In looking at community oriented performance today, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. Who is deciding policy, and what do they want? Is that drive coming from national or local government, from other national or local agencies; is it being driven from society, or by arts practitioners themselves? To look at that we need to see what is being said, and what is being done. And it is instructive to look at some of the origins of this agenda.
1.2 ARTS COUNCIL ENGLAND
According to Arts Council England’s 2000 national policy for theatre, the Council:
“Aims to transform and sustain theatre in this country, ensuring that a wide range of audiences has access to bold, relevant and exciting work”.1 This strategy, which is still current, created eight priorities:
1 ACE, http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/arts-council-of-englands-national-policy-for-theatre-in-england January 2000, p2.
1 A better range of high quality work
2 Attract more people
3 Develop new ways of working (the report mentions links, new traditions, and venues)
4 Education (schools colleges and HE sector)
5 Diversity and inclusion
6 Develop artists and creative managers of the future
8 Regional distinctiveness
The ACE perceived itself as having become rather moribund; with a series of implicit or explicit commitments to client organisations: ACE was in effect an instrument of patronage, across all art forms. Evidently it needed to change, to free itself up somewhat. To do so, in 2006 ACE set about an extensive, yearlong online consultation: the Arts Debate. At its core it looked at the concept of public value, as represented by the issue of public engagement. In particular, three questions were posed: “How is public value currently created by the arts? “What would it mean for the Arts Council and the individuals and organisations it funds to create greater value for the public?
“How can we balance the aspirations of the public with the needs of other stakeholders, particularly the artistic community and our partners in central and local government?”2 7
Some of the findings were fairly predicable: “The researchers found a variety of views and perspectives within the arts community and the Arts Council’s wider stakeholders base. Responses were very diverse, and there was little consistency or consensus.”3 The second finding proved more interesting, setting up a dialectic between two competing views: “Participants identified ‘intangible’ and ‘tangible’ benefits of the arts, from enrichment, communication and identity to community cohesion, regeneration and positive social change”. The dichotomy finds its way into discussions of value: “Many artists and arts managers, especially those without a particular social remit or community focus, prioritise the more ‘intangible’ benefits of the arts. Those with a strong social focus, particularly among the stakeholder sample, tend to assess value according to more tangible, measurable criteria. For many individual artists, self-validation is the most important aspect of judging the success or quality of a work”4
3 Keaney, Emily: The arts debate: Arts community and stakeholder findings. ACE August 2007 4 Ibid 5 Bunting, Catherine: The arts debate: Stage one findings and next Steps. ACE Feb 2007 p6 6 Ibid, p6 7 Pick, John (ed.) The State and the Arts. John Offord Publications Ltd, Eastbourne, 1980
For public, therefore, the arts were seen as important, even by non-participants: “For almost all participants, the concept of a world without the arts was unthinkable or abhorrent – a boring, bland, dark place with more aggression and less individuality.”5 The initial research also identified a range of benefits: “from a source of national pride and a magnet for tourists, through to their contribution to education and social cohesion. … The key components are:
pleasure and enjoyment
enrichment – or ‘food for the spirit’
communication – a means of self-expression and of communicating with others
sense of identity – both for individuals and for communities
improved health and wellbeing6
All these components support both the “intangible” view of arts benefits – in other words, the aesthetics of the enterprise – as well as the social, more instrumental view.
