It was really enjoyable. I’m finding that increasingly I enjoy street arts, spectacles and festivals (and films too) more than I enjoy many of my museum and gallery visits. I know that museums and galleries are not supposed to be just enjoyable, so they can’t be compared. And also, some museum & gallery experiences will resonate with me more deeply than a festival. But I do think that museums are increasingly competing with a ‘spectacle’ culture (not to mention online culture). Almost every weekend in London now there is some festival to go and see. Public art is becoming more about performance and audience engagement, and spectacular transformation of space, and less about static sculpture. In many ways, this attitude of ‘let’s go and see some odd stuff happening in the streets’ is crossing over into museums and galleries – visitors will wander into the Tate from a riverside event. But, are there ways they can collaborate better with the festival & performance world?
A(nother) really interesting report from Demos is just out. This one is called Logging On: Culture, Participation and the Web http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/loggingon
It is an evaluation of Culture Online, http://www.cultureonline.gov.uk/ or rather “A moment of reflection is provided by the coming to an end, in March 2007, of the Culture Online initiative funded by [DCMS]. Culture Online provides both an interesting case study, bringing together lessons learnt about how to organise online engagement, and a point of departure for asking questions about future directions.” As an evaluation, it is very complimentary about the way Culture Online was managed. It promotes its ‘commissioning model’ and holds up the finished projects as successful, and therefore as proof of the management model. In many ways it was a good model, as the strong project management clearly delivered results. Also the emphasis on learning & innovation over the functional needs of each institution means that the results are much more engaging than many of the NOF Digitise sites (now on http://www.enrichuk.net/ )
If this is a chance to raise a few questions, I’m going to do so. Cultural institutions were criticised by the Culture Online team for not dealing well with this commissioning model. To be clear, this model meant that a national museum (for example) was not applying for a grant to develop a cultural product online for the nation. Rather, the national museum was acting in a role as supplier, theoretically responding to a call to tender, and then delivering a product to the commissioner, including working with partners they may not have chosen and signing over the copyright. Non-commercial cultural organisations have never acted in this role so they understandably struggled to adapt. What made it trickier was that Culture Online was promoted as funding rather than an invitation to tender to deliver to a specific brief. Cultural organisations are pressured to raise funds other than from core sources and it is seen as sensible management to use such funds to achieve planned core developments (e.g. digitisation, acquisitions) rather than entirely squander them on tangential experiments. Once many cultural organisations realised the implications of applying for Culture Online money, for some after expensive deliberations, it became very difficult to pursue the opportunity. Only one museum was able to proceed as lead applicant, the V&A (including the Museum of Childhood.)
One feature the Culture Online team were very keen on was sustainability. However, it isn’t clear how the investment in these 20 websites provides a resource for the thousands of cultural organisations across the UK to boost their engagement with audiences through digital means. One project, OOKL (previously My Art Space) http://www.myartspace.org.uk/web/index.php is based on an invitation to museums and galleries to join the scheme. However, the link about how to join is broken and the cost of hiring the programmed mobile phones must be the prohibitive factor. Another, ICONS (the most expensive project at circa £1 million) http://www.icons.org.uk/ highlights some key items from museums such as the Magna Carta but it doesn’t appear to invite or involve those museums in the nominations or interpretation of the icons. Meanwhile many small museums, galleries and archives have only a minimal web presence.
Strong commissioning is a good model if a) cultural organisations have adequate funding for core functions and b) if the commission is a very clear tender. To offer a clear tender to make a commissioning process work, Culture Online needed a vision that was more than just principles about how to manage online projects. A future Culture Online (because we still need one) must be crafted through audience research and through consultancy with cultural organisations.
It should have the following features:
- fewer websites, fewer projects, bigger ambition for each
- build on the 24 Hour Museum http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/
- coverage of a full variety of forms of cultural engagement, enabling audiences to discover all artforms and collections wherever they are (there is no national cultural ‘what’s on’ – I think?)
- overcoming barriers to partnership between cultural organisations by ensuring that no single cultural organisation is a lead partner, whilst also bringing them ‘on side’ and inviting their contribution, offering them tools so that they can engage better with their audiences
- boosting strategic work to achieve interoperability of digital collections and searches, and acknowledging that collection-based organisations need to digitise before they can interpret and engage online
- supporting digital arts, or innovative arts online (only manifest in one Culture Online project, The Dark http://www.thedark.net/)
- learn from other countries, for example the Virtual Museum of Canada, which is a result of a strong partnership between Canada’s vast museum community and the Department of Canadian Heritage http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/English/About/index.html
And several more. Comments welcome…
On Thursday I went to a seminar led by the TippingPoint organisation. http://www.tippingpoint.org.uk/index.htm This is a bridge-building body, and the brainchild of Peter Gingold, aiming to connect artists and the experts on climate change. The seminar was about how to galvanise the cultural sector to tackle climate change. I found it hugely stimulating. You can see from my earlier posts here: http://bridgetmckenzie.blogspot.com/search/label/ecology that I am very concerned to see the environment become a more central topic of the overall ‘cultural education project’.
