Total war or total trivialisation? Cultural intermediation, translation and practice.

My PhD research for the Cultural Intermediation project looks at the role of universities as intermediaries in the creative cultural economy.UCL Some of my early findings on the selected topic UK festivals that have a University as a strategic partner (eg. Open City Docs) will be shared at an event in Salford in September.

Right now I’m mainly dealing with two things. One is the internal evaluation process at University of Salford, for which I have to write a report on my progress, it is a process by which all the little things I haven’t thought hard enough about already are being revealed!

The other thing is that I’ve become a bit preoccupied with lately are the discourses circulating in a cultural context that deal with the legacy of the 1st World War, which is something I want to share my thoughts on here.

Cultural programming has for some time been dominated by this subject; commemorative events, radio programmes, plays, exhibitions, horse performances and so on are encouraging us to reflect on the ‘Great War’ and the effect it had on national boundaries, individual’s lives, on modernity, on all of us as human beings, as we look back on the automated brutality, the suffering of millions of young men, of horses, of everybody, everywhere.

What is unconvincing about much of this activity is that some of the contexts of the war and its effects on society at the time are barely being represented in favour of personal stories, letters, mementos, medals and other familiar elements. At worst, I hear an echo of Guy Debord’s warning that all society can do now is consume ‘spectacles’, where the emphasis is always on novelty and consumption. These things have become part of popular war narratives and are as such irretrievable from popular myth.

These concerns were raised earlier this year amongst a group of historians, academics, members of the public and others from the fields of archives, museum and media studies at a conference at University of Salford, held over at the Media City campus, overlooking the Imperial War Museum North.

An opening remark set the tone for the day:history is too important to leave it to the BBC and museum curators”.

The first presenter, a historian, talked about his experiences working with the BBC on newly commissioned war-related programmes. He explained that he welcomed this kind of work because it offered him the chance to have some influence on the outcomes of documentary programme making, but he also felt frustration with its processes. On a practical level, there was little advance warning of when these opportunities would present themselves, so he had problems balancing them with his own research and teaching commitments – his publishers were ‘very patient’. (I wanted to ask him if his department’s REF co-ordinator was pleased, but he pre-empted me by saying it ‘got him out of’ other REF-able activities!)

Journalists, he said, who tend to be the researchers on these programmes, didn’t head for the library or archives, instead they would talk to people, often local historians who had already spoken on these subjects. They wouldn’t have looked at any of his books before meeting him, and if they did there was a danger they would only use the bits that would justify what they wanted to say anyway.

He found that there were some concepts that these researchers were unfamiliar with or uncomfortable talking about – for example the war memorials themselves, and they frequently preferred to focus on the home front and regional connections to places in the UK instead of strategies and battles at the fighting front. Also as a result of excessive interest in the hyper-local and domestic stories, big national stories such as strikes were often missed out completely. There was also little attempt to show anybody disagreeing with each other, on the assumption that this ‘wouldn’t make good TV’. When advising on a series of programmes about Ireland’s role in the war, he had to explain to the people working on them that a ‘conscientious objectors’ angle wouldn’t work because Ireland had no enforced conscription. They also wanted to run a story on Belgian refugees but without making mention of why they were escaping the country! Then there is ‘access’ – the TV term for finding a family member, however distant, and putting them in control of the ‘personal’ narrative on the screen.

Drama, it seems, has taken over from history (as another speaker put it) and popular myths are being reinforced by this ‘psuedo-history’. This is an over-simplification of the war, but how can it be done differently? Deeper questions need to be asked.

Why there is such a ‘patriotic national myth’ when no evidence suggests that people thought the war would be over by Christmas?

What about the ideas of empire and nation, how are those values discussed? Most British subjects barely had the vote, so it can’t be accurately framed as a war for ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’.

How will the non-British volunteers be remembered?

Where is the room to speak of ongoing sacrifice?

As all those who were really there are now dead, so the shift from memory to history leads to the use of ‘objects and what they can communicate’ to aid popular interpretation. A museum director tells us that museums have the responsibility for “making material culture accessible to people” but admits that telling stories is sometimes ‘hampered by the politics’.

Context is everything.

In 1919 the city of Salford was presented with a tank, and two German guns (captured at Loos) by the National War Savings Committee, in recognition of the funds they had raised. Many UK cities received similar tributes.

Apparently the tank was exhibited as a public monument in Salford for a number of years.

