2013 is beckoning so it’s a good time for an update from the Greater Manchester team about developments on the project. It’s particularly exciting that we now have Dr Karen Smith in post in SURF, who has joined us from the Arts Council and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the project. Karen started at the end of November and has hit the ground running, bringing a fantastic practice-based perspective on cultural intermediaries to the team. Karen will be blogging shortly about her first few weeks in post – and will be providing more regular updates from the GM team.

Karen will be able to build on a number of scoping activities carried out over the last six months. Locally, we’ve been talking with Creative Industries in Salford, the Hive in Broughton, Seedley and Langworthy Trust and Ordsall Community Arts and identified interesting initiatives, organisations and projects across the city-region, including Redeye Photography, the Secret Garden Festival, the Small Cinema at Moston and collaborative work between Manchester International Festival and the Biospheric Foundation.

Manchester City Council’s Culture Bash on 22nd November provided a good opportunity to revisit the city’s Cultural Ambition and see how the local authority’s role is changing in the contemporary climate. The Culture Bash (thoughtfully organised around the theme of sweets with plenty on offer!) provided a platform for different arts and cultural organisations to share experiences, make connections and discuss critical challenges. I attended sessions on governance and arts and sustainability, both fascinating and helpful to set the scene for the project. Presentations were made by Castlefield Gallery and Agency, Manchester Community Central, Julie’s Bicycle, the Carbon Literacy programme, Manchester Art Gallery and the Royal Exchange Theatre which illuminated how organisations are re-focussing their roles and responsibilities in light of the contemporary challenges.

Developments across the sector were foremost in people’s minds, particularly with the news that week of the proposed cuts to the arts, museums and libraries in Newcastle City Council . However, the event was characterised by a sense that Manchester was in as best a place as possible to weather the storm.

We’ve had initial conversations with freelancing cultural intermediaries who work across sectors and communities, including Laura Drane, Sheni-Ravi Smith, Kerenza McClarnan and Sally Fort. And we’ve also started scoping out changes at the national level – through meetings with Steve Broome at the Royal Society for the Arts and Phil Cave at the Arts Council.

Tim and I have also had project meetings with Paul Long, Dave O’Brien and Ian Grosvenor and Natasha McNab in July to begin to look at overlaps and synergies between the different work packages and identify some common themes. Cultural memory and learning were particularly salient, particularly in relation to work package 4, where we discussed the importance of finding ways to identify traces of cultural intermediation within communities. The idea of the ‘Big Story’ interviews was also born here, to bridge between the contemporary and historical work.

In November I had the opportunity to go to Lille, France to as part of a Visiting Professor scheme. Whilst there, I met up with Pierre Yana and his Masters students who are going to be working on an international review paper for the project. Many of the students have been directly involved at some point in cultural economy initiatives, including Lille 2004 Capital of Culture, so have some insider knowledge to share. I also got the chance to sample Lille Fantastique – a city-wide cultural event designed to re-animate the city following the Capital of Culture process to show that ‘le voyage continue’.

In final news, we are delighted to welcome Laura Ager as our PhD student on Universities as Cultural Intermediaries, who is starting after Christmas. We will encourage her to join in the blogging fun to let you know what she is up to.

Have a good break and see you in 2013.