There were two Open Space sessions – see here for an explanation of the process http://www.openspaceworld.org/
I volunteered to run a session on: Which works best to change people’s thought and actions, culture or education (and what is the difference between them)? I was joined by Susan Benn, director of PAL http://www.pallabs.org/ who is similarly interested in the Pedagogy of Curiosity (including learning through the senses). Also, Greg Hilty who runs Plus Equals http://www.plusequals.com/ and Dr Marianne Parry, who talked interestingly about the ‘eros of ecology’. We talked about how the distinction between cultural experience and education is a false dichotomy. We need to bring the two realms together into ‘communities of creative enquiry’.
Another session was about the feasibility of bringing together different factions of the cultural sector to tackle climate change. The assumption of the group was that the cultural sector operates in silos which have to be tackled sub-sector by sub-sector. I wasn’t sure about that and felt that the sector needed to be better defined for the project, and its points of connection better understood. I asked whether the project was about reducing carbon footprints of our operations or harnessing the power of culture to change people’s thoughts and actions. The answer was ‘both’. However, there was no talk about the latter aspect, perhaps because it was a given for most people and cultural programming is something we can do without advice (whereas we need advice on carbon reduction), or perhaps because it was seen to be less urgent and practical.
I do think that education through cultural engagement is as important as carbon footprint reduction in our organisations for at least two reasons. One is that the most crucial task is to prevent destruction of forests. The recent Stern review said greenhouse gas released from the 150,000 sq km of tropical forest destroyed each year accounts for 18% of global emissions – more than from any single nation. Another is the little reported story that some scientists are pretty convinced that the tipping point has passed, http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2077119,00.html This means that the cultural and educational sectors need to focus on how to help people adapt to a very different future. Back home I tried to clarify my thoughts on this topic. You can find my thoughts on how TippingPoint could define the challenge for the cultural sector here: http://www.box.net/shared/2v7ifotkx5
As ever, comments are welcome.
I was really pleased to know that Michael Rosen was announced as children’s laureate on the day that he had been inspiring Edmund Waller school children as part of a bookmaking project I’m helping with.
It’s great that he is focusing on poetic, imaginative language.
His mission: “I think poetry for children needs to be saved from the cold dissection table of right and wrong answers and put back into rooms and halls full of wonder, compassion, haunting, laughter, music and rhythm. We need to hear its many voices, many cultures, many sounds. So I’ll be trying to find ways of spreading the excitement of poetry as widely as possible whether that be through books, performances, festivals, internet, conferencing or however. This is about wide and diverse participation. Diverse Verse for all!”
My daughter struggles with writing and often resists doing it at home, but since Michael worked with them, she says ‘I actually like writing now’. She bounced in earlier showing us a perfect little poem she’d written in bed, about a mermaid. I said ‘why do you like writing now?’ She said ‘Because I realised I can write my stories as a song or a poem, and I can write them how I like, and it’s OK if they’re short, and now I want to write songs when I’m grown up.’
Update one month later: My daughter spotted Michael Rosen this morning in her grandma’s Independent magazine and remembered the buzz she got at school. By the time I got home from work she had composed an 8 piece song cycle. Each song fitted together to tell the story of a woman who kept getting married, having children, finding it all too much of a strain, killing herself, going to heaven, repeating the process, going to the next heaven, meeting a man she couldn’t resist and so on, until finally it all gets too much so she decides to go and live on a star all alone, but then of course she misses her babies. She performed the songs, strumming tunelessly but with total feeling on her guitar. So, brilliant, she’s on her way to being a writer. I just need to persuade her to learn a few chords now!
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (author of Moomin stories) http://www.sortof.co.uk/Summer/index.html is perfect for anyone interested in pedagogy. It is about 6 year old Sophia and her grandmother mooching around a Finnish island throughout a summer. Sophia’s mother has died and her father is busy writing in the study. The chapter ‘Playing Venice’ is a good example of how the book delicately shows what play, conversation with adults and observing the natural world can do for children.