A clipping from a Salford newspaper in 1927 reveals that it was dismantled and removed or possibly even scrapped by the Council. “The decision in favour of cleaning away the tank…will be welcomed especially by members of the Labour Party and other suporters of the anti-militarist movement”. The article goes on to say that “the Museum and Parks Committee will lay out a shrubbery” turning what was described as an ‘eyesore’ and reminder of the horrors of war, into a ‘pleasant spot’.

( source: salfordwarmemorials.proboards.com/thread/957 )

There is official reminiscence and unofficial reminiscence, war commemoration is political and the state is an intermediary in the context of interpretation.

The Imperial War Museum is spending £4.5million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) on new First World War Galleries at IWM London, out of a total £35 million made available to the group for a major redevelopment project. The new galleries at IWM London will display “Original artefacts from soldiers’ personal items, letters and diaries through to weapons, tanks and artworks”. If a WW1 tank was displayed in Salford now, how would the contemporary political agenda deal with such ‘conflicting representations’ as those mentioned above?

A strong objection to the tone of these presentations came, during the break, from a museum representative, whose funding, she says, depends on attracting new visitors and on education. They couldn’t take these kinds of risks.

A sociologist, who carried out research in the Imperial War Museum North on ‘display and affect’ suggests that intellectual and emotional engagement are different responses to encountering artefacts. Her emphasis was on dialogue and conversation, she had used booths next to the objects to find out how museum audiences interpret them, followed up with walking interviews inside the museum and focus groups. She was very interested in how emotions and ethical dilemmas revealed a ‘reflexive self’ in the responses she collected.

The director of the museum group was more abrupt. Art has the power to hit you on the emotional level. Museums had to generate much of their own income, so engaging people was important.
For example, Russell Maliphant choreographed a special ballet that was performed at the IWM North as part of Museums at Night. Critics could still say that this is spectacle rather than engagement.

A German speaker later in the day just seemed baffled, his impression of the German population is that the majority thinks the 1st World War is just history, there is no wreath-laying or uniformed parades, this year Germany commemorates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 70th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Hitler.

The conference made my head spin, at first I felt that I learned a lot about the war just by going, but later, as I thought more deeply about those awkward questions that had still gone unanswered, I started to think more for myself. Soon afterwards, I went to a lecture in Leeds about Sir Michael Sadler, who had been the vice chancellor of University of Leeds during the 1st World War period.

In 1914 his son had translated Kandinsky’s important book on ‘The Spiritual in art’ which was a major contribution to theories about abstract art. Sadler was himself a collector of Kandinsky’s work and hung modern art in the University corridors.

Listening to the lecture, which was part of The Big Bookend festival, I realised that my dissatisfaction with the cultural programming around the 1st World War was that it was leaving out some of the other important narratives, for instance those circulating in art at the time.

I started to think about what else was happening in that period, from 1910 – 1920. For example, in the USA music was being pressed onto records and broadcast on radio stations for the first time and there were the silent cowboy films of Tom Mix in the movie theaters. In Europe, the beginnings of abstraction, Picasso collages, Kandinsky, Dada and early expressionism. Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka in Vienna, and the Cabaret Voltaire. Anthropological gazes, suffragettes, anarchist ideas and dangerous political theories – how were these things expressed in art?

Then the idea for doing a night of music, art and moving image came from reading about Hugo Ball and the Cabaret Voltaire, a kind of performance-meets-nightclub founded in Zurich in neutral Switzerland in 1916 by Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings. Zurich at that time attracted deserters from many parts of Europe, described as rebels with a shared hatred of the social order and a desire to challenge ‘outdated bourgeouis values’.

Hugo Ball is known as the originator of Dada. He drew on Russian anarchy theorist Mikhail Bakunin, who had also spent time in Zurich a few decades earlier in the 1870s. Dada itself was an invented aesthetic term and movement, with a manifesto (of course, they all had to have manifestos at that time) that declared it was purposely devoid of meaning. However, a basic spiritualism that writers like Herbert Read have found valuable in primitive art can be seen in many of the artforms that appeared around that time.

This combination of a rebellious rejection of reason and dominant political ideologies and a desire to bring people together to be moved by art and music has inspired me to act! Sadly I don’t have manifesto or movement, or any money from HLF, but I’ve decided that I’m going to remember Hugo Ball in a modest and hopefully enjoyable way next month.

Left Bank, established as a Parish church in 1911, plans to present an event with me on 6th September in Leeds. It will be a night of music and moving image with an atmosphere inspired by some of the art and aesthetics of 1910-1920. Details are below:

Laurapalooza flyerOriginal film mixes and live music from Tom Attah, Patrick Daff and Das Pain.

