The Savall Effect

March 18th, 2016 | Posted by admin in cultural policy | Europe | evaluation | news - (Comments Off on The Savall Effect)

IMG_5482 - Version 2We often hear about the Bilbao Effect in relation to culture and regeneration, or the Mozart Effect on our thinking , but what about exploring the Jordi Savall Effect around dialogue between cultures?  This week’s Voice of Europe session in Barcelona considered how we could support intercultural dialogue, including how we evaluate it’s impact.  This is a pretty important topic given Europe’s challenges around borders and identity.

Culture professionals know what an important contribution arts and creativity can make at the economic, social and cultural levels of a changing society.  But this requires investment and the demonstration of its impact.  Our discussions suggested the need for an evaluation framework for intercultural dialogue that is longitudinal and embedded into EU, regional and national funding schemes, and the working practices of cultural institutions.  Catalan musician Jordi Savall brings together European and Arab musical traditions and finds musical inspiration for everyone – a positive cultural effect to counteract an unrelentingly negative media narrative around cross border movement and integration.

pulling strings

July 6th, 2015 | Posted by admin in cultural policy | Europe | news - (Comments Off on pulling strings)
IMG_4587Last week’s EU Voice of Culture session on participatory governance of cultural heritage began with an exercise based on Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation, asking us to stand next to a particular rung from passive manipulation, through tokenistic consultation to empowerment .  The reality is that this typology and progression route doesn’t fit with what actually goes on.  Our professional environments are more like a game of Twister than a stairway to participatory heaven.
What we do know is that there are principal actors in the process of participatory governance.  There are those that frame participatory governance of cultural heritage through policy and the application of resources.  There are those that manage cultural heritage through institutions, organisations and projects.  There are those that participate in cultural heritage through creation, dissemination, attendance, learning, and yes, sometimes, governance.
The debate in Florence demonstrated how differently these actors function and relate to one another in different places.  It also began to unravel the issues around a sector whose duty of care to physical heritage exists in tension to a growing commitment to intangible cultural heritage.  To what extent is participatory governance about determining what heritage is?  If everything is heritage then everybody has a stake.

If standard models can’t deal with the heterogeneous nature of Europe’s heritage offer and its context, can a more theoretical approach help?  For example the influence of Paolo Friere on the development of action research might be useful in understanding how all three of the principal actor groups can shape the future of participatory governance in cultural heritage.



April 1st, 2015 | Posted by admin in cultural policy | news - (Comments Off on politikboxing)

IMG_1459The Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Culture is a good example of the direct and discursive political engagement possible in a country that, as one attendee put it, is ‘just small enough, and just big enough’.  One of those platitudes that makes total sense when you live in it, and none at all if you don’t. The session was led by http://culturecounts.scot, who have, true to their name, been adding up the benefits of cultural investment as a pre-cursor to a pitch for a Scottish cultural policy.  Not some tick box strategy but a genuine commitment to culture as a driver of political objectives.

The discussions sailed across the clear waters of the many and various reasons to have a cultural policy, before washing up on statutory provision beach. What does a policy commitment look like – cultural entitlement of communities or individuals – embedding of culture across all policy frameworks – productive capacity?  It is no accident that some cities seem to have had more cultural policy led success than nations of regions.   Culture and creative industries share an interdependency between the public, private and third sectors.  Policy shaping has to include an equitable balance of these interests and this is often easier to manage in a city frame.
How do you distil a dynamic and authoritative national group from such a fragmentary sector?  You need representatives of the plethora of SMEs and artists that make up so much of the sector, of national broadcasters, commercial producers,  philanthropists, government, NGOs, commissioners etc.  Once you have them they need to commit to putting the whole picture ahead of their sub-sectorial interests, and to overseeing implementation over time.  To those that would say this type of approach is top down and bureaucratic, we say if it creates a sector that can build on achievements rather than having to continually reinvent them it would be worth it.


February 22nd, 2015 | Posted by admin in cultural policy | news - (Comments Off on meanwhile)
DSC_0445I read the Warwick Commission report on the Future of Cultural Value after a day at it’s maternity unit, Warwick University.  This was an afternoon of fairytales at Warwick Arts Centre.  Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, all frosty kingdom, Bluebeard, and searching for keys.  Dimitri Venkov’s magicians on the Moscow ring road, and Akomfrah’s glowing cultural time machine ’The Unfinished Conversation’ .  These were three fundamental, powerful and alternative realities – one political; one social; and one technological.
In contrast the report is attempting to be deeply pragmatic, even as it espouses two incompatible truths.  On the one hand it calls time on the Arts Council / Local Government duopoly of arts funding.  On the other it dresses up established patronage based arguments in new clothes.  The result is the Ecosystem, a 2012 style Olympian embrace of culture and creative industries.
There is much to like here.  The evidence base is wide ranging.  The call for investment  has authority.  The need to wake up to the full potential of enterprise investment in a SME dominated sector is timely.  The focus and goal setting is well thought through. Pointing at the interface of culture and creative industries is good tactics. There is much joining up of dots.
But just like Ex Machina’s Nathan, Ecology ignores the nuts and bolts of what is happening at its peril.  As is the case with real ecosystems we don’t fully understand how our mixed cultural and creative economy works.  We get nervous when ecosystems services advocates tell us that logging here is fine because it pays for reforestation somewhere else.  Well, we also get nervous when our local theatre is cut, even if community action or digital distribution is to be our salvation.
There are some simple hard facts.  Cultural capital is ever more concentrated at the point of production and reception.  Society is expelling more and more people from access to width and depth of culture.   Culture happens at the moment we encounter it.  The fewer encounters there are, the less creativity there will be.  The report paints this picture as well as could be expected given the methodology, but in an understandable drive to arrive at a set of recommendations, has created a document where changes can be cherry-picked by the Government of the day.  The most important aspect of this report is the array of interests and people involved in its production.   It’s legacy will be less about it’s recommendations, and more around the force applied to its arguments.

take it to the bridge

November 5th, 2014 | Posted by admin in cultural policy | news - (Comments Off on take it to the bridge)

DSC_0398How, why and where do we bridge culture and regeneration?  A recent SURF (@Scotregen) seminar in a bustling DCA (@DCADundee) was not short on ambition.  We were talking about linking culture led and area based regeneration and set about exploring the bridging challenge.  The physical environment may be intrinsically linked to people’s sense of place, and culture may be intrinsically linked to people’s sense of community, but there is a real capacity deficit on the ground. Where are the people that can connect neighbourhood interests and activities with other sectors, opportunities and bigger pictures, and vice versa? Effective community and arts development people excelled at this.  So yes, there is culture happening everywhere, and yes ‘people and place / cross sector working’ is a real direction of strategic travel in Scotland.  But if there aren’t people working at local level to nurture, support, connect and animate then the most well intentioned cultural organisation or strategic initiative will struggle.

Next came whether organisations  and businesses have an obligation to contribute to civil society, and cultural regeneration in particular?  If there is, do we incentivise, or in the case of recipients of public investment, enforce?   At its best the current taste for regionalism in England  is based in this kind of thinking, but regional governance could be accused of more bureaucracy and less democracy. There is certainly no golden thread to enhanced civic responsibility.  In Scotland there is widespread agreement on direction of travel.  Plenty of ‘talking the talk’, but not, as yet, enough ‘walking the walk’.