arts sector in need of a fresh perspective and TOP art reads

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Thanks for the name check. Sadly I think I have failed to get the message out to Government that the Arts are important. My view now is that all the effort with the Art Party and standing in the election may have helped create a bit of solidarity but as an advocacy tool it has been a complete waist of time. Further more I think institutions have failed to get their message across because they have taken the view that there was little point in annoying the politicians who hold the purse strings. Museums, galleries and the education sector have mistakenly thought all the calls for ‘more evidence’ were made in good faith and were just not a delaying tactic.
Why am I so pessimistic? Because post election there is a new wave of cuts that butchers the sector of the Arts which is the most progressive, Further Education. Last week I went to Hackney Community College which is a hugely diverse community of kids from disadvantaged backgrounds whose management have seen fit to close its Foundation and BTEC courses in Art.
Hackney College is in Shoreditch which is supposedly a creative hub. People flock to East London because of its creativity. The Art World is overwhelmingly like me, male and pale, the class of kids at Hackney Community College was wonderfully diverse. These are the artists of British Culture of the future. But where will the class of 2015/16 study? UAL has also made huge cuts in numbers of Foundation Course places. Foundation Courses, adult education classes, and access courses are dwindling. These courses are about entry to a profession. These courses are about social mobility. For Hackney Community College to close its further Education offer in Art is a crime. Its time for Artists, Museums, Theatres and Galleries to become much more political in their response to cuts. When I was a kid I remember Sir Peter Hall calling the Government philistines at every opportunity on TV and in the papers. We need to call out institutions and people who cut the arts and point out the stupidity of thwarting creative ambition .

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Peace protesters at Greenham Common in Berkshire, 1983. Photograph: Alamy

This month, I’ve been reminded how in the pre-internet days of the CND and the Greenham Common peace camp, activists used telephone trees so that groups of protestors could be swiftly mobilised for sit-ins, mass trespass and marches anti-all things nuclear, while keeping their plans under the radar of the authorities. This was people power in action across a distributed network, with each person needing to make just one phone call.

In 1968, inspired by fellow art student Brian Eno’s call to action and invigorated by a wave of student unrest in the UK and Europe, I marched in solidarity with Hornsey College and Guildford School art students, who were protesting against unfair course changes. Later, it was the “milk snatcher” policies of then education minister, Margaret Thatcher, that galvanised me into action. By the time I finished my post-graduate course, I had found my voice and seen that passionate people working in consort can make a difference.

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It’s clear that getting the message across about the value of the arts to society in this unforgiving political climate needs a bit more passion and fewer generic advocacy tools. While 2010’s Save the Arts campaign fell short of the 100,000 signatures needed to win the government’s attention, the agility of the Precarious Workers Brigade hits the mark through its campaigns with others against poor working conditions and inequality in the arts and elsewhere.

It also needs to be about people. Vital to campaigns for the arts are dedicated individuals such as the artist Bob and Roberta Smith, who stood against former education secretary Michael Gove in the general election, in protest against the downgrading of arts in schools. There’s also playwright Fin Kennedy, whose independent report in 2013, In Battalions, confounded culture minister Ed Vaizey’s misassumptions when the theatre world faced cuts.

Refreshingly, it was north-east England’s artists and arts freelancers, the people whose voices are often absent when arts policies are planned, who set the agenda for May’s open space gatherings (where participants create and manage the agenda) helping design the Case for Culture. The insights of 100 artists, makers, writers, poets, storytellers, community artists and photographers, plus a posse of independent arts project managers and educators, were brought to bear on topics ranging from internationalism to leadership, and science-art collaboration to achieving world peace through art. Everyone fed directly into shaping a vibrant and distinctive cultural fabric for the region by 2030.

In terms of fostering inclusivity, we could also learn a lot from how Scotland does things: that is, fast and with flair. Culture: What Next? – which is not to be confused with the What Next? movement – provoked immediate responses from artists and cultural workers on the future of Scottish culture post the general election. A 16-point Cultural affirmation published soon afterwards by event collaborator Tracs articulates the right to, and value of, arts and culture in political, constitutional and social terms: “We artists, cultural workers, educators and citizens of Scotland, commit ourselves through our creative practice to the free development of human potential, to social and environmental justice, equality and sustainability.”