You can come along if you like, tickets are on sale and it starts at 7pm.

I hope it isn’t too much of a spectacle.

Diving into big data in Salford

The hacker community came to MediaCity for the Greater Manchester Big Data Dive on Tues 22nd July 2014. Coders, data monkeys and other techie enthusiasts gathered to respond to social challenges set for them.

Our project asked a big data team to paint an alternative data portrait of Ordsall (the Salford district where we are researching cultural activities).  Policy direction and language about the area tend towards identifying problems and issues (see the Ordsall Ward Profile) rather than looking at the good and interesting activities going on. Our challenge at the event therefore asked participants to:

  • Present an ‘objective’ portrait of statistics
  • Characterise the area in a way that challenges stereotypes (about demography, built environment)
  • Frame ‘absences’ (certain types of provision against national averages etc)

Here was my presentation for this event: bigdata_surf

The results

Our team came second!  What a great result. We should have come first really ;) The data helped us:

We challenged perceptions of crime in Ordsall by creating a map of hotspots across the city region (see below).

burglarieshotspots

Hotspots in Burglaries data for Manchester city region, 2000-2014. Note how parts of Manchester are white hot with crime while Ordsall is darker with only a few pale patches.

violentcrimehotspots

Hotspots in Violent Crime data for Manchester city region, 2000-2014. Again, note how parts of Manchester are white hot with crime while Ordsall is darker with only a few pale patches.

caraccidents

Car accidents near Ordsall Park area, 2000-2014. Note how residents within ‘the triangle’ are trapped on all sides by dangerous roads.

caraccidentschapelst02-13

Hotspots of car accidents in Ordsall area, 2002-2013. Note how Chapel St is red with accidents.

caraccidentschapelst11-13

Hotspots of car accidents in Ordsall area, 2011-2013 (after traffic calming measures). Note the difference between Chapel St before and after traffic calming.

tweets

Tracking positive and negative tweets about Ordsall in Twitter, 2014. Note that 60% of tweets are positive. The negative ones were complaining about litter and graffiti.

Thanks to the Team5 for making it happen. We met for the first time that day and yet worked together really well. :) While we all walked away with Amazon vouchers for coming 2nd, the real prize was learning about what was possible to do with data.

If just one day with open data helped us learn a lot about the area, what would regular and unrestricted access to the data and a talented techie team help us do?

Connected Communities Festival, Cardiff 1-2 July 2014

One of the nice things about working on this project is learning new skills and experimenting with new ideas.  At the start of July quite a lot of the academic team (including myself, Beth, Saskia, Jess, Dave, Antonia) went down to Cardiff to take part in the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival.

Of course a sentence like that brushes over the large amount of prep that that goes into an event like this.  Indeed, this was one of the biggest events the AHRC have run, so there was a lot of stress on their side.  We were just one of forty teams who were exhibiting, across a large number of venues, running break out sessions and arts events/interventions as part of this two day Festival.  Indeed, with meetings either side, the whole thing took up much of a week, so respect to the AHRC team for putting on such a slick event and thanks for their support in putting on our part of it.  As videos from the event have just been released, this seemed like a good opportunity to make a note about Cultural Intermediation’s presence in Cardiff.

Our contribution was threefold, we had a stand in the main conference centre, a break out session on the limits to co-construction and made an experimental short film with poet Chris Jam.  We started work earlier this year although we only got confirmation of funding in early May so it was then a bit of a mad scramble to get everything together in time.  The idea of the breakout session on the Limits of Co-Construction was to draw on the expertise of a group of ‘cultural intermediaries’ – people who, among other things, are the ‘how’ of cultural engagement – to highlight the key issues they faced in co-constructing projects.  Beth took the lead on organising this along with Andy Miles from the Understanding Everyday Participation project and we had some excellent invited participants (Stella Duffy, Gaily Skelly, Sandra Hall, Kevin O’Neil, Matt Daniels, Alison Surtees).  I’m not going to say too much about this as Beth is compiling some reflections about the session which we’ll hopefully have online soon, but a big thanks to everyone who took part in a really interesting set of discussions.  If you’d like to watch the video of the whole session, it’s available here:

