On Wednesday night I went to an event run by Venu Dhupa at the Hayward Gallery. It’s empty of art, waiting for Antony Gormley, and Venu is using the space for the first events of a Creative Innovation unit at the South Bank Centre. The idea is to explore how the South Bank can be a world cultural centre and how culture can be engaged in social, environmental and scientific affairs. The event staged three presentations by art projects that could change the world.
The second was Simon Elliott from ‘Aah’ about The Hill. www.ahh.uk.com See the image here. We’ve helped Simon with his communications and learning plans so were very chuffed with his succinct presentation. Simon has a grand scheme, which has delighted the Olympics committee, as it delights everyone he describes it to. The idea is to build an attraction inside a green hill on Potter’s Fields next to Tower Bridge. This will be the world’s first gallery of installation. The installations will be created by technologists and artists from the visual arts, digital arts, theatre, community and street arts, film and beyond. The building will also include an amazing slow food restaurant and free facilities on its green outsides. Initial concept designs have been produced by Catherine Findlay of Ushida Findlay. (A report in Building Design here: http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=426&storycode=3085251&c=2&encCode=00000000012eafab )
The final presentation was Aluna, a tide-powered moon clock. The presentation was very compelling as it is a fairly simple and beautiful idea, linked to symbolism and science that matters. I was pleased to hear that the tidal electricity generated to power its LED lighting will be sold back to the National Grid. However, the design for the sculpture is really not as beautiful as it could be. It is a more or less a thing, and yet as a thing it doesn’t sing. It is described as a ‘beacon for a sustainable future’ but I’m not certain that it is. http://www.alunatime.org/
As for the question, which idea would change the world, it’s a toss-up between the LIFT New Parliament and The Hill. Both can change the world because they will provide charged experiential spaces for extraordinary dialogue about what really matters. I support Simon Elliott’s vision and would love to see it happen. But also I like LIFT’s project because it is so portable and light-on-the-ground, and because it will tour the world to reach so many people. The evening ended with the two organisations agreeing to work together, so let’s see what happens.
The message was really less about the value of culture and more about the value of a mixed economy to fund culture. He talked about the way the Government has nurtured a mix of the American model (keep culture private) and the European model (public subsidy), enabling a successful balance between excellence and populism. He gave examples of how this balance and mix means that excellence can become popular and popular culture can be good quality.
It was in part a celebration of how Government funding has supported a great widening of access, a boost for arts education and an embrace of cultural diversity. The director of Tyne & Wear museums said later that the Renaissance in the Regions funding had enabled a 7000% increase in its outreach activities! The value of culture was mainly ascribed to two features: a) projecting a cutting-edge and creative face to the outside world, helping to make London the creative capital of the world, attract tourists and win the Olympiad and b) ‘achieving what Government finds difficult’ – social cohesion through explorations of identity politics. You might argue that the Cultural sector achieves the latter because it pays less heed to territorial boundaries. People who work in the arts don’t think of ‘us’ facing an ‘outside world’ so it can often feel strange when Government initiatives or policies ask you to ‘promote the face of Britain’ or ‘define our national heritage’.
The speech was also a celebration of the transformation of the cultural sector into the cultural industries. There was a suggestion that we need to do more to imaginatively engage private funders, not so much in the spirit of Corporate Social Responsibility sponsorship, more as an investment deal. The suggestion was neatly complemented with references to the ‘audacious leaps of imagination’ and risk-taking that us cultural types are capable of. Dame Vivien Duffield said that Blair had not paid enough tribute to private sponsors, even though he had emphasised private funding. She may be right in that private funders are not always motivated as venture capitalists, and they may prefer tributes and evidence of public good over hard returns and a percentage stake. The chair of Culture South East said that they had tried to get venture capital for the cultural economy but struggled because financiers said that there was not enough potential for knowledge transfer. The director of Visiting Arts made a useful point that more could be done to unlock funding from other Government sources, not just private funders, for example where the arts can enrich intercultural dialogue.
Researching for my post on Climate Change and cultural education I sent a request for information to the few hundred members of GEM (the Group for Education in Museums).
I was sent a few weblinks, which I share below. I was struck that only one reply was directly relevant, in the sense of being about what cultural collection organisations are doing.
