Art + (In)equality - what happened, what next?

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.” William Morrison: Well at the Worlds End.

Create Gloucestershire celebrated its 4th birthday last week with a group of artists, makers, producers, venues, policy makers and funders.

Our focus was Art + (In)equality – our aim to put centre stage the widening gap in Gloucestershire between the haves and the have nots, a global trend that impoverishes us all according to Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz in his recent book The Great Divide. Things can only get worse when the further £12bn of cuts to public funding, announced recently by the new government, kick in.

Our framing question for the day was what does and what can the arts and cultural sector do to change this lack of equality of opportunity in the UK?

Or more specifically how can the people gathered around Create Gloucestershire change this in Gloucestershire, because that’s the point of our birthday gatherings- we invite others across the UK with knowledge and practice that we admire to inspire and provoke us, but at the end of the day it’s what we in this “in one small corner of the world” actually do about it that counts. 

And if you look at the bottom of this blog you can read a list of actions that show this approach is working.

Our birthday co-hosts were the Barnwood Trust, a local foundation with an inspirational plan to create welcoming and inclusive communities across Gloucestershire which “buzz with friendship, enjoyable things to do with others and support and kindness between people that make life meaningful.”

A panel of 3 artists kicked off the afternoon, in both senses of the phrase:

Stephen Pritchard - Founder and Executive Director of Dot to Dot Active Arts, an independent artist-led arts organisation, which works on socially engaged arts projects with communities in Northumberland.

Conrad Murray - Beatbox/Hip-Hop Theatre and Performance Maker and one half of the performance company Beats&Elements and Director of the Battersea Arts Centre Yong People’s Theatre and Beatbox Academy.  

Malaki Patterson - Founder and Director of Scope Music Management and Founder of Studio 340 in Cheltenham. 

Each shared their own artistic journey with us– it was hard to be anything other than genuinely inspired by the passion, determination and energy they each have drawn on over many years to find and keep a space for their own creative voice and to unearth the buried talent in many others they have mentored along the way.  Sleep was clearly not something they had very much of!

And it was likewise hard to avoid feeling deeply uncomfortable about the overall poor welcome they each receive as they navigate their way through the UK’s publicly funded arts and cultural sector - at best raised eyebrows and loud tuts, at worst cultural disenfranchisement - unless of course there was a box to be ticked around race, disability, age or class.  Conrad provided a perfect example of this when describing how he was told by an exasperated youth theatre leader who was fed up by his constant rapping that, “rapping is not devising”.

Of course all the panel members described exceptions to this and critical moments when the arts and cultural sector did change the rules of engagement, but the point is these were the exceptions not the rule.  

You can hear what they each said in films from the event, which are available here.

They each articulated frustration at the lack of fluidity and flexibility in many participative arts activities, especially those run by the largest National Portfolio Organisations.   This reflects a key conclusion in a recent evaluation that Jocelyn Cunningham from Arts and Society has just completed for Create Gloucestershire looking at some of the work with young people that CG supported across the 6 Gloucestershire districts.

“Conditions for Community and Creativity” describes participation at both New Brewery Arts and Cinderford Artspace and explores the huge added value to individuals and communities when “participation is not linear and tidy and when roles are fluid – young people leave communities and come back in different roles; volunteers become learners, learners become teachers. There can be a continuum of participation that crosses projects and activities throughout an organisation.” You can find out more in full report, which will be uploaded here in July.

After the panel had shared their provocations on the theme, smaller break out groups looked in more depth at these issues:

  • Buried talent- what do we do about this?
  • Networks/infrastructures- how can we ensure maximum collaboration and sharing?
  • Is it better to focus on small and local things that make a sustained difference than “grand gestures”?
  • Do we have a good geographical spread of arts and cultural resources?
  • Are funding processes equally accessible to all?
  • What business models can drive fluid and empowering participation?

Notes on all these discussions can be downloaded here

Our past birthday events have turned into breeding grounds for bold ideas and real change on the ground and our 4th birthday is no exception - since we held the event of the 1st June 2015:

1.    Driven by Alicia Carey at Hawkwood College, Kate Danielson, Kate Danielson Associates and CG have agreed to host a meeting of key funding bodies to explore how funding processes could change to ensure “buried talent” is better unearthed and supported.

2.    Malaki has been asked to meet with Gloucester City Homes to talk about cultural infrastructure on the housing estates they manage across Gloucester.

3.    Conrad and Malaki are discussing a “twinning” of young people involved with Studio 340 and the  Strike a Light Festival in Gloucester with the Beatbox Academy at Battersea Arts Centre.

4.    CG and Stephen Pritchard are exploring if a similar model to Dot To Dot Arts could work in Gloucestershire to support and develop socially engaged artists.

There may well be other things that are happening that we don’t know about so if you were at the party do tell us by filling in this short survey.  If you weren’t at the party but want to know more or discuss any of the ideas do get in touch.