After about 18 months on Southampton Row we’ve moved to a proper office in Toynbee Studios. It has minimal natural light, so we’ve tried to keep everything as white as possible.
Last week Shelagh and I did a workshop at IETM in Dublin on our paper about Art and the Economy. The paper looks at the relationship between art and the economy – or more specifically, how artists are responding to an economy which doesn’t work, isn’t fair and, in some cases is actively destructive. The paper is still in draft form and can be looked at here. I have also broken it up into a series of blog posts which may make for easier reading as there are lots of links. The paper draws heavily on other people’s work which I’ve acknowledged here.
I was on a panel this afternoon at a conference hosted by A.N.D. at St Martins’. The theme of my session was about what cultural organisations can do for young people in London, but so inept was the Chair you could have left without knowing that. I was so worked up that by the time I had my turn to speak, my words puked out in a sort of sonic vomit – it sounded like I was about to cry. For the sake of clarity: here are my points.
What can the cultural sector do for young people in London?
First, engage politically with young people, on the issues on which their future depends. Put politics into your art, find ways to put art into other people’s politics – look here, for all the tactics you need. Don’t just lobby for art, ask how art can help young people in their battles. Decide what the issues are with young people, but guide them. I’ve put some starting points under this post.
Second, think of ways you can use available technology to make what you do easier for young people to find. I think we need a sort of ‘somewhereto of the mind’, something that’s visible and understandable like scouts – that feeds young people into cultural life across London. Makes it easier to use whatever it is that the arts offer. Organised locally, but part of a network. Something like Arts Award, but not explained like Arts Award. The aim is to take control through being creative/decoding culture.
Third, go and find young people, wherever they are. The idea that we can know where young people are at is slightly absurd, when the demography of London is changing so quickly. Some of the highest concentrations of young people in the UK are in Barking & Dagenham, Newham, Redbridge, Hillingdon. Go and have look – it shouldn’t be hard to find them.
That was what I was trying to say.
Here are some places you might want to start if you want to think about politics from a young person’s perspective
(i) The Housing Question
You know the story. A new, young, right-less class of tenant is permanently trapped in private-rented accommodation. A process which benefits private landlords and is sanctioned and legitimised by by-to-let mortgages. Neither housing benefit nor social housing can fill the gap. It is an immoral state of affairs, but it will define young people’s future in London. It can only be resolved by politics.
(ii) JSA, Internships and Housing
It’s a grey area but it’s not that easy to claim JSA and do an internship. You can’t get housing benefit without JSA or a low income. So put that together and it means that if someone can’t pay for you to live, or keep-you, you can’t get an internship and therefore your chances of working in the arts – or many of the other professions – is greatly reduced. Again this can only be solved through politics.
(iii) Educational Opportunity
By my own calculations these provisional stats from DfE (PDF) show that across Waltham Forest, Newham, Greenwich, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, of all the young people who took a-levels in state Schools in 2010 just 157 made it to Russel Group Universities. Many private schools (maybe mine included) send that many themselves. What this means is that the places where there are the highest concentrations of young people in the country, are also some of the most hopeless for progression through education and into the professions. If private schools have to exist, why do they have charitable status? Why if you are one of those 157 kids could you end up paying the same to go to school, as someone who went to a fee-paying school? Why do you have to pay anything at all? Only politics can answer these questions.
(iv) The Price of Fun
£1 in 1985 is about £2.50 for today. In real terms, going to football, cinema and the pub are all significantly more expensive than they were a generation ago. So are many other things. Computers and drugs are less expensive. Unless you’ve got parents to pay for you, how much fun can you really have on a Saturday in London? A bag of weed and laptop is where the market is directing you. Again, this is another issue that goes back to politics.
About seven years ago I worked on a project at Demos called Glasgow 2020. Billed as ‘an attempt to imagine the future of one city through the creativity and imagination of its people’ – Glasgow 2020 was an 18 month long series of 30 public discussions about the future of Glasgow, several story-writing competitions, a public campaign to collect ‘wishes for the future’ and a series of quirky events – including a forum in a hair-salon, a discussion on a train and a day when we encouraged people to hot-desk from a boat.
