In Conversation at The Guardian with Melissa Denes and David Sabel

The Guardian culture professional network is a year old this September and yet it feels somehow like they have always been here. They slipped so neatly into the online hole in the sectors own communications and networking activities that it was a natural fit.

That’s why when the super dynamic Nancy Groves asked me to step up and be interviewed onstage by their ‘mainframe’ arts editor Melissa Denes I said yes without hesitation. I am also a fan of David Sable’s work with NTLive and being onstage chatting with both him and Melissa seemed like a pleasure.

The conversation touched on several ideas that I’ve been pondering recently and thankfully came together into a rather interesting discussion. Here are my reflections of what we talked about:

  • there is little or no instructional memory now in the Arts Council. The leaking and plundering of staff has left then forgetting the lessons of their own failures and having to learn them all over again.  Anyone remember ArtsOnline…? Reminds me of that wonderful line that Merlin utters in the movie Excalibur ‘it is the doom of men that they forget’.
  • the ongoing lack of attention share online for cultural institutions (the actual branded sites from museums and galleries etc) does not automatically apply to artistic rich sites where there is no ‘brand’ between the audience and the stuff. They seem to have a more immediate relationship with the content that is outside of any institutional identity and is based on shared passions and interest. I wonder, are institutions ultimately hamstrung by their own internal need to justify themselves and build brand? If you are not a popular brand (NT, Tate etc) then can you ever break through this? I would love to do some deeper research into the successes of artist sites in the same way we have done for museums in the Culture24 Let’s Get Real work.  Lois Keidan from the Live Art Development Agency had some great comments to make on these issues.
  • as the funding cuts slowly destroy and undermine the arts funding infrastructure, they will not necessarily destroy creativity or creative output. Individual institutions may close but I believe that by far the biggest problem will come from having a political culture that is risk adverse and fails to value education and learning. As time passes, this is where we will fail to achieve the spaces for free thinking,  provocation and genuine debate.  Without those maintaining sustainability and relevance in any sector is pretty hard.
  • there is nothing wrong with being an institution and having an internal need to justify your existence and build your own brand – if – you can be up front about that and stop trying to couch your online activities in a language of participation.
  • trying to imagine the future is impossible as we can only ever construct it out of our understanding of the past. As such it is always a shiny, bigger version of what we had yesterday and can never be the fundamental behaviour changing experiences that we will in fact come to know.  Check out the seriously mindblowing podcast of James Burke talking at dConstruct 2012 conference and read the transcript of Warren Ellis’s talk at the equally awesome Inspiring Reality conference entitles ‘How to see the future’.

There is a great Marshall McLuhan quote that sums it up “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future”.

Thanks to Nancy, David and Melissa for a great evening and to the audience for being so friendly.

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