Interestingly, this dichotomy ignores a third dimension, that of the commercial sector. Perhaps this is not surprising, as it wasn’t in the remit of the original question, being one of ‘public value’ – presumably as against private profit. The history of the Arts Council, from its origins in the Council for the Encouragement of the Arts during WWII, has been high-minded and assumes unprofitability. (See Pick, John: The State and the Arts)7. It is instructive to see whether there are considerations of economics factors in these discussions. The issue of quality assessment, quite naturally, becomes an important theme as a result for the consultation. There is a direct link being drawn between quality, value and (implicitly) public investment. How to measure quality is the lynchpin in this matrix. The final report offers up three areas of quality: “Quality in the arts is perceived in different ways by different people. 8
Quality of experience is valued by everyone, particularly the public, and includes art that helps people to understand something new about the world or enriches their experience of life in some way. Quality of product is often referred to by arts professionals and is a notion of quality that is independent of audience response and can be judged by the level of technical expertise involved and the contribution it makes to an artform or body of work. Quality of project is especially emphasised by the wider stakeholder community and reflects how well an arts organisation or activity is run and the extent to which it meets its objectives. “ …. and characterises attributes such as “’excitement’, ‘surprise’ and ‘enrichment’.”
It prioritises Innovation as a key element, not for its own sake but as something that offers a richer experience of life.8 As a result of this consultation process, ACE produced its 2007-11 strategy, with the aims: To support a more confident, diverse and innovative arts sector, which is valued by and in tune with the communities it serves To enable more people to take part in the arts as both audiences and participants To enable more children and young people to take part in the arts To celebrate diversity”
8 ACE: What people want from the arts. ACE, online March 2008 http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/what-people-want-from-the-arts/ 5/10/09 9 Genista Mackintosh, employed to review the furore set in train, commented “The problems [ACE] experienced throughout the Investment Strategy process arose, in my view, partly from a preoccupation with implementing its own priorities, leading to an inward-looking culture which inhibited it from talking openly to its clients, partners and friends. ACE needs to remember that it is not a regulator of the arts sector, even though it has a responsibility for public funds. It should be an advocate, enabler, supporter, developer, critical friend – but not a policeman.” Quoted by “The Stage” Wednesday 30 July 2008
At the same time, a drastic review took place of the client list: some experienced and well-known companies were among the 200 organisations that suddenly found themselves cut off. These included London Bubble, Tara Arts, Northcott Exeter, The Drill Hall, NSDF and Komedia, who were all given a particularly unpleasant Christmas present on Dec 14th 2007, with only a month to respond. Reasons of quality were cited, but it looks more like companies who were deemed to be complacent (i.e. failing to innovate) were hit9. At the same time some companies received enhanced funding, including Artichoke (responsible for bringing the Sultan’s Elephant to London) and Punchdrunk. 9
1.3 DEPARTMENT OF CULTURE MEDIA & SPORT
Of course, ACE was not acting in isolation, but responding to influences: mainly from government. While minister for Culture at DCMS – Tessa Jowell wrote a provocative essay, trying to open many of the issues of public value we see echoed in the ACE’s policy. She explicitly connect the ‘instrumentality’ of the arts to a social agenda:
“Sixty years ago Beveridge set this country a challenge: slaying the five giants of physical poverty – want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. At the beginning of this century, in a country hugely richer than it was at the end of the second world war, it is time to slay a sixth giant – the poverty of aspiration which compromises all our attempts to lift people out of physical poverty. Engagement with culture can help alleviate this poverty of aspiration – but there is a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots. Government must take this gulf as seriously as the other great issues of national identity, personal wellbeing and quality of life.”10 The playwright David Edgar points out the influence that this instrumentality had had on the first term of Tony Blair’s Labour government:
10 Tessa Jowell: Government and the Value of Culture DCMS May 2004 11 David Edgar, Saturday May 22, 2004 The Guardian 12 Tessa Jowell: Op cit
“It was this context that defined Labour arts thinking through the 1990s. In his 1998 book Creative Britain, New Labour’s first culture secretary, Chris Smith, celebrated the power of art in cementing community identity, drawing people together and overcoming isolation and rejection. This argument was echoed if not extended by the then new Arts Council chair, Gerry Robinson, in a 1998 lecture in which he celebrated the role of the arts in urban rejuvenation, reskilling, strategies for disablement and even healthcare. For both Smith and Robinson, the key constituent was the audience, the key purpose social and the key policy access.”11 However, Tessa Jowell goes on to caution against an over-simplistic view of instrumentality:
“Too often politicians have been forced to debate culture in terms only of its instrumental benefits to other agendas – education, the reduction of crime, improvements in wellbeing – explaining – or in some instances almost apologising for – our investment in culture only in terms of something else. In political and public discourse in this country we have avoided the more difficult approach of investigating, questioning and celebrating what culture actually does in and of itself.”12
Here we find again the duality of aesthetic and social approaches to the arts. In a very honest way, Tessa Jowell defines in the essay the issue faced in terms of public policy towards culture. The dichotomy has become even more painful as a result of the pressures form the London 2012 project, including the Olympics and the Cultural 10
Olympiad, coming as they do at a time of global recession. Hot on the heels of the Arts Council’s ‘Christmas Turkeys’ was Brian McMaster’s report for DCMS in January 2008 – at the same time as ACE was responding to those theatres that could prove public support through well-orchestrated campaigns. This report again talks about quality assessment (in the guise of ‘excellence’); innovation and risk; diversity; internationalism and education. Significantly, however, Brian McMaster adds governance, continuing professional education, and subsidy – issues more closely related to an economic view. He also mentions technology, as a means to enhancing audience engagement.