We also had an exhibition stand – from my point of view this was quite a steep learning curve.  At last year’s Edinburgh Showcase I was mightily intimidated by the quality of stands from other people’s projects and so I was determined to put something more impressive together for Cultural Intermediation this year.  This of course means learning about graphic design and display printing as well as organising to put some of our research findings into a more user-friendly format for public-facing brochures and leaflets – links to all of these (in English and Welsh) can be found on the Outputs page.  It’s fascinating seeing your words transferred into a properly laid out brochure and even more interesting to see them translated into Welsh.  We also had the prototype of our touchtable app on show, which caused some sleepless nights – more thanks go to our programmer Aba-Sah for pulling out all the stops to deliver a prototype for us to take to Cardiff.  The AHRC’s multimedia team were buzzing around the different venues and recorded a short interview with myself and Beth at our stand, which you can watch here:

Last but not least Chris Jam spent the first day of the Festival wandering the streets of Cardiff persuading people to give him snatches of poetry and stories to make an artistic transect of the city.  This was one of those ideas that you have when in a playful mood and it’s great that the AHRC give us licence to try out different things.  Can poetry help you see the city differently?  We made a short film, editing overnight to show on the second day of the Festival.  Chris is, even as we speak, working on a slightly longer version from the miles of footage that he recorded with the help of Colin Lorne and Arshad Isakjee.  We’ll probably post a more considered reflection on this material at a later date, but in the meantime, here’s the recording of the session in which we presented the freshly minted film:

(Note that the AHRC’s team have unexpectedly promoted me to Professor!)

Overall, the Festival was quite a fun event and gave some space to take a step back from some of the things we’ve been working on over the last couple of years and to think a little more broadly about what we’ve achieved and where some of these debates are going.  So a big thanks to the AHRC for giving us the opportunity to reflect, debate and play.

Culture, Sport and Protest

Tags

, , , , , ,

_76399378_the100swimmerscreditattiliofiumarella

Right next door to the Balsall Heath Library is the Moseley Road Swimming Baths building.

This much-loved and well-used site has been in disrepair for a while with a group dedicated to its preservation.

The latest move in support has been an arts project described in this BBC report:

More than 100 swimmers have posed as a “terracotta army” for an arts project at a historic pool.

Moseley Road Baths in Birmingham is one of the oldest swimming baths in Britain, but is scheduled to close as part of council cuts.

A photographic project to commemorate the Grade II* listed building culminated with 110 swimmers standing in the now unused Gala pool.

Attilio Fiumarella said it had been easy to persuade people to pose-up.

The Birmingham-based photographer said: “It was the first thing I imagined when I first entered this wonderful building.”

He said it marked the end of a five-month project that had revealed some “amazing stories” and people’s “emotional connection with the building”.

Kate Wilcox was one of those to get involved on Sunday.

“It was fantastic. It took a long time to set up, but people were so patient and encouraging,” she said.

“People were so up for being involved in this because of their affection for this pool. It’s great to be part of it.

“I’ve been using the baths for 20 months now and when I discovered they were planning to close it I was appalled because it’s a heritage building.

“The new library and the symphony hall are wonderful, but we should treasure our heritage. Moseley Road Baths should be a national treasure.”

Birmingham City Council previously said the closure of nine leisure centres, including Moseley Road, would help to save £6.8m from its leisure budget.

The local authority said it was too expensive to refurbish old sites, but that they would be replaced by new facilities.

_72299657_friendsofmoseleyroadbaths

Images from the shoot will be exhibited by photographer Attilio Fiumarella whose work has been commissioned by Some Cities.

Here’s his description of the project’s motivation which brings together heritage, sport and a a creative intervention:

“The Swimmers” is an ongoing project commissioned by Some City through a bursary.

One of the first public facilities built in Balsall Heath was the Moseley Road Baths. Constructed in two stages, being the first the construction of the Free Library, the baths were designed by William Hale and Son, and opened their doors on October 30, 1907. There were restrictions to access, as it was common at the time, and three different entrances attest to that: one for first class men, another for second class men, and a third one for women. Its unique architecture and gathering purpose made it the icon of the neighbourhood.
After several years of decline, one of the two swimming pools has been refurbished, restoring its old lustre. Sadly, the Gala pool is still left to degradation. The Birmingham City Council intends to close the Baths permanently in 2015, following the opening of a new sports facility.
This body of work aims to outline the loss of this valuable heritage and also to strengthen the relationship between the pool and its people.
“The swimmers” were immortalized in an atmosphere inspired by the butterfly and its cocoon. This temporary skin provides the butterfly with enough energy for a new life. In the same way, in this imaginary world, the users are gripping the swimming pool’s essence, keeping the heritage alive.