Paul Conneally urges you, for a better world, to play golf on the moon (or in Mile End) as golf courses are environmentally unsound http://skinafterskin.blogspot.com:80/2007/02/for-better-world-play-golf-on-moon.html
Rinku Mitra is working on a climate change project for the Royal Geographical Society. This is a schools website and exhibition, funded by Defra’s climate change fund. They’ve funded a number of projects around the country, some of which are cultural organisations, see www.climatechallenge.gov.uk
Sara Heitlinger reminded me of the walking audiotour of London, about oil, http://andwhilelondonburns.com and that her own audiotour of Sydenham Woods last year dealt with these themes too http://www.theprivatecollection.org.uk/news/echowoods.html
(And incidentally Sara also mentioned a fantastic sounding project she’s recently delivered with artist Franc Purg in the Ukraine, documenting and exploring the creativity of street children, currently showing at the Triennale in Lubljana.)
Sarah Scaife drew my attention to the Transition Culture movement, which is well under way in Totnes. The whole town is motivated in different subgroups to move Totnes to a future without oil. Subgroups include the arts and education.
And Ian Haynes of Cimex told me about www.bigpicture.tv that will be relaunched this week. This has film clips and more of all the key thinkers on sustainability and other big issues.
I came across the Ashden Directory, connecting environmentalism and the performing arts (why not the visual, digital, literary etc?) http://www.ashdendirectory.org.uk/default.asp
I came across an interesting blog, related to a project called Kids 2020, described as ‘an evolutionary global research project with kids’, and a ‘collective garden of their intelligence offering insights, views and prototypes unstructured by politics’. I’ve linked to their post about the KIT Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, which has a unique directive for bringing world culture into the lives of Dutch children. Their programmes for children sound fascinating, from the brief descriptions that can be found online. I want to find out more.
NESTA has changed and the old Learning programme is no longer. Its education element is now focused on Future Innovators, a scheme to investigate & promote enterprising & inventive attributes in young people. http://www.nesta.org.uk/programmes/future_innovators/index.aspx
The Future Innovators team organised a speed networking event for creative innovators, educators and young people last week at the Dana Centre. I haven’t had such a buzz for ages. A great atmosphere was generated by the lovely Roy Leighton, http://www.independentthinking.co.uk/Who/Associates/Roy+Leighton/default.aspx
I only got a tiny glimpse into the heads or worlds of most of the people there as we had to move round so fast. But here are a few that I was excited by.
The young people were thin on the ground but shining. Emily Cummins, aged 19 has won awards, including ‘Technology Woman of the Future’ for her solar powered fridge and water carrier http://www.nesta.org.uk/informing/articles/emily_cummins.aspx http://www.audiyoungdesigner.co.uk/comp_details/emily_cummins.htm
Barry J Gibb makes films & books and other communication projects, inspired by science. He wrote the Rough Guide to the Brain, which I must read.
Tamara Andress is one half of the Comedy Research Project, who are scientist-comedians.
Steve Mesure, creative science consultant and creator of the Floating Point Science Theatre
Marc Champkins who designs things that help children concentrate in school
And there were many more.
This Margate Exodus by Penny Woolcock and many others including Antony Gormley, Brian Eno, Rufus Wainwright etc is wonderful. It’s so rare to come across a project that is so embracing, yet also so well defined and specific to a place. It embraces visual art, performance, ritual, music and film. It embraces a melancholy and a sense of celebration. It embraces an archaic story of a people and a contemporary diversity of people. It’s great to see that Creative Partnerships in Kent is involved in it. I might be able to persuade the family to go, so I’ll add more here if so.
A brief update: I didn’t manage to go as the train journey was so long. But I enjoyed the TV programme about it.
We went to the launch of the Big Draw, an event called Amazing Space at Somerset House on Sunday. It was extraordinary. The programme of events was so enormous, it would have taken an hour to digest before we’d even started. There were drawing activities not just everywhere you looked but everywhere you didn’t get time to look, throughout all the buildings including Kings College and the Courtauld. As usual, with any summer events around Somerset House, the kids enjoyed running through the fountains most of all. But there was quiet enjoyment of the drawing too. We enjoyed queuing at a booth to have our portraits drawn by an artist (or was it a machine?) hiding inside. We visited Willett & Patterson’s Camera Obscura (http://www.amazingcameraobscura.co.uk ) and we knitted a vast drawing of the building out of recycled cloth strips with giant needles. Oh, and we designed a whole new way of travelling down the Thames in the time it took to eat an ice cream. My best bit was listening to live music while being absorbed in drawing architectural details onto a disc with a turning viewfinder. I was only sorry that we didn’t have time to draw in the galleries. Anyway, we (Flow Associates) have produced some online resources for the Big Draw. http://www.drawingpower.org.uk/menu2.htm
They’re a few of the drawing games of the 85 that we’ve developed. We hope to publish them in a book next year, in time for the next Big Draw. If you have any unusual drawing games you want to share for the book, do send a comment. Do note, we probably have all the familiar ones already.