State of the arts

I’ve just spent an exhausting day at the State of the Arts Conference. I’ll have more to say about various details of the day, but for now the overall impression is that the arts world knows it’s on the brink of change, and wants to try to influence what happens next. (And if anyone out there says that the arts world is ‘on the cusp’ of whatever, they can go and look up the word ‘cusp’ and then drop and give me 20.)

One of the joys of a day like this is meeting up with people one hasn’t seen for ages, and having shouty debates over cooling cups of tea in a crowded foyer. There was plenty of that. Fortunately there was also some interesting content. The format was a little bit trying – leaning very heavily on panel discussions which all started with the chair droning through some biographical details, panel members standing up and going on slightly too long and slightly (or even mostly) off the point, and then not enough time for questions. The new habit of taking three or five questions at a time (never four) and then asking the panel to pick up on various points was irritating at first, but it actually works quite well. Matthew Taylor of the RSA made a particularly fine overall chair of the conference – informed, witty and, when necessary, tough. I’m about to interview him for AP so I mustn’t be too nice about him in print or I might jeopardise by journalistic objectivity (if I ever had any).

Another thing that came out of the conference for me was the feeling that in Liz Forgan we have exactly the right chair in these troubled times. She is formidable, warm, clever and not above a bit of subversion. She managed to be exceptionally polite and complimentary to Jeremy Hunt in the morning session (“never has a shadow culture ministry worked harder or with more relish”, etc.) while making it clear later on that his figures were out of date, and revealing a subtle camaraderie with Ben Bradshaw in the closing session. The Tories – and particularly Boris – have made it clear that they think Forgan is a Labour crony, and have issued dark warnings about ousting her as soon as they can if they get into power. For Dame Liz to show such grace in the circumstances was a great achievement.

For me the funniest moment of the conference was watching A&B chief exec Colin Tweedy’s face gradually grow purpler with the effort of trying to keep his unruly panel on-message. They were supposed to be talking about new business models, but ended up talking about anything but. I felt a certain sympathy, having been in his position myself a few times, but perhaps it was the choice of speakers that was mostly at fault. Having said that, Tassos Stevens of Coney, Alison Tickell of Julie’s Bicycle and Ammo Talwar of Punch Records all said some fascinating, interesting and passionate things.

The most moving moment was when Shobana Jeyasingh told us the story of a fine young dancer and choreographer who had found juggling the pressures of his mixed heritage and his identity too much and taken his own life at the age of 29. It came in a discussion about Cultural Rights which was truly absorbing and about which I will write again soon.

Find more about the conference at http://www.thersa.org. I’ve had problems logging on to this site this morning but you may have more luck.

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Published in: on January 15, 2010 at 12:54  Comments (1)  

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  1. “And if anyone out there says that the arts world is ‘on the cusp’ of whatever, they can go and look up the word ‘cusp’ and then drop and give me 20.”

    My tea came down my nose


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