Notes on Balsall Heath Carnival

Tags

, ,

Our research in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham has enlisted local residents as participants in walking interviews. Geographical explorations prompt reflections on which places and spaces feature in the cultural lives of interviewees, unearthing layers of historical, contemporary, ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ activities.

Conducting this methodology over the course of a year, amongst other things, means paying attention to the rhythms of the day, of the working week, of the school calendar and of the seasons themselves – after all, few want to walk and talk when it is cold and wet. Then there are the fixtures of the yearly cycle such as religious festivals, holidays and the annual Balsall Heath Carnival, which took place on 5th July of this year.

Established in 1977, each carnival tracks a processional trail through the area before coming to rest in an extended event in Pickwick Park (see map). Thus, in this visit, it was possible to follow the crowd in order to observe and participate in an important cultural event in the community’s life.

Pickwick park Map

The carnival is organised by St Paul’s Community Trust and this year, thanks to a suggestion from pupils at the nearby Clifton Primary School, its theme was ‘Balsall Heath Under the Sea’ reflected in pictures, costumes and activities.

BH-Carnival_14_web

The day was marked by glorious sunshine and a lively crowd although as noted at the Trust’s site: ‘The event was slightly smaller than last year with fewer stalls and attendance slightly down, due to the fact that Ramadan started a week ago.’ Mention of the careful observance of Ramadan suggests how the rhythms of community sometimes don’t always neatly coincide and might temper traditional associations of the carnivalesque (although the local streets are lively once the fast is broken after dusk). Certainly, the aromatic food, tearoom and popcorn stalls were hardly doing a roaring trade as many attendees were in the midst of observing their fast, yet ‘Never the less, the Carnival had a great atmosphere and the thousands of people who turned out had a great day.’

Pickwick Park is deep in the heart of the community, surrounded by the residencies of Balsall Heath, many of them the organised around those older and narrow terraced streets alongside a range of new builds yet to feel fully acculturated. As this was Saturday, the appearance and ambiance of the area was markedly different to the weekday: many were at home, on the street, heading carnival way at their leisure rather than rushing to school of focussed on daily business of business, of work (although many in the area were clearly still at work).

I should add too, that from the researcher’s perspective, seeking to participate as much as observe such activities puts one in a different position from having an appointment with a particular person, changing the power dynamic that is at work in such situations. In and around the carnival, I found myself browsing, buying and interacting as any other participant, announcing myself as a researcher when something, or someone prompted a further interrogative interest.

Central to the park space is an enclosed multipurpose sports pitch and a game of football was in full flow in front of a carnival stage while a bouncy castle did a roaring trade with young children. On stage, singers performed a variety of pop tunes one woman singing to her ukulele, another in soul styles with backing tapes. In around this central focus were the aforementioned food stalls and those that invited attendees to get involved in something creative. Much of this was aimed at engaging children in designing materials around the carnival theme (see images). These activities were managed by local institutions such as Balsall Heath Library and artists associated with the Ort Gallery and Print Works.

2014-07-05 14.13.432014-07-05 14.19.302014-07-05 14.25.42

Arrayed along one slope of the park were a number of stalls selling clothing familiar from many of the Balsall Heath stores that import fashions from South Asia and indeed make their own styles. There was a stall for a councillor available for consultation on local issues that seemed pretty busy (I waited for a word but of course the needs of others queuing up were more pressing than my research). There was a stall for connecting together Algerians living in Birmingham, for charity’s collecting aid for refugees in Syria and other sites of conflict. Here was reflection of the plurality of the community and indeed the global connectedness of this resolutely local event.

The standard yellow high visibility jackets of the event stewards testify to the underlying organisation necessary and bely the essentially organic qualities of such occasions and the sheer good will required to make such things work on behalf of all involved. That this happens at all is a testimony to the enduring mission and commitment of those involved in the St Paul’s Community Trust: As related in its online history,

‘St. Paul’s Community Development Trust had its origins in the desire of people in Balsall Heath to make a better future for their children, getting together to start a nursery, adventure playground and small school. The three groups joined forces to establish the Trust in the late 1970s, and from these small beginnings in voluntary endeavour it has grown to be a thriving organisation.’

Particular ideas of culture and community are palpable in such instances, manifesting the banal and the profound, reminding one of Raymond Williams’ observation that ‘culture is ordinary’ and an everyday, quotidian thing. The qualities of community appear to be performed in such a moment of coming together. It is there in the woman singing to her backing tracks, the face painting, new conversations and general exchanges between those who realise they belong to this community of people who are rarely gathered together in its name on any one occasion.

