OPEN SESSIONS

At most conferences the audience are as smart as the people on the stage. At No Boundaries we have tried to recognise this by leaving plenty of time and space for you to get involved. Not as side sessions, or un-sessions but as a core part of the programme that will emerge over the two days. We’re calling them Open Sessions and they begin after the first speaker session and carry on throughout the conference, ending before the last session on the second day.

What do you want to talk about? What are your burning questions and passionate rants? What do you want to hear? To propose a No Boundaries open session please visit the info desk in each venue. Come prepared with a session title and the No Boundaries staff will help allocate you a space (some are big, some are small, some have live links between venues, some don’t).

Open Session 1 – Attaching value without money (Bristol)

Linda Jasper – Director of Youth Dance England, Claire Glover – Freelance Arts Consultant, Ben Templeton – Thought Den, Sally Goldsworthy – Discover in Stratford, Mira Kaushik – Academy London

We’ve started our open sessions with a nice open question looking at what value means in the arts, but we quickly fell into the topic of what this means for young people’s arts provision today. When we have to constantly prove the value of arts, how can we keep the arts open and engaging in education? Here’s what our Bristol delegates had to say…

The Value of Art in Education

A girl plays the violin on the front page of a private school’s prospectus, but in state schools, the arts become merely ‘an option’. In today’s schools, Michael Gove’s policies aim to drive success rates in core skills, meaning arts provision suffers. The recent reforms have caused a 20% reduction in the number of students who receive free school meals taking up GCSEs in arts subjects and it’s a real worry that the arts industry could become yet more elitist.

Now that schools have control of their budgets, they are not choosing to spend on arts provision. Should we, as Jude Kelly Artistic Director of Southbank Centre says, formalise arts education outside of the education system? It’s a problematic suggestion. What do you do as an outside body when children spend their time in school and who is going to pay for this outside arts activity? What we agreed on is that we have to place value on art, especially when the government isn’t necessarily championing it, and to do this we need to raise its status.

Could this be achieved with awards and recognition for schools with great arts provision? What about culture credits for families allowing free access to arts organisations and could small pots of money be made available to help with prohibitive travel costs to venues that might already be free? And what about securing mayors’ promises for culture – could we get artists, children and parents together to decide what these promises might look like?

With Michael Gove handing back power to head teachers (by freeing up the curriculum to give schools what they want!), decisions around arts provisions in schools will rest more and more with local teachers – and it is our job to open up this dialogue and support them.

Enough talk of league tables. What about putting arts on the front page for all children?

Open Session 1 – Attaching value without money (York)

Henry Raby, a York-based performance poet, theatre-maker, playwright, workshop facilitator and associate artist of Red Ladder Theatre Company, offers his reflections on our first open session question.

We reject the sin of Pay-To-Apply, but also the patronising element of Exposure, where all that is offered is a platform. Would you say to a chef… come cook for free! You’ll get exposure! Is it all working for nothing and essentially workfare? In-kind is all well and good, but artists cannot rely on in-kind alone and theatres/organisations must not rely on offering in-kind alone too. But then in-kind offers can lead to making shows which can get artists money in the long-run. But artists should demand to be paid, must not be afraid to ask to be paid. It raises quality and encourages artists to be adults. Sound engineers and technicians must always be paid, but so are managers and directors. Is it legitimate that some people at this conference are being paid, and yet some people are working for free? Can the value of the experience to attend this event be monetised? Value is not money, it can be resources and experiences. Is it a shame that value must come from money? And yet, that is the system we live in and that is how bread gets put on the table.

Open Session 2 – Beyond culture in regeneration to culture in future cities (Bristol)

Katy Beale – Director of Caper, Gary Topp – Curzon Clevedon, John Knell – Freelance Consultant, Ali Robertson – Tobacco Factory Theatre, Allison Heart-Jenkins – Arts Council

For the past twenty years we’ve worked on a model of capital building in cultural institutions to create physical regeneration in cities. This is now embedded in cultural practice, tourism and the public mind. Running parallel to this is the debate around the cultural and creative industries as the drivers of economic change. This model of physical and economic input to regeneration from the arts is now well integrated. But what will culture in the cities of the future look like, and can we talk about it in the same way we talk about sustainability?

Gary Topp of the Curzon in Clevedon with environmental organisations worked in flood-prone Melbourne, Australia and said: “we kept building bigger pipes to get rid of excess water when we needed to be opening the pipes up completely and letting the water flow away through natural rivers. When crisis struck and there was the threat of a major flood, we tried this new method and it worked better than what we’d been doing for years! I feel like the arts industry is still building pipes.”

We need to find a new language for talking about culture in the future cities, one that opens up the temples of culture to all and get the sector thinking differently and using different solutions. If we could engineer differently at the beginning, if we could employ a small, dedicated team to source information and innovations from key players in the future cities debate, we could feed information back to arts organisations about what the current picture really is. And whilst arts organisations wish the Arts Council would move more into risk taking, it’s also the arts sector that needs to be asking the Arts Council to take risks.

The hope is that by fostering a more open approach to how we talk and think about culture’s role in the cities of the future, we can come up with initiatives that really are outside the box (or the proverbial pipe).

Open Session 3 – What colour is the countryside?
What does diversity look like in white rural England? (Bristol)

Tom Metcalfe – REACT, Oliver Jones – Creativity Works, Kyra Politt

The Arts Council’s remit is great art for all and excellence with it.

Diversity is hugely complicated. It isn’t just ethnicity, sexuality, age, disability or gender. We’re often never just one of these categorisation either – it’s very difficult to relate to just one group in isolation. The diversity in a group is also not always visually clear and this becomes increasingly difficult to define in rural communities, where identity, culture and local histories may all affect defining diversity.

The approach to programming and funding was discussed. First, open access, suitable for everyone. Second, programme for shared experiences, for example a theatre performance where the audience can relate to the performers directly, can be very powerful. Third, focus on 2 or 3 areas of diversity to create an overall impact and this therefore goes beyond just including a token member of a defined group.

Underpinning all of this is quantifiable evidence of diversity, like an acorn or a census, but often it’s not fully accurate. Programmers should trust their experience of what diversity means in their rural community – very different from London – and include this in funding applications, in addition to this objective ‘evidence’.

Fundamentally, it’s very difficult to programme for or define diversity. It encompasses identity, culture, socio-economics, histories… which are all complicated in their own right, let alone brought together to represent an individual.

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