The urgency of reframing the cultural landscape post-election was also under debate at one of Arts Development UK’s mass gatherings. I warmed to a particular provocation by Laurie Peake of Lancashire’s embryonic Super Slow Way, an organisation whose mission it is to bring local people and artists together. Peake said she visualises the current ecology in geological terms. There are the art world stars on lofty peaks, an invisible and dormant culture in deep underground seams, and everything else in the valleys between.

In England, while new Arts Council chief, Darren Henley, has agreed to some “rebalancing” of arts funding, which will increase spend in the regions a bit over the next three years, there’s no doubt that it will be the bricks and mortar organisations that will get the lion’s share. The potential of those valley dwellers and the dormant talent will be left to the vagaries of occasional arts grants.

My own analysis, which is admittedly from a practice-based perspective and done a while ago, identified that flatter structures that organically cross-fertilise are more productive. If we consider our ambitions for the future of the arts solely in terms of their relevance to us and the now, how will we get to that place of uncertainty and risk from which genuine innovation and widespread community engagement will emerge?

Poet Sean O’Brien puts it better. Speaking on Radio 3’s Free Thinking programme in May, he observed, in a discussion on the contemporary relevance of Dante, that “we may be looking through the wrong end of the telescope”.

If you want to forecast what a future healthy and vibrant ecology for the arts will look like, I propose that those at the top table just need to move their seats (perhaps stand outside in the corridor) so they can vision what the arts could be from a fresh perspective.

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Top 2013 reads for arts and culture pros

Once again we’ve collected 12 of our favourite network blogs for you – one for each month of 2013 and each day of Christmas
Some Christmas presents
We’ve chosen some of our favourite reads of 2013, but what are yours? Photograph: Getty Images

With the holiday season upon us again and because, despite everything, we’re suckers for tradition, our 12 days of Christmas reading list is back to keep you busy over the festive break – or sane, if you don’t get one.

It’s been another cracking year of content for culture pros. A big thank you to everyone who has contributed to the network – here are 12 of your most thought-provoking reads, one for each month of 2013.

Twelve days of Christmas – 12 months of Culture Pros

January How to be an arts and culture freelancer
Dany Louise’s two-part series maps the lay of the land for creative freelancers and the support available

FebruaryCulture hack: we’re all developers now
Leila Johnston looks at the rise and rise of hack culture and how museums are getting in on the act

MarchFlexible working: the sector doesn’t get it yet
For a creative industry, writes Claire Hodgson, arts and culture organisations have very uncreative workplaces

April Why cultural tourism is not a quick fix
Cultural tourism depends on brutal honesty about your offering, says Helen Palmer, and good partnerships are key

MayWhat does freelance success look like?
Outside a standard career, when do you know you’ve made it? From commissions to cash, Eleanor Turney counts the ways

JuneFunding, friction and the future of the artist
As artists find themselves at the bottom of the cultural food chain, Susan Jones proposes a new kind of activism

July – Do we need buildings for digital culture?
With the rise of online curation, Rob Allen asks if artistic practice is becoming less dependent on bricks and mortar spaces

August – Only the artists can save the critics
As national newspapers cut their critics, Ismene Brown defends the reviewer’s role and asks the arts world to do the same

September – Artist as engineer: we need to talk about infrastructure
Paul Graham Raven argues that it falls to artists to make the invisible visible and ask why and how infrastructure matters

October – Is ‘creativity’ arts policy’s biggest mistake?
Creative workers are seen as paid hobbyists rather than as professionals with valuable labour power, says Dave O’Brien

NovemberTo preserve education let’s pull down Gove’s gates
Surely we want a society where anyone has the ability and right to contribute to culture, urges Bob and Roberta Smith

DecemberArtist as entrepreneur: American model or dream?
Artists want money to make more art, entrepreneurs so they can make more money, says Andrew Horwitz – so what gives?

Read and share our January to December picks above and let us know what stood out for you this year. Tweet us your favourite arts and culture read of 2013 to @GdnCulturePros or pitch us your ideas for 2014; it could be you on this list time time next year.

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BobandRoberta Guardian contributor
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