We’ve hit the ground running in 2013 within our governance workpackage with interviews, desk research and dialogue. In the last few weeks I’ve had some fascinating discussions and also attended some thought-provoking seminars. 

On 4 February I attended the Participation and Engagement in the Arts – Knowledge Exchange Network seminar on Participatory Decision Making, run by Leeds Metropolitan University (Franco Bianchini and Leila Jancovich) in partnership with Arts Council England. This was held at Doncaster Community Arts – DARTS – a National Portfolio Organisation of the Arts Council which has been established for over 20 years. It is strongly rooted and has a thriving café, gallery and very busy community arts projects across range of art forms and themes. Working at DARTS in 1990/91 was my first proper community arts job!  DARTS is one of the successful applicants to the first round of the Arts Council Creative People and Places (CPAP) programme. During the seminar, there were three speakers giving presentations on aspects of participation and decision making followed by one minute presentations by all but one of the successful CPAP applicants from across England. This was followed by a workshop and final plenary.

On a Thursday evening on 31 January, I attended the reconvened Urbis Research Forum at the RIBA hub in Manchester. The theme for the evening was to see the city as: “something other than a place of monetary exchange…to explore in-between spaces…[thereby] exposing the city as a site of resistance and intervention… to understand how actions and art can help us make new readings and conversations about urban politics. What constitutes activism? How do cities deploy art and artists? How do artists and activists use the city and its spaces to provide views on the urban condition?”  

Speakers represented various approaches to living and working in the city: Richard Brook (Manchester School of Architecture) spoke on ‘post-graffiti’ and how artists organise and synthesise the city – re-ordering space in ways that conventional architecture or builders fail to do. He noted the role of artist, observer and of governance, upon urban form, and that graffiti does not necessarily consider an audience.  Ungoverned space was discussed as the new background of the city.  

Alex King (Piccadilly Partnership) spoke about the re-animation of the Piccadilly Basin area of the city and work in collaboration with Atelier Zero (Manchester School of Architecture), subversive architecture, Jane Anderson at CUBE and Buddleia and Manchester Garden City to create a floating garden and festival of events.

Morag Rose (Loiterers Resistance Movement) was dynamic about her thoughts on the city, and evidenced a deeply generous and community-orientated approach to living and sharing in the city. She was described as a ‘community activist’.  A memorable comment by Morag was: ‘We have a record breaking number of food banks whilst we have gourmet street markets’.

Back to the roles of cultural intermediaries and governance and talking with Liz Pugh at Walk the Plank at their administration base just up the road from the SURF office, I discovered more about the amazing history of the company and the arrival of their theatre ship, The Fitzcarraldo, at Salford Docks in 1992. From 1992 to 2006 the Fitzcarraldo undertook 13 tours of the UK, taking theatre to the most remote parts of the country from the Shetland Islands in the north, to the Channel Islands in the south, and to many small ports and harbours in-between. I saw a Walk the Plank show at Goole in the 1990s, and again in Gloucester in 2006. The subsequent development of Salford Quays and The Lowry from the perspective of a sometimes ‘bohemian’ artistic company living in a boat on the water is a fascinating one. Walk the Plank continue to work in Salford as well as nationally and internationally.

Coming up in Salford and Manchester is FutureEverything.  A long supporter of what used to be FutureSonic,  I’m taking a few days holiday in order to enjoy some of the music events. However, the summit looks like a treat for the brain. ‘Future Cities’ forms one of the key themes for the summit. Salford Quays also hosts NVA’s ‘Speed of Light’ during this time. A not-to-be-missed opportunity.  

I have had a detailed first interview with Salford City Council Culture and Leisure team who gave their time generously to discuss governance and the cultural sector in their working lives. Starting to dig in, I have followed up our earlier discussions with Manchester City Council, with a deeper set of questions and a formal interview. 

This is against the background of further articles in the press regarding the ups and downs of arts funding. Newcastle is re-considering and approaching funding of the arts in a potentially ‘new way’. Arts Professional and The Guardian both give useful reports on this and on Harriet Harman’s involvement: Deputy Labour leader steps in to halt Newcastle’s 100% arts cut. The Guardian and Arts Professional also report on Moray Council’s 100% arts cuts; Guardian Moray Council

There is a rich mix of action and discussion taking place pertaining to the governance work package and also signalling up some of the complexities of community and participatory working for the future work packages of community and creative intervention. As ever, I’m in awe of the abundance of work taking place in a plethora of ways by paid, unpaid and always passionate people.

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