I'm involved in the early stages of a project looking at what the arts can contribute to the new democratic cities in the north (that's my definition, for me, of what I feel like I'm doing as my bit of it).
I've learned loads from this process already, and I've got the highest hopes for what might come of it.
Part of what we did as a group was try and come up with some “research questions”. The ones that most rang true for me were about making a contribution. What can the arts do?
The tricky part though is that the fastest road to crap works of art is giving people lectures and trying to save the world.
So, with the dangers of being a boring self righteous finger wagging lecturer in mind, this is what I came up with (this list is really no more than a justification of my interests, and making no excuses for the depths of my ignorance):
- Make visible a network structure of people and places - horizontal, peer-to-peer, bottom up. Where are the gaps in the network? Contrast this with national, centralised, vertical and hierarchical, broadcast structures.
- Make Narrative Capital visible, make new Narrative Capital, make the process of forming Narrative Capital visible.
- Make visible the barriers to creativity, innovation, conversation, exchange, self reliance and self determination, question what causes the barriers, propose solutions for debate.
- Be a way to make sure that all the voices in a place get heard.
- Insist on the importance of places, legitimise and celebrate a place specific world-view and language.
- Legitimise and celebrate iteration, open processes, risk taking, and learning from failure.
- Make complex systems visible, and put the arts within interconnected complex systems of places, cultures, language, economics, and political structures.
- If places are a process, not an end point, make sure that those processes keep happening. “Keep the plates spinning.” as Chris Meads put it.
* I'm sure there must be more, for example “earn money and employ people”, and “contribute to wellbeing”, but it's all got too much for me to get my head round now!
** I took out one at the last minute: “Motivate debate and action.” That might happen, but I'm uncertain about whether the arts should be rousing people to man the barricades. If anything, shouldn't it be the opposite?: “Hang on. Think about things. The world is complicated and complex.”
*** The question might be better framed as “How can arts practise contribute to the civic life of places in the north.