Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dorset Artists 2012 Reply

2012 Cultural Framework for Dorset
The Artists’ perspective
“We need to show a pride in our local artists and performers and local culture and to show it alongside culture from elsewhere - too often we sneer at our own culture and celebrate everybody else's, when actually there's no reason why our own isn't every bit as fascinating as the exotic stuff from elsewhere”
The Cultural Olympiad is a once-in-many generations opportunity for the arts in Dorset to be seen on a national and international stage and it could be a vital stepping stone on the way to righting the historic under-recognition that the Dorset creative industries have. We are all aware that there is very little in the way of properly funded arts infrastructure in the County and this means that there are very few agencies capable of leading the sort of projects that are envisaged and needed. It is therefore inevitable that Dorset artists will be under-represented when projects are awarded. But the Olympiad also provides an opportunity to put right some of the structural weaknesses that beset Dorset Arts in general. Tackling these now with the impetus of 2012 will provide a genuine benefit for the future.
"Please note that the Working Group has no funds to disburse but the programme list will be used to help potential funders to prioritise their resources."
Is that the bottom line?

In April this year a number of Dorset Artists expressed some disquiet about the process for assembling the Cultural Olympiad for 2012 and its legacy. Indeed, many artists felt that they were being excluded from the event. At the moment through the offices of Strata, The Arts in Poole (TAP) and Bomo Creatives we have had contact with around 200 individual artists living and working in Dorset (including the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation). We have been surprised by the amount of creative energy in terms of ideas for projects or just from the simple wish to become involved.
“I am concerned that I will miss out on the opportunity of my lifetime to be heavily involved in creating work for the Olympics.”
Whilst artists are delighted with the substance of the Cultural Framework 2012 document we are worried that there are a number of holes in these proposals which we think ought to be addressed before Dorset Arts practitioners lose out. Creative Practitioners are keen to contribute to the debate and are willing to take on responsibility to achieve long term goals This perspective aims to offer some suggestions to this end.
“Funding is a major issue. Fun is another one”

Our main concern is that there has been little consultation with the arts community of Dorset (including Bournemouth and Poole) and consequently most of the ideas seem to be “top down”. This loses the essential Dorset qualities that can be supplied by local artists developing ideas from their own communities. Our feeling is that when these official ideas are finally put out to tender it will be too late to develop these ideas locally.
We need to examine urgently the creative resources that are already here in the County and consider how they can be developed during the next four years to deliver the sort of Olympiad that has been planned. The concept of Creative Hubs as suggested in the Jurassic Coast component is excellent but it is essential that these hubs are based on existing good practice and not reinvented from the ground up. For instance, Purbeck has a cultural hub already in Strata, why set up a rival in Durlston? It is ironic that Dapf with its model of cultural hubs closed down just a year before the Olympiad came to the fore.
There are many artists of national and international repute who live and work in Dorset. They need to be encouraged to participate and lead the Olympiad. But their work needs to be treated with the same respect it would be given in London or Venice. Respect for art is a novelty in Dorset and international artists can give us benchmarks of aspiration.
Dorset is agency and initiative rich but few of these have any impact on individual artists. We need a mechanism for putting these agencies and initiatives more closely in touch with creative practitioners. Agencies that exist in Dorset must become more active in facilitating artists rather than following their own narrow agendas. We need a cultural change that puts the agencies at the service of the artists rather than the other way round.
Despite the plethora of agencies for various art forms, since the demise of DAPF, there is no structure capable of bringing together information and delivering it to artists on a County wide basis. This problem is exacerbated by the geographical, administrative and social fault lines in a largely rural area.
The tendering process asks for fully realised projects with partners already indicated. This is beyond most individual artists and small organisations. We have no major lead organisation that can assemble all the elements into a fully realised bid.
There is also some concern that bids appear to be prescriptive and require utilitarian elements where specific non-artistic criteria have to be met. As this is a developmental process we should be looking at art as a vital raw material for the well being of the County in its own right. This would appear to be the direction that ACE is headed and we would wish to pursue that course.
“Culture for the sake of culture is often more worthwhile and longer lasting than culture for the sake of ticking boxes. I've done lots of the latter!”
“We need to show that there is funding available, that it's available based on the quality of the work, or at least the idea, and not simply linked to a set of criteria, which though noble and socially inclusive often end up excluding the majority...”
This proposal is an attempt to make a first step in enabling Dorset artists to become part of the Cultural Olympiad both as participants but also as providers of inspiration as the Olympic hosts.

Some possible solutions
The paramount need is for the structure of arts provision to be turned upside down and so that artists themselves can have a more central role in making arts decisions. This is not as radical a solution as it might seem at first and would undoubtedly remove burdens from council and other officers who could then become facilitators, backing the best artist-led ideas to make them happen, rather than seeking to control arts development
“ It needs to be excellent, but not expensive to run.”
With respect to the Cultural Olympiad specifically, we suggest a three pronged provision of arts enabling:
1. A small administrative core to enable financial management and tasked with raising money through grant applications. Responsibility of disseminating information through website and dealings with official bodies.
2. A development core to act as an interface between business and the arts and tasked with business and professional development including leading on business sponsorship.
3. A wider arts advisory body on a regional hub and spoke principal made up mostly of practitioners tasked with ensuring that money reaches directly to artists.
The first two functions can be delegated to existing bodies which could be given wider remits but with policy formed by the artists’ advisory network.
The network becomes “Dorset Arts 2012”.
Dorset Arts 2012 is responsible for the management of The Dorset Arts Dating Agency which forms the core of its being.
The proposal is that there should be a comprehensive database of Dorset artists and arts organisations established. This will form the basis of a pan Dorset information network that can disseminate information about the Cultural Olympiad directly to artists and, at the same time, take in ideas for projects and offers of involvement and attempt to put individuals and groups in touch with each other.
Details of this have been circulated previously but it now becomes much more important in view of the 2012 Cultural Framework document and the requirement for delivery of projects County wide. It has been suggested that the moribund Arts Index could form the basis of the website.
Assembling the database will be achieved by a concerted campaign through existing, mainly personal contacts and networks. (In the original DADA proposal we identified 16 arts databasesthat already exist but have no common link) The database would form the core of an electronic circulation list and website. The whole idea will be to put individuals in touch with each other and to be told of developments so there would be direct links to, or even pages maintained by, other relevant agencies (SW Arts, Olympiad Committee and so on). This is the perfect opportunity to identify and promote the cultural hubs throughout the County both within the Jurassic Coast area and beyond. The advantage of this way of working is to work with existing motivated groups and individuals. It may be that the outcome will be assymetrical geographically but the strength will be in commitment to the task.
It should also form the foundation for a Dorset Arts conference of the type that DAPF used to run.
This network will have an incalculable value for the future of the arts in Dorset long after the Cultural Olympiad is over. It should aim to provide the “critical mass” of arts interchange that is so lacking in a rural area. It is slightly puzzling as to why this has never been attempted before.

“Essentially, I think the artist base needs to be broad and the organisational 'top' very very slim, so that we don't see the money swallowed up in consultancy fees, administrator wages and glossy brochures telling us what some people we've not met think that they've done for us”

Assembled by Strata members Tara Dominick, Matt Wilkinson, Peter John Cooper with contributions from Paul Angel, Peter Boyce-Tomkins and Steve Darrington. Additions by Mark Howell of TAP.