Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A Response to the Arts Cuts

Today of all days, I am going to be spending my time working on a Grant for the Arts bid. I feel sick about it really. I'm not sure how I'm going to begin to think about it while my twitter stream is full of the most polarized emotions pouring out from Arts Organisations all over the UK... High fives and whoops of relief and delight one moment, and then quiet, sad tweets expressing disbelief... 'We didn't get it'... Of course I'm sending a huge smile of relief to many companies who I see have got their funding. I am glad for you, but today belongs to those who are facing up to being cut and my heart is with those who have lost out.

It's also with ACE staff who have been given the grisly task of implementing the cuts when the blame lies with our shortsighted and arrogant government. A government determined to enforce their intellectually unfounded, ideologically driven decisions against all good reason and sense. There is a word for these people and it is despicable. Despicable is a harsh word but just about the only one good enough for them. I wish for these people only their own reflection. I wish for them only what they would wish for the majority of people in this country. I hope they get everything they deserve.

It is hard not to see this day as a day of winners and losers. But I want to argue the point and ask you to reject this. It is such a widespread premise that life is founded on competition and yet there is so much that points away from this idea... Here's a bit I've lifted from a workshop I ran for writers about this time last year for the Emerge Festival in Leeds:

14 years ago specilised brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’ were discovered in Monkeys. They activate when a monkey performs an intentional action (picking up the banana) and when it sees another monkey performing that action (watching the banana being picked up).
In 2007 these cells were confirmed to exist inside human’s heads. Thus - What we see is not so different from what we do!
As Andrew Tuplin in his article in Adbusters The Whole Brain Catalog #90, says:
“The idea has worked its way into the zeitgeist and become a potent new way of seeing ourselves in relationship with each other. People have begun to wonder if mirror neurons could be responsible for language, culture, empathy and even morality. Where Darwinian survival of the fittest has… imagined us as the strong pitted against the weak in a fatal struggle for food and sex, the mirror neuron suggests (the) importance of social strengths: that we are hardwired for empathy, that we are naturally interested not only in our own needs but also in the interests of others

Perhaps life and art is not a competition after all! I am coming to believe this more and more.
Does that sound counter intuitive to you? If so, is that because it can't be true or because you've been told all your life it isn't true? That's a question. I think its something (baering in mind the huge challenges we have re our climate, human rights, our economy, etc etc etc) that we could all do with giving some proper thought to. It might in the end save some lives...

But back to today... How does this idea sit with what is happening today? What does it have to do with this day of the axe? This day of the cutting. This day of days. This moment when artists discover their fate. Good enough or not good enough? Admired enough? Up and coming enough? Sexy enough? Young enough? Old and respected enough?

I think even those who have 'won' today know somewhere, at some level that we are all reduced by this process. We are all poorer. We are now less diverse, less multi-headed and more cowed. We have all chosen to buy into a process, which necessitated us to think 'logically' and 'do the best in a bad situation'. I understand this. I am part of it. I am not a member of an arts organisation but I am someone who benefits from work with funded companies. My partner (and the main breadwinner in our household) works for a funded arts organisation (which incidentally did not get NPO status today)... So understand that, the implied criticism that I make here is as directed at myself as at anyone else. I don't like to admit it but as a point of fact it’s true. We have, in all our different capacities 'done the best we could all do, baering in mind that we have rent to pay and bills to pay and hopes of a career and, and, and...' But imagine if every artist and arts organisation had rejected the premise and as a point of principle had decided to stand together and refuse to bid for NPO status? If the Royal Opera House had stood shoulder to shoulder with Red Ladder Theatre Company? I suspect we might all be in a different position today. I suspect Jeremy Hunt would have had to back-track away from these cuts. I can’t see him wanting the demise of the ROH to have happened on his watch! I also suspect that everyone ‘winners and losers’ alike would all feel better about ourselves today. We would not feel cowed and we would not have the hollow, empty,directionless feeling of impotent anger in our bellies...

I also have a feeling, if we are in the end to ‘uncut’ our country and save what is dear to us (NHS, Libraries etc etc etc) that we’re all going to have to get our heads around this little conundrum. 'All for one and one for all' may yet turn out to be the only sensible option after all…
But while you think about that, I’d better get back to my funding bid. It's the logical thing to do after all.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

26th March – If something amazing happens but the media are only there to misrepresent it, did the amazing thing happen at all?