McMaster may have already had some influence on ACE thinking: the innovation factor in the funding switch is explicitly mentioned: “I recommend that innovation and risk-taking be at the centre of the funding and assessment framework for every organisation, large or small. “13 The critical issue of value which comes from this chapter, therefore, suggests it should be measured I three criteria areas:
13 McMaster B: Supporting Excellence in the Arts. DCMS, Jan 2008 p10 14 Edgar David Op Cit
as an aesthetic activity
as a social activity
as an economic activity.
These are not to be seen as independent or exclusive, but as part of an essential relationship. Without a business plan of some sort, the best piece of social art will not be sustainable; nor should a social context excuse lazy or slapdash efforts. However beautiful, without recognition of the social environment of the artform, it becomes an empty gesture: a butterfly in a glass case or a dog howling at the moon. There are subsidiary values that we can apply, which for the most part reveal themselves to be subsets of the above. Issues of access clearly are social, while personal development is probably a rather instrumental view of aesthetics. Interestingly, use of technology does not so easily reduce: the presence or absence or degrees of use of technology seem to be a growing characteristic; but are perhaps on a different plane, one of mediated experience. But to quote David Edgar somewhat against himself, it’s difficult to imagine popular culture without technology:
“…. promising to dethrone high art in the interests of rap music, street art and alternative comedy, the postmodernists have served only to give a progressive imprimatur to girl bands and reality TV. And why not. The recent history of cultural forms from television drama to rock music demonstrates the deadeningly homogenising effect of the notion that the culture customer is always right.” 14 We will address the issue of mediated experience, among others, in chapter ive
To some extent, arts thinking is still in thrall to the Romantic view of the artist in the garret, acting out their genius as in ‘La Bohème’. The image that has been set against 11
this, of the social arts ‘animateur’ can too easily fall into a similar level of caricature, particularly without a level of understanding of the social class, and cultural experience of the participant. We will explore this issue in further chapters. If the value criteria are aesthetics, societal and economic, the current issues that arise from government / national policy seem to be:
Enterprise – cultural, social, commercial
Innovation and risk
Quality assessment – evaluation and mentoring
London 2012 and its legacy
1.4 THEATRE AND REGENERATION
While we may regard the instrumentality of theatre as an alternative, I would suggest that the range of activity in this paper tends to a level diversity of practice; and that rather than a simple dualism, there is a spectrum of activity.
