Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Phil Redmond

Amongst the usual talking heads spouting arty farty crap, some clear and concise analysis from Phil Redmond as he thinks what Liz Forgan should do at the Arts Council.
For all their criticism, externally imposed targets do force institutions
to look outward, so there's a balance to be had between box office figures,
audience numbers and peer approval. There's a danger that peer approval will
drive people to be inward-looking again when actually we need to get better at
collaborating and communicating.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Birdwatching on Hilly Fields

Pent in the city, places where I can see wildlife and show it to my little boy are important to me.

To find out just how rich the urban habitat is here, take a look at the Hilly Fields Bird Champion Project blog.

I'd love to see the sparrowhawk.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Scots snob

Andrew O'Hagan made my blood boil with his possibly racist and certainly snobbish anti-English working class rant in the Guardian last week.

Tim Lott provided a perfect corrective.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


With Bristol's season going from bad to worse, is it too much to expect that the current round of changes herald a new direction?

Are we about to see a new management team taking over, with Chris Booy as chairman? What about further investment?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Lewisham history

My wife got the interesting A Century of Lewisham by John Coulter for Christmas. I like history, it was my degree, and I've always wanted to know about the places where I've lived. The internet makes this easier. It's surprising how much local amateur historical research is on the web.

There is a wealth of material about Lewisham to be found, but almost all of it relates to the last 100 years or so. In short, since the area became fully urban.

Is it that people are generally interested in the buildings and landscape that they can see around them (so, if you live next door to a castle or medieval church you'll want to know about that, and if it's an Edwardian terrace with bomb damage in Ladywell that will do for you) or is it that there's not much to write about Lewisham prior to 1880?

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Mayor's cultural priorities

A little late in the day, but I thought I'd react to Cultural Metropolis. The Mayor's Priorities for Culture 2009-2012. It's interesting for two reasons. Firstly and obviously, because Boris and his Director of Arts and Culture Policy set out their policies for culture in London, and secondly because - you never know - there might be hints as to what cultural policy looks like under a Conservative government.

So, what is the Tory/Boris vision of culture? It's one that is important. Boris makes the point in his Foreword that it should not be an "add on". So far, so much the same as the current government. Where the rhetoric begins to diverge is around the impact of culture. Munira Mirza's Introduction is very heavy on the importance of the economic impact. This may be a response to the recession, but it may be an echo of the old Tory concern that if the arts get subsidy, then they should pay their way.

Further divergence comes around the question of participation. Increasing this is a key plank of current government policy. It's there in Cultural Metropolis, but action does not match rhetoric. Of course the Mayor's impact is limited in this regard, but proposals such as the distribution of unused musical instruments to schools are not presented in the context of current and ongoing national initiatives. Thus, they come across as gimmicks. The notion of participation is an interesting one too, it's more of a "bums on seats" than a "create your own" view of culture.

Culture is a unifying local factor where communities come together within themselves, or with others in shared participation and creativity. This is referred to in passing, but with oblique statements about how community level activity is mired in red tape. This could be a laissez faire view (if so, it's wrong, culture is one of the least regulated areas of public activity, no matter what artists say)

How to pay for culture is a problem, and Cultural Metropolis berates national government for the "lottery raid" ahead of the Olympics (neatly ignoring that much of this money will be ploughed back into London). It also exhorts local government to maintain levels of funding, particularly to local museums and archives (where Tory authorities have often been the worst offenders). This represents one of the weaknesses of the strategic remit of the Mayor and GLA, but it also might reflect an unwillingness on the part of Conservative policy makers to maintain or increase subsidy.

There are a couple of well ridden hobby horses trotting through the document. Munira on multiculturalism, and Boris is obviously concerned that the lower orders aren't getting enough Plato with an appeal to widen teaching of Classics for London children.

So, what does Cultural Metropolis tell us? That the main difference between Labour and the Tories is a shift to seeing economic impact as the key instrumental benefit of culture. That there is less of an emphasis on participation for social and community ends. Greater emphasis on getting people in to see "high" culture rather than supporting them in defining and creating their own locally. Less importance placed upon diversity and multiculturalism.

Alongside this there is a uncertainty over the policy instruments to attain this. Others are exhorted to maintain funding, gimmicks rather than substantive delivery shifts are proposed.

Boris's priorities are very different from Ken's. No ethnically-specific festivals, no Mayor's Commission on African and Asian Heritage. He knows what we wants, but it will take him a little more time to decide how to get it. Boris needs to work out how to manage the relationship with the boroughs on the one hand, and on the other with central government, which funds most of the cultural powerhouses in the capital. We must wait for the Cultural Strategy to see how he will do this.

As for Tory cultural policy more broadly, I expect that Cultural Metropolis reflects the general position of the Cameron Conservatives. They, like the mayor, consider themselves cultured and will not be the avowedly philistine Thatcherites. They will have clear views about what they want and I imagine they will chime with Boris's. Like him, though, it will take them time to work out how they want them delivered.

With the economy dominating all, they will be long on vision and short on actualities. I suspect it will be two years into any future Conservative government before we really see what culture under the Tories looks like.

Tufted duck

The weir on on the Ravensbourne has been repaired, and the river again flows through Ladywell Fields. With a much deeper pool behind the weir people walking in the park or across the bridge to the hospital can now see a greater than usual number of ducks. Amongst the usual mallards yesterday was a rather impressive (if solitary) tufted duck.