I eventually moved on with much to ponder about the meaning of such occasions. One useful item that I came away with from one stall operated by members of a local charity was a free copy of the novel ‘I know what you did last Jum’ah: Confessions of an Englandee’ by Qaiser M. Talib (Emerald publishers). This fascinating fiction is set in ‘Balsall Spark’ (Sparkbrook is the neighbouring area to Balsall Heath) and is told from the perspective of the teenage

Suhaib Haider, conveying his life in the area and relationship with his Muslim identity as a native ‘Englandee’. As one write-up has it:

He has loving parents, attends a wonderful school and enjoys his life enormously. He has no complaints against his Lord…but one Jum’ah, he has a major complaint against himself. His usually cheery mood changes as he faces the greatest challenge of his young life so far. 

As he tries to establish prayer in his life, he becomes embroiled in a battle for the spiritual future of his school: a power struggle between a Muslim, a Christian and a staunch atheist. 

As Shaythaan continues his spiritual war against the people, will Suhaib manage to correct his own faults? 

Will he manage to come out on top in this power struggle? 

Will his uncle, Chacha Conspiracy – member of the notorious political group Al-Death to Al-Kafiroon – dissuade Suhaib from participating? And will the forces of godlessness bring Suhaib’s dreams crashing to the ground?

Talid

Fiction clearly, but such imaginative portraits are important artefacts – alongside photographs, poetry, online rap, physical space and so on- for understanding the variety of cultural activities in Balsall Heath. The book also offers an engaging portrait of its milieu – fictional yet clearly recognisable and dramatised around actual locations.

Heading home after the carnival visit (it looked as if it would last a while yet), I took a turn down the deserted Clifton Road. Just by the Clifton Mosque I came upon a signal sign of a different perspective on community.

A Police Notice (captured on my camera phone below) served to remind of the potentially troubling qualities of when people come together. On 2nd July a man was shot on a street in Sparkbrook, at the border with Balsall Heath with two others injured. Media reports suggested that this incident was the result of a clash between gangs who formed part of a 300 strong crowd that had gathered on the Stratford Road.

2014-07-05 14.42.07

The full details of the incident are yet to be established and I’ve yet to investigate the background to this order and what it has to say about Balsall Heath. However, its does pose questions about perspectives on the nature of crowds and public life in communities, anticipating that – unlike the Pickwick Park assembly – gatherings are likely to be negative phenomenon. As I suggested at the outset in paying attention to research and the rhythms of the seasons, the particular publicness of community life, of the possibility of such gatherings is at its height at this time of year.

Diversity in the city, University of Lisbon, Conference

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Dr Jennifer McGarrigle organised an excellent conference in Lisbon on 26th and 27th June, which I was fortunate enough to be part of. The conference theme Diversity in the City: Shifting realities and ways forward brought together international researchers looking at issues of migration, integretation, segregation and spatial encounter in the context of plurality. I gave a paper in the session on Migrants and the Arts which came out of the current cultural intermediation workpackage underway in Balsall Heath, Birmingham. Taking a community-centred approach, the paper proposed that research needs to capture creativity in marginalised and peripheral spaces in the creative economy, including ESOL classes, places of workship and the domestic scene, to effectively insert diverse migrant experiences of culture and arts into funding and governance structures. Unexpectedly and fortuituously, one of the keynote speakers, Dr Richard Gale (University of Cardiff) delivered a fascinating paper using social-spatial network analysis in the very same area to investigate neighbourhood interaction and friendship. In the context of negative UK public discourse on segregation and conservative Islam, both papers and the wider conference attended to various sites where connectivity across ethic-religious groups takes place.

Lisbon isn’t a bad spot to spend a couple of days either…1977225_10152206244397747_1800544418922695315_n

Ordsall Update June

Latest from Ordsall

June was a busy month in Ordsall with the On in Orsdall Community Researchers developing their approach to finding out more about cultural activities in the triangle and M3 magazine working out what to publish in a special on cultural activities around the Chapel Street area (which is in Ordsall).  Yours truly has been helping them and also trying to make sense of the bureaucratic structures that sit around the communities in Salford. This culminated with me making a short introduction to the project at the Ordsall and Longworthy Community Committee meeting on 1st July at the local neighbourhood centre.

