....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Saturday, 8 December 2012

From the Rammy to the Reel?

Scots are among the best people in the world to be in a fight with – everything can be going hammer and tongs and then, out of nowhere, an invisible switch is flicked and before anyone knows what is happening we are all drinking, dancing and congratulating each other on the rammy. Considering the National Arts Conversation (NAC) my feeling is that we should recognise the events of the last week as such a ‘lightswitch moment’ and, at the risk of pushing this metaphor too far, that we maybe miss out the swally but get straight into a dance.

We ‘the artists’ need to pay due recognition and honour to the manner in which the CS board admitted fault and held out a hand of friendship and cooperation. Such a gesture will not have been easy and it demands a wholehearted and generous response in return.
Much has been made of the amount of ‘business people’ on the board and ‘businessspeak’ coming from CS – we should also recognise a genuine attempt in the statement to forge a common language between all parties connected with the organisation. Further, as we dance together, I believe that a balanced and trusting relationship between excellence in ‘artists’ and excellence in ‘business’ can forge something genuinely visionary – something that can open new doors and shift arts practice in Scotland onto a whole new level. We need to value the skills of everyone prepared to be part of the reel.

So – to practical steps. My first reaction to the current position is that CS should appoint an Interim CEO – a time limited post with a specific remit to support a process of development and innovation….this to put us in a position where we know exactly the kind of person we want as our permanent CEO in the future. I suggest this interim appointment be until the end of 2014, that artists be represented on the selection panel for the recruitment….and further that this Interim CEO period also includes the appointment of an artist-in-residence to CS....to animate the NAC for everyone (for the avoidance of doubt - I don’t want the job).

One of the potentially useful effects of such an approach would be that the new permanent CEO would be appointed after the referendum – this might make charting the political course through the next 2 years a little simpler for our ‘semi-autonomous governmental organisation’

……seconds IN…..round two
One of the big questions we need to consider….and consider VERY quickly, is the need for what follows to be a genuinely inclusive and visionary approach to communication and debate. We owe a huge debt to the team of national arts journalists who have kept this issue in the public eye and played a big part in getting us to this place. (Having Phil Miller’s twitterfeed on constant refresh yesterday is something that will stay with me for a long time – thanks Phil you have done great service to our sector)

What the journalists did was gather disparate voices into some form of consensus that was comprehensible to CS , the public and the politicians. 

However, what we need now is for a full and nuanced debate to flow…something that really is a DANCE and like a dance needs to be something that everyone is equally involved in, no one leads and at the end we all feel that we all feel we have played our part in making something together. To me, this means that we need to let go of the concept of consensus for a while - people attempting to ‘sum up’ the situation as we go could be very counterproductive …..leading to some people feeling that particular views are being given precedence. We are embarking on a quest for a structure in which everyone feels they have permission to speak…..a structure of  ‘Adhocracy’ which reflects creativity throughout (thanks to Susan Pettie and Andrew Lyon for the concept). I would ask that our friends the journalists allow us to go through the ‘messy’ process of creative collaboration and not turn this process into any form of news story.

Cue fiddles…..

Footnote - just a little more clarification on what I am saying about the kind of communication space I believe we need.......it was certainly not my intention to decry the role of journalists, I have the greatest respect for their job as guardians of truth, commentators/crtics and callers to account....I 100% meant what I said above about the invaluable role journalism has played in getting us this far (even if I have occasionally called for people to not overheat the situation). 
What I am saying is that we must make a space in which everyone feels comfortable to contribute opinions and ideas - it is my experience that a significant percentage of people, with something to say, feel reluctant to add their voice to a conversation when they believe that a) it will become public in a way that they have no control over, b) they will be shouted down by others more confident in their public voice or c) that speaking out will in some way compromise them professionally.
We need to hold open a public space that everyone feels safe, trusted and valued within - like anyone else, journalists are welcome in that space and subject to the rules of the space.......all I am suggesting is that it is to everyone's advantage to take some of the heat out of the overall situation right now - to enable the best dialogue to take place.

Such a space might be online - it might be a series of open meetings - it might be an cross-disciplinary arts festival. Lets use the networks and tools we have just now to throw ideas out there and see what sticks...(the messy business of the creative process!)

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