Part of the diversity of instrumentality is the suggestion that the creative industries, and by implication theatre activity, can make a contribution to place-making. The Art of Regeneration project at Deptford Albany, lead by the National Theatre, was instigated as a direct result of Charles Landry’s report, “Creative Lewisham”. The project had a number of aspects: restoring the fabric of the building and installing a new digital infrastructure; and a series of community-related programmes. Essentially it reconnected the venue back to its community roots, and to the rebuilding of the venue by the Combination following its firebombing by the National Front in 1979. It is significant that the project was lead by the National’s Head of Education, Jenny Harris, who had been part of the original project. Landry is one of the originators of the concept of arts-lead regeneration, adopted by many progressive local authorities both in the UK and worldwide:
Photo 1 Deptford Albany
SilkTork Creative Commons
“Arts and cultural activity have become an increasingly important part of urban regeneration in Britain, though the bulk of effort and resources to date has been on capital investment. Recently, increasing interest has been shown in participatory arts programmes which are low-cost, flexible and responsive to local needs. This use of the arts coincides with a shift in emphasis in regeneration strategies towards seeing local people as the principal asset through which renewal can be achieved.”15
15 Landry Charles, Matarasso François: The art of regeneration: urban renewal through cultural activity. Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1996
In its turn, Deptford became one of the ten ‘creative hubs’ set up by the London Development Agency in 2004; centring on the development of the Laban Centre for 12
Dance on Creekside, former industrial buildings were given over to visual and other artists as workshop spaces. The presence of Goldsmiths College is also an important factor here, emphasising the role of universities in creative regeneration.
Richard Florida has mapped out the sociological effects of this policy in “The Rise of the Creative Class” 16. “Just as William Whyte’s 1956 classic The Organization Man showed how the organizational ethos of that age permeated every aspect of life, Florida describes a society in which the creative ethos is increasingly dominant. Millions of us are beginning to work and live much as creative types like artists and scientists always have. Our values and tastes, our personal relationships, our choices of where to live, and even our sense and use of time are changing.
16 Florida, R.:The Rise of the Creative Class: And How it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Perseus Book Group 2002 17 http://creativeclass.com/richard_florida/books/the_rise_of_the_creative_class/
18 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6LyyjzYuFU Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City? Interview with Allan Greig on TVO Channel
“Leading this transformation are the 40 million Americans – over a third of our national workforce – who create for a living. This “creative class” is found in a variety of fields, from engineering to theater, biotech to education, architecture to small business. Their choices have already had a huge economic impact. In the future, they will determine how the workplace is organized, what companies will prosper or go bankrupt, and even which cities will thrive or wither.”17
Photo 2 Richard Florida
Jere Keys, Creative Commons
As he explains in an interview on YouTube18, there is a demonstrable correlation between indices of bohemian activity, centres of gay culture, and certain personality types. This would seem to correlate with Charles Landry’s research about the creative potential of intercultural diversity. He does however sound a warning that there are implications for those who are not part of the elite. This caution is finding other support. One left wing think-tank comments about the concept of creative clusters:
“The increasingly influential yet nebulous discourse about nurturing creative clusters and creative hubs is a desperate measure to shore up the economies of Western cities against the onslaught of globalisation. As they lose their remaining manufacturing base and more and more middle class service jobs migrate to Asia many have been forced to re-brand as ‘Cities of Ideas’. Provincial towns and ailing industrial quarters have little choice but to create the necessary conditions for an elite centre for ‘innovation’, wooing the ‘creative classes’ to rehabilitate their fortunes. Seen in this context Creative London is far from being a manifesto for 13
dynamism. Rather it is a defensive strategy that seems unlikely to deliver much apart from increased precariousness for the majority of working Londoners.”19 While the effect of bohemian gentrification is noticeable, it would appear that it is necessary to take the community along with the project, rather than just supplanting one community with another. The importance of community engagement is something we will see in the next chapter. The provision of capital infrastructure projects, such as the refurbishment of the Albany, in themselves don’t guarantee place-making. Stratford Circus, an impressive community arts venue next to Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Royal, didn’t have an economic model to follow, and closed within a year of being built. It now functions as an outreach arm of a tertiary college, the link between arts and education being made more specific. And Stratford Circus is by no means the only project of its kind.
19 Panos David Creative Clusters & Creative London http://thelondonparticular.org/items/creativeclusters.html Summer 2004 14