I’ve also been volunteering at Ordsall Hall in the gardens there, learning lots about weeding (water the soil first if the plants are hard to pull up) and about tudor gardens (who knew that gem lettuce was around in medieval times – I thought it was a posh supermarket idea!). I’ve also started volunteering at Kids with Dreams at Salford Lads Club, where my favourite activities are colouring in with the kids and playing pool and only just about holding my own on the table.

I’ve spent time in Salford Quays (also part of Ordsall, dontcha know) and finding out about what goes on round there. I have a radar for free/cheap activities and so I am looking out for them.  I have hung out at Salford Uni MediaCity Campus and a community researcher and I went to the Lowry to find out from their learning and community engagement manager about what the Lowry do for their local community. Turns out, there’s loads going on – so much that it deserves a post of its own, so more later on that.

I’ve also been wandering around the Chapel Street area, taken on a guided tour of the other end of Ordsall all the way up to Greengate (the new development opposite Manchester Cathedral), along the pedestrial walkways next to the river Irwell, past the listed railway arches next to Salford Central station (where they used to keep horses back in the day), admiring Islington Park and the domes on buildings along the way.

Over the next 12 months, I will carry on helping with various cultural activities in the Ordsall area and developing links with other individuals, groups, organisations and events which give the area its heart and spirit. We are defining cultural activity very loosely here – any activity which gives life meaning – it’s that loose. I’m also trying to unpick the government structures that sit around the area as they are critical in understanding what helps people realise their ideas/ambitions.

I’m a fan of digital stuff so I’ve been looking out for apps and games ideas, none yet but it is early days.

Jessica in Balsall Heath

As I walk through Birmingham streets on the way to the university, I notice that the city experience for a new visitor is shopping, as it is in many other cities.  I find out that the university had to abandon years of planning after HS2 was announced – the trainline was due to go through the space allocated for a new building.  Even universities, massive institutions as they are, have to move out of the way when the corporates are coming through.

Predatory corporates, sit like hawks watching people as they go about their lives, swooping in to pick up any assets of potential value. People worry that their (Council owned) homes will be handed to the developers and they will be moved somewhere else (unknown) with other people (unknown) rather than in the safe and familiar community they live now.  Gradually, every available patch of land is converted into expensive flats.

In inner cities, billboards loom suggesting lifestyles local people know are not aimed at them.  It has happened before, in the 1960s when whole estates were knocked down and rebuilt.  In Balsall Heath, a community member recalled how houses just round the corner were bulldozed due to damp just months before damp proof coursing became available.  It’s hard not to be suspicious of fingers of power working invisibly to lay claim to these areas for profit. Who can be trusted and who cannot.

It’s hard to talk about ‘a community’ as people are not bounded, although they do all live physically in one area and what affects that area would affect them all.  Try to identify people within the ‘community’ to talk to and every time you try to zoom in on community, it disappears.  People do orient around common interests.  The cost of living has been cheap in inner cities until recently so people for whom high income was not possible or not a priority were drawn to these areas.  Especially if they needed to walk places.

In this project focused on cultural activities, we asked are artists just a niche community who get funding to show artworks to each other because they cannot access funding for it any other way? Are audiences for artwork incidental to the artmaking process?  Is that the same for culture as well?  Does the audience matter? In this context, how then to interpret art, culture, community, creativity in ways that make sense to others or even to each other in the research team?  What words do you use, if you don’t want your words to affect how people understand what you are trying to say.  Does art provide obliqueness and therefore a form of transparency?

Timing itself becomes a frame.  The terms, the process, the arrangement.  Who is in and who is out is predicated more on the structure of the process than anything else. Who gets to decide who decides? The point of this project is to sit outside the local authority / Arts Council frames and yet it would perhaps help to select another alternative frame rather than having one emerge which we do not like.  As people manoeuvre to ‘jerrymander’ the process, we could end up in an uncomfortable position, painted into a corner.

My own assumption was that we would support cultural activities as small scale initiatives done by local people who had an idea for something they thought would be cool and which they could persuade their friends, neighbours, local people to support them to do.  I imagined a girl who wanted to get a recording contract and needed time in a studio; a kid with a great idea for an app who wanted to get some advice/programming support; a woman with an idea for fluffy dogs that she could sell on a market stall.

Since a university will only pay organisations or people set up as sole traders, this whole vision collapsed and I did not know what to replace it with (immediately).  A new vision is building but the question remains – how to enable people’s ideas, and where are the blocks, even unintentional ones?

