Thursday, 22 December 2011

Visual Arts Ecology Paper

…there is a need for a public-facing, wide representative approach to the changes produced by and through Creative Scotland. Unfortunately, and in deliberate isolation, a handful of visual arts FXOs' seemingly pragmatic if cynical recital of Dixon's 'ecology', as if there was no challenge to the status quo, isn't going to cut it - if a hackneyed ecology is to be dredged up then cue umpteen 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' quotes...

At some level Creative Scotland's art form reviews, at least in other art form areas as I understand them, are intended to intervene in any perceived entrenched privilege stifling 'diversity' - however problematically constructed as regards markets - or that unhealthy tendency towards 'oligopoly', if we're to use technical market-speak. But, as is being revealed, it is only doing so to instate a heightened, centralised 'commissioning'/ promotional structure - one already in operation before any reviews - cue Westminster reports on Nesta's cronyism, etc - "NESTA will have to be constantly alive to the risk of partiality in the selection of Fellows and projects. It must also be prepared for close scrutiny of its selection procedure and be able to demonstrate it is operating in a fair and open manner."

Also not sure if how 'ecology' is being presented back to Dixon is actually how he understands it anyway... or if his deployment of it is to be taken seriously at all... regardless of how thoroughly discredited 'ecology' already is in the mainstream as a management concept - even the BBC allowing it to be lambasted, eg Adam Curtis's 'The Use and Abuse of Vegetal Concepts' - as part of series 'All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace'.

Doesn't appear anyone's willing/ capable of theorising a concept of public funding outside the highly limited boundaries of personal self-interest and echoing this back to Dixon... What happens if/ when he dismisses 'ecology' as he leaps around his management/ development-speak dictionary, then what? This reactive approach to 'policy' compliance seems in danger of having their agenda-facing cynicism called out, by someone who may equally treat it as just a management tool, of which there are many interchangeable so as to include/ exclude - cue Peter Sloterdijk's 'Critique of Cynical Reason'.

And while change is happening all the time, and no, not all change is bad (hence the alter-globalisation movement!) - Dixon: "There will always be organisations who are concerned about change" - just that the deafening pragmatism of a few is what has helped lead us to this particular precipice.

So, how to account more inclusively for the way "power is exercised upon and through practices of mediated public communication" ('Culture and democracy: media, space and representation', Clive Barnett, Edinburgh University Press, p7.) so as to nurture diversity of opinion, expression, and communication... to situate and examine the politics and discourse of diversity in the context of cultural policies?

I seriously think we need a robust theoretical framework of freedom of communication, one then put into practice, to get us out of this largely self-inflicted cul-de-sac.

As regards getting more of a reflection of the diverse organisational/ art form make-up of Common Practice involved in Scotland in expanding the 'Size Matters' research to here, it should be noted Creative Scotland claims to have dispensed with art form specialisms. It may also be the case that there isn't the comparative scale or diversity of organisations in Scotland, but that doesn't absolve folk from trying, if that's the intention. Any such lack of support for comparative diversity of practice in Scotland raises many questions in and of itself - not least the very real tendency towards 'oligopoly' rather than any problematic concept of 'ecology' in Scotland. Though the ecological metaphor is increasingly mobilsed (in direct response to Dixon raising it as part of the Corporate Plan), masking the process of management that is controlling this, lending it an air of naturalness, organicity and self-realisation, whilst in fact serving as a means of devalorising much other activity.

Other questions - not fully formed or clustered here, but intended in the openness and confidence of discussing this between organisations and others affected - I would like to see approached are:

How is the complexity of 'deferred value' - as set out in the study introduction of 'Size Matters: Notes towards a Better Understanding of the Value, Operation and Potential of Small Visual Arts Organisations' - to be reflected through the selection of organisations to be studied in Scotland?

What difference does the Scottish Artists Union (SAU) make in Scotland, and at what levels? What degree of organisational/ artist exchanges/ communications actually take place, and between whom? Where and how are things discussed? How do artists access/ contribute to information regarding their working practices/ environments?

Are there the organisational equivalents for comparative research?

Is there an absence of practitioner-focused research from Scotland specifically as undertaken by practitioners? What gets recognised, given value, by whom?

How to explore the recurrent notion of 'fragility' routinely mobilised to censor difference in Scotland?

