Trapped in an underglass jar

( a version of this blog was published on the Dartington web site here )

Tuesday was an interesting day.

It started with the (sadly expected) news that Somerset was indeed cutting its arts funding (except that which is perceived to lead directly to tourism and inward investment).
Then, just before 8am, I picked up two e mails (with my producer hat on) relating to two different projects which are sadly indicative of the time…really want to do it they both say but….”the future looks uncertain” reads one – “I’m going to have to wait to find out my council funding” reads another ..

That evening I watch the Clod ensemble perform Underglass. An extraordinary piece of dance theatre – it looked and sounded stunning – and left the audience silenced. For some it was amazing, beautiful – ‘I felt it in my stomach’. For others “I don’t know what to say – I’ll have to think about it”. For others it was interesting. One of the team found herself completely absorbed by the piece – noting ‘and that never happens when I’m at work’.

I slope back to my digs – thrilled by the work of Clod but also heavy in foot with the day’s debris. Whilst my dinner for one spins relentlessly in the microwave I power-up the laptop. Distracted from the work I should be doing @DamienFranco leads me to this Ted talk….

Its that dynamic conclusion which is left ringing in my ears

‘The single most exciting development in the last 5-10 years has been the rise of the professional hybrid artist. The professional artist who works not primarily in the concert hall or on the stage but around human rights, women’s rights, global warming, aids relief and more. Not out of economic necessity but out of the deep, organic conviction that the work he or she is called to do cannot be accomplished in the traditional arts environment.’

…The thing we hear most is ‘please report any suspicious behaviour or any suspicious individuals to the authorities nearest to you’. We are encouraged to view our fellow human being with hostility and fear and contempt and suspicion. The arts – whatever they do whenever they call us together – invite us to look at our fellow human being with generosity and curiosity. If we have ever needed that capacity in human history we need it now’

Its a sentiment that chimes with Dartington’s drive for the arts programme to increasingly explore the areas where arts, social justice and sustainability meet. Programmes like English Touring Opera creating a version of Lear in Channings Wood prison or artists like Ben Mellor passionately exploring questions around climate change will become the norm rather than the unusual.

But Cameron ‘s TED views like a clarion call to quicken the pace of change, to challenge our way of doing things. To break the status quo of the old creaking, touring model – which both as a producer and programmer I find myself clinging too, limpet like. There’s a key question in there too about participation. Echoing Charles Leadbetters The Art of With (artists doing things with audiences rather than too them see here ) Cameron talks about the rise of the pro am – and makes the bold sweeping statement :-

‘ Audience numbers may be plummeting – but participants are exploding beyond our wildest imagination’.

Interesting then that leafing through my freshly arrived copy of the UK Wired magazine my eye is caught by The Crowd Conductor about Imogen Heap. Her visit to the Albert Hall on November 5 will open with her piece Love the Earth with Imogen conducting her 30 minute work in front of a fan generated nature film. The piece is a joint effort between Heap and social entrepreneur Thomas Ermacora.

(image from Damir Bartol / House of Extreme Music Theatre Cepheus)
With my producer hat on I’ve been reflecting on lively conversations over the weekend about how audiences might participate in Cepheus through encouraging the donation and playing of ‘found instruments’. How might we encourage or incentivise participants to upload their own found instrument pieces onto you tube and audio boo? And whats the connection between those pieces and the performance….key questions yet tiny, tiny steps.

And all this happening in the context of less resource all round (indeed ACE are launching their new processes today see here and here). Cameron quotes Adrienne Rich:-

‘The maps they gave us are out of date by years’ .

I find myself thinking of an arts scene trapped and scrambling in an Underglass style jar – to quote Kelina Gottman ‘quiet, meditative, rich, textured, keen’ certainly – but also caged and enclosed . Its those of us who will be able to break out of our jars and test tubes, ditching our old models and draw a new map who will survive.

So as the clock ticks round to 2am I’m going to raise my glass to all those navigators who are drawing the new maps, thinking the impossible and exploring the unknown.

My notes from the video:-
• The internet now means we compete 3-5000 mktg messages a day
• Technology is both an enabler (everyone knows a teenager who is already out there making films) and our biggest competitor for leisure time
• Video games now outsell music and video recordings combined
• We can get anything at anytime for free or for 79p a download- the antithesisf set performance times, set venues, attendant inconveniences of parking, travel and the like and high ticket prices
• We are seeing a fundamental realignment of culture and communications (just look at today’s news stories and analysis on the Times Pay Wall)
• saddled as we are by antiquated Unionised agreements which inhibit and often prohibit mechanical reproduction and streaming
• We are locked into large facilities designed to ossify the ideal one way relationship between artists and audience based on the 19th C
• Our business model in the arts is locked in the 19thC. Based on the idea of the elite artistperforming at a particular time and place to an audience willing to pay a high price. ‘The maps they gave us are out of date by years’ Adrienne Rich
• but we’re not at the brink of annihilation – more a reformation –raising questions of who is entitled to practice, how are they entitled to practice and and whether they need anyone to intermediate in order for an audience to experience their work
• The means of artistic production and distribution have been democratised,
• A massive re-definition of the cultural market – anyone is a potential creator and, distributor
• Audience numbers may be plummeting – but participants are exploding beyond our wildest imagination…the we’re seeing the rise of the (professional amateurs)
• This is a world not of consumption but of participation


One thought on “Trapped in an underglass jar

  1. Pingback: Welcome to the Earth « Matthew Linley’s Blog

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