Yesterday I was in London for the March for the Alternative. Even as the day was unfolding the difference in what I was experiencing and what was being represented in the media was very obvious. Reports by the BBC of ‘tens of thousands’ attending were being re-laid on twitter… ‘How’ I thought ‘can the BBC be reporting such crap?’ It’s almost as if they were being wilfully misleading or something! I’ve been to big football matches and music festivals and I know what a crowd of say 40 thousand people feels like. It’s big and impressive, but that comes nowhere close to the amount of people who thronged the streets yesterday. I see today that the estimated figure of attendees has been revised up to 250 thousand people. I want to tell you that this is nonsense. There were comfortably 500 thousand people demonstrating in London yesterday. Singing, chanting, smiling… People of all ages, ethnicity, persuasion and gender! Librarians and firemen and actors and teachers and council workers and doctors and people in wheel chairs and people on homemade cycle powered crazy machines, and samba bands and dancers, and queers and straights and and and AND it was a 360 degree snap shot of our country! And for that reason it was not only fucking large but it was also fucking beautiful…That’s my genuine belief based on the experience of being in that crowd. Whatever figure you decide to believe in, I think its safe to say that what occurred in London yesterday was by anyone’s standards quite significant. And at the very least, not unimportant?

I’ll say that again.

What happened in London yesterday was by anyone’s standards significant.
We now know without a shadow of a doubt that vast VAST amounts of people wish to engage in a discussion about what the government is doing. They want this discussion to start with the idea that there is an alternative to the cuts agenda… Because its that conversation which needs to be had (not whether we should be having it or not). We can start to discuss the various ideas about what ‘another way’ might mean. Do we want to go down the UKUncut route and tax corporations? Could we introduce a Robin Hood tax to tax the banks… Should we cut trident and reinvest that money in green jobs… Others are interested in total system change… There are many many different ideas to be discussed. To be clear, the marchers yesterday were not all in agreement on what the ‘alternative’ might be. But you bet that yesterday was a huge and insistent cry representing a vast amount of this country’s people demanding a proper 360-degree conversation looking at all the options… And that is something the ConDems, and Labour for that matter, have been refusing to do…

So my big ask is why has the meaning of yesterdays march and direct action been wilfully ignored? And why is it that the media routinely sidesteps the meat and potato of an issue and focuses on the serviette? Why has investigation been replaced by a strange kind of personalised / blinkered desire to be seen to have been ‘embedded’ with the action. I suspect that journalists / editors have been just as affected by reality tv as the rest of us. So now we are a world of people obsessed with the mediated abstracted sense of experiencing the moment, rather than understanding that it may be our role (as outsiders) to think more objectively about what a group of people may (or may not!) be doing? Why for example don’t reporters ever ask the masked folk why they are smashing things? I would love for a reporter to ask an activist why they’ve just smashed a bank window. Or for that matter ask a van load of riot cops who’ve been waiting all afternoon to do some ‘riot prevention’, how it feels when they finally get the green light to get out of their van… I think it would be interesting. I think we might actually learn something. We might end up with a media that acts as a source of information for the people at large. A service, which might lead to a greater understanding of the world! How amazing would that be!

We live in momentous times. I said this at a creative writing workshop I was running recently and a young woman who was attending asked me why I describe our times as ‘momentous’ and I was frankly shocked. This young woman by the way appeared to me to be an intelligent and interesting person. So please don’t interpret that last comment as an attack on her. Rather, I found myself thinking, that we – the people who view ourselves as ‘radicals’ or ‘on the left’ or whatever - we have so much work to do! To be asked by a young woman, who has just graduated into a world on the brink of peek oil and climate disaster, into a world in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930’s, with youth unemployment standing at 1 in 4, on the very day our government announced that it was launching aerial attacks on Libya… To be asked by this woman why I think we live in momentous times was just incredibly shocking. But she asked because she doesn’t know, not because she is stupid. And with the media we have, is it really any surprise that people don’t know?

I am so glad I went on the demonstration. It was an amazing and positive thing to be part of. But I am left under no illusions. Just because we want the world to stop and take in the importance of what we’ve achieved doesn’t’ mean it will. So we all have to think about ways in which we can take the conversation forward. For me, yesterday has made me more determined to get more involved down the UK / Arts Uncut direct action route. But that is one route of many. What is important is that we build links between all people working towards furthering this debate and find ways to tell the story as we see it, because the media we have can not be trusted to do it for us.

If you want to be part of that conversation, here are some places you could try…

For direct actions -

For action you can take at home -

For information - and

For Bradford and Leeds folk -

For all of us -