How to address 'information asymmetries' - who gets to constitute constituencies? How do we contest the exclusion of diverse speech positions?

Given differences of scale, how would an extension of the research to Scotland introduce and represent seemingly excluded perspectives/ tensions/ differences/ contestations/ forms of practice outwith FXO formulations (which are being cut back to just bidding for annual project funding in any case)?

With 'Culture' a fully devolved matter for the Scottish Government, what difference does the Centre for Cultural Policy Research (CCPR) make to policy development/ implementation/ adaptation in Scotland? [Philip Schlesinger's comment of "academic absenteeism" as regards the procedure of the Creative Scotland bill. That while there are cuts, some of those are repercussions from Westminster, others are down to internal restructuring within fully devolved policy areas.]

What of a politics of scale and institutional proximity, both for rapid information access (for some) and for increased exposure and concomitant disciplinary processes?

How to account for the political and economic differences between London and Scotland? As regards policy, are the same things institutionally 'valued' between ACE and CS, Westminster and Holyrood, in rhetoric and through what they support' in practice? Is there any policy formation in Scotland to address/ is listening?

Do Scottish government want to hear back a different narrative to Westminster? If so how do they differ? How is the nationalist independence project impacting cultural policy in Scotland? Is Creative Scotland, as focussed, in a position to deliver the necessary state re-production the independence project requires? (Dixon's regional development model and temporal aggregations of the festival format may be tourist-focussed but may not address the cultural needs of internal [re]production of a separate, independent country.)

Freedom of expression includes freedom of political diversity - as Art Monthly (Sept 2011, 349) point out, further financialisation would appear to exclude some practices in the study, for instance with Mute - how is this to be addressed in the research?

The study states: "With judicious investment, these hitherto unexploited assets – which organisations generate naturally as part of core activities – could be converted into earned income, offering small organisations a potential safeguard against economic uncertainty." This may or may not be true for London, but why should it be true for Scotland? All the disciplinary 'investment' mobilised within the visual arts by SAC towards marketisation has not produced an 'indigineous' market, even when times were said to be good, except for the monopolisation of studio property (exacerbated rentier systems) and the nexus of promotional forces at a Local Authority level - 'competitive cities', city marketing/ branding, 'artist-led property strategy'/ gentrification, etc.

One concern is that in pursuing what may be perceived as a pragmatic response for some organisations, heightened financialisation (which has not achieved its stated aims) on the back of waves of already failed financialisation, will see the end of support for a much larger body of cultural production excluded by such 'investment' criteria, which we are already seeing. Where is the resistance to waves of failed financialisation - at differing institutional levels?

How will the research identify and acknowledge resistance to financialisation? Will the research account for the antagonisms and tensions within competing views of cultural production in the mediated spaces of publicly funded culture?

How is the research to account for the consultant's own practice and ambitions reflected and represented within this research? Which goes for all of us, but especially Common Guild having seemingly adopted a gatekeeping function in extending this research. How will CG articulate its ambitions, as regards transparency? Is CG concerned with disentangling itself from its ambitions in its role here? If not, why not?

In Scotland within the arts and academia, I'm curious about an eagerness to be responsive to policy needs, but there not being the same degree in engaging or challenging policy formation directly. As it's reactive it's always on back-foot, being pushed to the right of existing contingent positions. The speed with which alleged social science academics turned to face central government 'Big Society' agendas was astonishing, yet we've heard little to nothing of 'Big Society' for the last 9 months... What effect is policy-led research (a distinct turn away from research-led policy) having on our expectations and how we engage ourselves and others as practitioners?

From one of our previous workshops addressing such issues: "Clearly, every problem we encounter does not necessarily have a solution that we can identify, or even imagine, in the moment; that identifying how existing systems have failed does not guarantee we have the capacity to devise new systems that will succeed. This is a realistic attitude, not a defeatist one. The lack of a guarantee of success does not mean the inevitability of failure, and it does not absolve us of our responsibility to struggle to understand what is happening and to act as [ethical] agents in a difficult world. In fact, I think such realism is required for serious attempts at fashioning a response to the crises. The eventual solutions, if there are to be solutions, may come in frameworks so different from our current understanding that we can’t yet see even their outlines, let alone the details..."

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