In the chapter, a postcard arrives from Venice, showing beautiful palaces seemingly floating in the canal. Sophia’s grandmother has been there so she describes it excitedly to Sophia, the smells, the sinking, the golden dinner plates buried in the mud. They invent a princess and a mother, and then begin building their own Venice near a marsh pond, talking all the while as princess and posh mother. They have a little spat because grandmother thinks it’s not quite right that Sophia should be calling her ‘mama’, worrying about how she lacks her own mother. The spat is therapeutic, though. Later that night, a storm and high tide comes and destroys their Venice. Sophia is completely distraught. Grandmother says ‘I promise I’ll find the palace’ and secretly makes one from matches. When she finally lets Sophia in to see it, Sophia says ‘Quiet…I want to hear if she’s still there.’ After a while listening she says ‘You can rest easy. Her mother says it was a perfectly dreadful storm. Now she’s cleaning up the mess and she’s pretty worn out.’
I like the fact that a small image, a postcard, can be the stimulus for so much imaginative play. The two are completely absorbed in making Venice, and it grows and grows all day under the alder tree. In this making of Venice the grandmother isn’t acting as teacher, although it was her knowledge of the city that enabled them to imagine and recreate it. She is entirely involved in the play herself. Then the destruction of their work is a sad loss, but one that can be overcome by remaking the space for the drama to continue.
See this earlier post about my thoughts on ‘making as learning’:
This year’s GEM conference was advertised today (4-7 September, Leicester http://www.gem.org.uk/cpd/conf/conference.html)
The blurb said: “As government and funding priorities shift to fulfil expanding learning and social agendas, are heritage organisations being realistic in trying to be “all things to all people?”
Every Audience Matters provides an active and in-depth exploration of how we can meet these growing demands, and addresses the wider implications of our evolving roles, from regional, national and international perspectives.
The three days focus on:
This looks like a really useful conference. I had a couple of thoughts. The first is that I’m not sure that many organisations do try to be ‘all things to all people’ in shifting their focus towards excluded audiences and an educational mission. Many that are making this shift are building strong relationships with some very specific groups, which is generally ‘a good thing’. It is true perhaps that these organisations are becoming ‘quite a lot of things to some particular people’. I sometimes wonder whether it is possible to target specific groups a bit too much and to make assumptions that their strongest interests or identifications are what your programmes should be all about. This is a potentially controversial view, expressed tentatively.
The second thought is a gentle musing about the fact that there are two separate days on Learners and Audiences. Now, if museums are for learning and if learning experiences encompass everything including inspiration and enjoyment (ILfA), what is the difference? Of course, we would categorise a student taking part in a museum-based course as a ‘learner’, but they are also an audience for a cultural experience. We would also categorise a tourist wandering into a museum, passing by the shop and out again, as an audience member rather than a learner, but even at their most passive they are learning something simply by looking around them. The false differentiation can cause problems between teams in organisations, in funding bids and in scoping new projects. I’d be interested to hear comments from anyone who has views on this distinction.
Here’s the same post again, or rather the same excuse, different details. But hopefully you’ll find these links interesting. Flow are working on two more projects:
We’re helping the Wellcome Trust to scope the feasibility of touring exhibitions for young people, promoting the kinds of creating learning about biomedicine and science in general that are exemplified by the Pulse Awards that they fund. http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pulse/about.html
I’ve been a fan of the Wellcome’s exhibitions for a long time, even going back to the early 90′s when they had tiny little shows hidden in their library building. Now, on 21 June, the Wellcome Collection opens in Euston Road. This is a unique mix of galleries, events and meeting, reading and eating places, dedicated to exploring the connections between medicine, life and art. The opening exhibition is all about the heart. http://www.wellcomecollection.org/
Another job is working for the Sonic Arts Network, doing a small piece of research for the Education team about their award-winning Sonic Postcards, focusing on ‘hard to reach’ young people. http://www.sonicartsnetwork.org/
I’m also a bit busy as a school governor at the wonderful Edmund Waller Primary School in SE14. http://www.edmundwaller.lewisham.sch.uk/ Because I’m the ‘link governor’ for art and literacy, I’m involved in an ambitious project all about books, working with Michael Rosen, printmaker Brian McKenzie and other creative contributors. Last week, we visited the British Library with a year 5 and year 2 group. I did a couple of workshops with them. It was quite an interesting experience, visiting with a school group, as until March 2006 I was head of learning there. It had been hard at the time to be in touch with children’s responses to the collections as I had to spend so much time in meetings. The children also had a workshop in the Sacred exhibition, which was very sumptuous. http://www.bl.uk/sacred