The idea was that these different events would feed into each other – wishes and stories would provide a stimulus for public discussions which would produce more stories which would feed into other discussions and so on. This exploration of what people wanted Glasgow to be like and how they imagined it could be, would go on-and-on and somehow this would lead us somewhere – maybe to a new version of what public consultation is, maybe to new ideas for the future of Glasgow, perhaps a Porto-Allegre system of participatory budgeting, maybe some kind of new institution or festival… But as the project was about opening-up possibilities – it didn’t seem right to set it out at the start.
If we didn’t know exactly where we were going we knew what we were against – policy documents that obscured the future in technocratic language, politicians who hid behind them and a determinism that the future was no longer something that could be discussed or shaped by politics, values and culture as other uncontrollable forces – markets, globalisation and so on – would take care of it.
In this way Glasgow 2020 – a new process, that opposed something, without a clear goal, was a sort of clunky publicly-funded precursor of the Occupy movement.
I have been thinking about the project again, as I had a coffee with a Masters student yesterday who was asking me about the project for an essay she is writing on the subject of storytelling in public regeneration. She basically wanted answers to two questions – (a) what was the point of the project? (b) what was the point of using storytelling, rather than other art forms?
I didn’t give very good answers. Here’s a second attempt:
(a) What was the point?
Read as a consultation exercise Glasgow 2020 was always going to fail. Although we had a go at it, the aim was not to accurately represent what a representative sample of people in Glasgow felt about the future of the city, but rather, to illuminate and draw attention to a whole area of life that we perceived to be ‘missing’ – namely an ongoing public dialogue, lead by civic leaders, about the future of Glasgow. There was no way that Glasgow 2020 could plug this gap all by itself – the discussions in the project might have been a start, but their value was as symbols as well as events. This isn’t to say that they were just pr but rather, in common with projects that fit in the realm of ‘socially engaged art’ projects, they had a symbolic meaning too. i.e. Why isn’t there a better public dialogue about the future? How far should institutions stretch to find and solicit the opinions of the people they serve? Can people find hope in politics? Where does public deliberation happen and does it contribute to social change? That’s why the book doesn’t end on a distillation of what people in Glasgow think, and what Glasgow City Council should do about it – but rather on a coda for a more ‘open city’ – the like of which we had experimented with during Glasgow 2020.
(b) Why use Storytelling specifically?
The whole of Glasgow 2020 revolved around telling stories, commissioning stories and circulating stories. I’m not sure what exactly we could have used for this project other than stories – we use stories to make sense of the world, leaders use them to make sense of it for us. In this project they were just a glorified, but very useful, way of encouraging people to talk about the future. I’m not sure how much further you can go with it than that. If the project had a more specific end – e.g. generating ideas for designing a new library – then using stories might not have been so appropriate. Or at least if they were used they, might be used in a different way. Involve have a very useful library of participation techniques and so on here.
They said it could never happen and then it did. Issue 1 of Useful, a vital meditation on ideas and social change is available from no bookshops, internet shops or street venders now. Contact me, Pete or Rosie if you want a copy priced at £2. If you are interested in dealing Useful, we’ll sell you 10 copies for £10. If you’re interested in knowing more send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are only three rules of Hometaping – I think I might have broken them all. My idea this year was I’d rinse youtube of clips of British football fans and somehow melt them all together into a sort of symphony of the crowd using garageband and imovie. I was inspired by Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, the Zidane film and the photographs of Stuart Roy Clarke.
Singing at football is unique. Football is the only place where singing actually has a practical purpose. If the crowd don’t sing the players won’t be stirred, the other team won’t be intimidated and fans won’t get that lovely primal sensation of the group. Also, football grounds are the only places where songs are re-purposed, added to and adapted on a week-to-week basis – it’s proper folk music and for all the commercial exploitation of the game – it’s a brilliant symbol of its non-commercial heart. Perhaps that’s why FC United are so good at it – and why The Emirates (Arsenal’s ground where a standard season ticket costs a grand) is so bad. Hopefully it’s a part of the game that will live forever.
Unfortunately I haven’t quite managed a fitting tribute. I’m sure someone with more musical ability, better video editing skills and er, a bit more time; would have done much better. I am also a bit despondent that lots of the ‘music’ I’ve done here, just sounds like well, a crowd. Here it is:
The Hometaping effort is important for me as it forces me to learn new things on my computer that I can then use during peacetime – this year I located and destroyed a self-replicating log file in my computer freeing up 60GB on my hard drive, I found the best ever youtube downloader and I realised that you can do more with imovie than you think.