income in kind to the project, but most importantly they assisted in shaping the artistic outcomes, as well as understanding the logistical considerations. The artistic collaborations were facilitated initially through Amina, whose previous work has assisted her in developing a regional network of creatives, venues and organisations. She facilitated contact with two of the most important contacts in the artistic development of the project, Tareq Al Nasser (composer and performer – Jordan) and Ayman Asfour (violinist and musical curator/educator – Egypt), whilst the network of people encountered through studying at Goldsmiths led to the development of contacts with Jackson Allers (DJ, producer and writer) and Jihad Sammat (founder of Radio Beirut) in Lebanon. These names would provide insight both into the music itself and the contemporary music scene and industry in the region.

2. The Thinking

Trends in international co-production are predicated on a number of factors (availability of transportation and communications, heightened institutional awareness of roles in global society), and provide many benefits for the various parties involved (artists, presenters and cultural institutions and audiences).  Various authors have dealt with how the cosmopolitan blending of cultures is an essential element in what has been termed the “creative economy”. Whilst courses such as the MA in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship that bring together a multi-national cohort can be perceived to fit into the landscape of the creative city envisaged by thinkers such as Richard Florida, or the roaming boarder-less creative class described by Nordstrum and Riderstralle, and the considerations of intellectual property developed through such endeavors is seen as central to the growth of the creative economy by government advisors such as Howkins the critical framework that underpins the course encourages students to consider the very nature of what cultural entrepreneurship is, and how it fits into political and ideological frameworks. Critiques of the culture industry presented by the likes of Adorno and built upon by the likes of Lash, McRobbie and Standing form an essential counterweight, and deeply enrich our understanding of the discourse we are entering. This is not simply about arts enterprise/business, it is about exploring the ideas that underpin this.

A more recent perspective to present itself is not simply the cultural entrepreneur as a hybrid between an artist and a business person, rather the cultural entrepreneur as a person whose work explores culture and cultural formations, presenting challenges and questions. A cultural entrepreneur is related to but is not the same as social entrepreneur. Both explore culture but in different ways. Social entrepreneurs develop businesses to address particular sets of issues, the point being that their enterprise makes profits from providing a social good, and that these profits are reinvested into the enterprise, or the communities they serve. In addressing these issues cultural attitudes and actions will need to change

The  idea of the cultural entrepreneur as presented by Martin and Witter starts elsewhere:

Social entrepreneurs solve problems by disrupting existing systems…. Cultural entrepreneurs, on the other hand, solve problems by disrupting belief systems[.]

Their work explores aspects of culture, which may then raise social considerations, with their economic and political ramifications (from which Social Enterprises may arise). Effectively the Cultural Entrepreneurs activity is in stirring up questions on which social movements or social enterprise might form.

The project would take place over a limited time period of six weeks, creating a natural limit to physical output. As such – though there are direct outcomes that would arise from a project, those which are quantifiable, allowing space for the project to develop considering things on a more conceptual and experiential level is equally, if not more important. It is from these psycho-geographic explorations that the seeds for future work would develop.

3. The outcomes

The project within itself had clearly defined outcomes. This is a further aspect that many artists find hard to bring into focus but is essential. Whilst making anticipated outcomes too specific can become a hindrance to the creative process, making them too vague makes a project open to criticism, making the project equally unmanageable. Funders from both private and public sector organisations are increasingly looking at the intended measurement and evaluation framework for projects, and this is reflected in the application processes and eventual project evaluation. Used effectively, the application process in itself can help you refine what your objectives are, and help to express more clearly what it is that you are actually applying (including understanding how it does and does not meet the potential funders, partners and audiences interests).

Having completed this initial research expedition, the next stage is how to further the relationships established through this. In a world of limited public funding, and between two considerably different formations of the music industry, exploring ways for collaboration that are viable (financially and personally) in the short medium and long term present presents a number of challenges and opportunities. The independent music scene in the Middle East has seemingly developed in the absence of major label influence, with these labels working more in regards to feeding the export market known as “world music”. Though the lack of interest from record labels perceived by artists within the region is a difficulty, and a culture of free downloading of music, it has created an appreciation and engagement with live music and a strong sense of entrepreneurship within the cultural sector. As the music industry in Europe continues to be more and more challenging, with majors and mid level labels alike struggling to maintain investment in artists and releases, there is a great deal for us to learn from this approach. Further opportunities to explore this might suggest potential models or collaborations in terms of industry practice that would be beneficial in both locations.

One of the outcomes in this project was hard to anticipate, and happened in advance of any of the travel that actually occurred. True to the afore mentioned definition of the Cultural Entrepreneur, the simple act of planning this activity became revealing of cultural norms which lead to a considerable questioning. The cultural norms presented were embodied in two words that I would encounter with almost every person with whom I would speak about t the project; “take care”. Having been performing, touring and collaborating with musicians across Europe and North America for over a decade, I am used to undertaking projects that probably to most people seem somewhat harebrained, or at least amusing. However, at no point have I have ever met such earnest requests as “take care”. These two words though said from a place of genuine good intent, when combined with multiple requests for information regarding my whereabouts, contact details, daily check ins etc… and the fact that these words have rarely been uttered in relation to European or North American projects, mask a cultural persepective I had not expected to encounter; the perception of the Middle East as a place of continuous danger.

It would be incorrect to try and present the Middle East as being a region without troubles. Indeed the legacy and living experience of these troubles were abundantly clear. The facades of Beirut’s crumbling buildings and infrastructure, both beautiful and poignant in a city where each district encounters daily power outages, were one vestige of this, and within a few nights I found myself conducting an interviewing a Humanitarian Munitions Disposal Expert, who could chart the history of the country in terms of the land mines and cluster bombs disposed of on a daily basis. In Alexandria, protests and riots are a daily occurrence and multitudes of unregulated (and largely illegal) housing developments are erupting all over the city taking advantage of the political vacuum, and talk of the revolution is still strong, if somewhat jaded. But the point is that for those wishing to travel to or work places listed in UK Foreign Offices orange zones, one of the first hurdles to overcome is convincing others that the events presented in the media do not translate directly to personal risks. For artists or entrepreneurs working on a smaller, or individual collaborative level (as opposed corporate levels), both in the UK and in the region, such perspectives can be paralysing.

 

Such observations about risks in travelling to Middle Eastern countries are passed off in ordinary discussion by a form of concern, but in fact mask an unthinking acceptance of media portrayals of exceptional events without consideration of the mundanity that forms the day to day. Here we brought to R.D. Laing’s considerations of how we use our relationship with others as means to defining our own being:

…Every relationship implies definition of self by other and other by self and that if the self does not receive confirmation by its contacts with the other, or if the attributions that the other ascribe to it are contradictory, its position becomes untenable and may break down.

In the phrase “take care” there is an implication of threat or danger, in this context a perspective that the nature of the countries to be visited (and the people that inhabit them) are  fundamentally less safe than than the country or society in which the statements are made. The statement is made with an assumption that the sayer (other) and the receiver (self) both working under the same perspective, be this a delusion (total self deception), illusion (partial self deception) or collusion (where two or more people participate in self deception).

A collusion is “clinched when self finds in other that other who will ‘confirm’ self in the false self that self is trying to make real… each [finding] an other to endorse his own false notion of himself and to give this appearance of reality”. Through this project the importance of international co-produced projects of this nature, and of the role of the cultural entrepreneur becomes strikingly apparent: to challenge such collusionary norms.