Balsall Heath Meeting and Screening – All Welcome!

‘A Touch of Eastern Promise’

Hillac Restaurant, Moseley Road, 4 June 6-8pm

Over recent months, as part of the project detailed on this site, a team of researchers from the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University have been exploring the cultural life of the residents of Balsall Heath.

One of the things that the project seeks to do is to recruit local people to form part of a panel to work with us in order to commission a funded project for Balsall Heath.

We are not looking for experts or people with experience and we’ll be offering support for the group: what we need are people who are interested and willing to get involved.

Thus, as a way of introducing this project and a means of inviting individuals to get involved, we’ll be holding a meeting on 4th June at the Hillac Restaurant, 568-570 Moseley Road, 4 June 6-8pm.

At the meeting we’ll also be screening a long lost gem from BBC television called ‘A Touch of Eastern Promise’ that will be of immense interest to many local residents, especially those with long memories! We hope that this will spark some discussion of ideas about what shape the cultural project might take and excite people about getting involved.

‘A Touch of Eastern Promise’ was broadcast on 8th February 1973 and was produced by the English Regions Drama Unit at BBC Pebble Mill. It was originating by Tara Prem, a young writer-producer of Anglo-Indian parentage who felt that migrant communities such as those in Balsall Heath were under-represented on TV.

The light-hearted drama concerns a young man (Dev Sagoo) who dreams about a Bollywood film star (Jamila Massey) who he seeks to meet when she pays a visit to the city. The programme was shot entirely on film and on location in Balsall Heath, amongst the local Asian community. In fact, the show drew much of its cast from amongst the same community. As Tara Prem recalls: the BBC had problems in casting dramas that dealt with people from migrant communities such as those from Pakistan as the pool of available professionals appeared quite small. As she says, she and the director Michael Lindsay Hogg toured around the streets of the Balsall Heath, ‘literally picking people off the street and saying – “do you want to be in a play?” and getting them in.’

The film is around 30 minutes in length and shows some aspects of Balsall Heath that have disappeared. It features a huge range of local people who some may recognise and in fact, some may recognise themselves! It is suitable for all the family so do come along and take a look and hear about our project and the opportunity to get involved.

You can find out more about the film and its producers online at the Pebble Mill Studios website.

If you have any further questions please get in touch. You can post a query below or email us at:

paul.long@bcu.ac.uk or saskia.warren@Bham.ac.uk

Call/text Paul Long on 07870507771.

Introduction to Jessica

Hello

I’ve just been appointed to the Cultural Intermediation project as a Research Fellow focused on cultural activities in Ordsall, Salford.

Here’s some background info on me

My interests lie in creativity, cultural meaning and urban sustainability.  I joined SURF in May 2014 and contribute as an anthropologist to the AHRC Connected Communities Programme. I am just finishing my PhD at the University of Manchester on idea generation and realisation in the making of a civic parade (due mid-2014).  I have an MA with Distinction from University of Manchester in Social Anthropology (2007) and a BA with First Class honours from University College London in Ancient World (1994)

I am focused on the generation of cultural meaning through creativity as an adaptive process and how organisations act as enablers and barriers.   Key areas of enquiry include:

•           Political influences on city making processes

•           The dynamics of collaborative creativity and co-production

•           The role of artists and other ‘creatives’ in working around organizational barriers

•           Alignment of anthropology and art

•           The potential for anthropology as a storytelling medium to engage in futures thinking

I also have a background in digital media, consultancy and social enterprise.  After graduating in 1994, I became an IT consultant focused on emerging technologies such as internet and interactive TV.  Mobilised by the dot-com crash, I moved into activism and social engagement, becoming Knowledge Manager at the Demos thinktank in London in 2002 and co-founder of the thinkingwomen network. 

In 2005, I founded social incubator, Krata developing a think-and-do-tank in Manchester with projects around environmental issues, community engagement and social enterprise.  Key outcomes included community engagement on the Regional Strategy for NWDA, analysis on barriers to healthy eating for Food Futures and raising funding for two projects: a café and market garden and a social enterprise running cooking workshops, the latter now independently run by the co-founders.  In 2003, I designed a foldaway bag as an alternative to plastic bags working with Oxfam to sell through independent retailers and online.  I am an active member of a female social entrepreneur network seeking to promote and support social enterprise.

I have ongoing enthusiasm for speculative fiction, short-filmmaking and community radio, broadcasting weekly on an ALL FM show with my kids.  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 250 other followers