• April 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Apr    
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    2930  
  • Advertisements

Will the real Renaissance please stand up?

 

Culture Secretary James Purnell says in today’s Guardian (5 Jan 08);

“Community arts in many ways can be excellent in a different way from, say, the National Theatre. But what I wouldn’t say is, ‘We’ll tolerate average work because it happens to be in a particular location.”

In another part of the article the MP says, “If any part of our cultural sector is substandard, it’s not worth subsidising. Garbage in, garbage out.”

The article, by John Harris continues;

“He (Purnell) talks about ‘engagement with communities’ and the need ‘to spread the best culture around the whole country’. The (Sir Brian) McMaster review outlines the need for some big institutions – the Royal Ballet springs to mind -to get out more; the new idea, Purnell says, is ‘touring in a strategic way”.

The McMaster policy review’s official title is Supporting Excellence in the Arts and will be published by the government next week. Purnell is an enthusiastic advocate of the review telling the Guardian, “When Brian talks about the potential for a New Renaissance, I don’t think that is an overstatement. It’s exactly true.”

The idea of a renaissance in the arts is an in interesting one, but also problematic in the terms of how Purnell describes it. To dictate from the top-down the approach that the renaissance will take goes against the very nature of reactionary rebelliousness that lay at the heart of 15th Century Italian forerunner that Purnell and McMaster are prophesising. The heretic notions such as; the fact that the earth travels around the sun; the ‘right’ to publish and own personal Bibles translated into native languages other than Latin; and the realisation that the monarchy and clergy were not divine and citizens were equals with rights in society, were aspects of the anti-establishment feelings of the time that gave rise to the renaissance period. The leaders of the day were quick to captalise on the turning tides and cleverly appropriated renaissance ideas to suit their own ends in the tense relationships between church, state and nations, but the fact remains that the reformation spirit of the times were underground and punishable by death for treason and heresy.

Radical alternative media was at the centre of this spark for new thinking. As James Curran describes in ‘Communication, power and social order’ in Culture, Society and the Media (1988 – page 218);

“In a more general sense, the rise of the manuscript and subsequently of the printed book also fostered the development of an alternative culture. Although the bulk of scribal and early print output was in Latin and religious in content, the production and dissemination of vernacular texts helped to foster a parallel secular culture based on national languages and dialects, drawing upon indigenous cultural traditions.”

So, what is the refomation thinking in the UK today that this new Purnell/McMaster renaissance will follow? Well I would say that it will only come within a hair’s breadth of being a renaissance if it is led by the citizens not the leaders, and certainly broader than National Theatre and the Royal Ballet. It is all well and good for the financial gate-keepers of culture like James Purnell to say that ‘average’ and ‘substandard’ work will not be tolerated, as they want value for money. And I would also argue that cultural creative endevevours should be of a high standard to marry content with style, but as Purnell describes it is to see a renaissance as a glorified cultural tour, brining quality works to the people. As noble as that may, be, that is no renaissance, that is still a form of cultural imperialism.

A true renaissance cannot and will not be brokered by leaders or gatekeepers. It will be in places anarchic and in other places passivley (and maybe ignorantly) building on the shoulders
of those anarchic pioneers. At present the early (and I mean early!) signs of any new renaissance is in Web 2.0, in illigal counter-cultural activities such as graffiti, and also (of course) in the activities of the home bedroom music makers, film makers and other DIY producers of modern culural artefacts. Community & Independent media producers are the Galilleos and Martin Luthers to Mass Media’s Papacy, Emperors, and, ahem, Murdochs. But the 15th Century renaissance didn’t effect and influence the arts. It changed governments, influenced religions and shaped the cultural and moral values in the Western worlds. As idealist as we may be today, we still have a long way to go.

Are we actually in the midst of a new renaissance? It would be great if we were, but alas I guess I will never know as that surely is not the within the grasp of any of is to really know. We will be long gone and in a few centuries time it will be left to the historians of the day to define our ra for us. We are too close to recognise a renaissance if it came and gave us a lapdance! It’s also probably arrogant of us to even try define our endevevours in terms of refomations, renaissances, etc, but when people are passionate about what they do, what they believe in and the connection between the two, then, with feet firmly on the ground (like Galillio), it is good to think big.

I agree with James Purnell when he says, “Why shouldn’t we be that ambitious?”

Yes, as long as we are not attempting to shape others’ ambitions for them.

© Shawn Sobers 2007

Advertisements

Media Literacy and the Power of Institutions

10 days ago I went to the Houses of Parliament with my comrades Emma Agusita and Cathy Poole, for a seminar discussing Media Literacy, hosted Danny Alexander MP and the Associate Parliamentary Media Literacy Group. After introductions by Danny, Ian Hargreaves (Dir of Ofcom & Researcher at Cardiff Uni), and Peter Packer (Strategy Adviser to UK Film Council and UK Media Literacy Task Force), there followed presentations from young people involved in news production media projects with the BBC (School Report) and Channel 4 (Breaking the News).

monet

The Houses of Parliament, yesterday.

Both projects and presentations were impressive, and demonstrated to the audience the great things that can happen when professional practitioners work with young people, and visa versa.

BBC’s ‘School Report’ involved 11-14 year olds from 120 schools to produce video reports about stories from their local areas and issues that effect their worldviews. This project was linked with Hackney’s City Learning Centre and Vivi Lachs, (who I first came across in 2002 at a FutureLab conference at the Watershed in Bristol named ‘Contagious Creativity’. I was immediately inspired by her back then and was pleased to see her still on the front line of media literacy education). The children talked about the video reports they produced, which ranged from Muslim children discussing their responses to feeling ‘British’, a report on the ‘true picture of Hackney’ (in response to a C4 programme naming the area the worst place to live), and the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They also interviewed Tony Blair and had 2 days support time with BBC journalists. Helen Shreeve from BBC said their aim was for this experience to be had by EVERY 11-14 year old at least once in every school across the country.

Channel 4’s ‘Breaking the News’, as described by it’s co-ordinator Adam Gee, involved 14-16 year olds from schools and community organisations to attend C4 news briefings to get a true behind-the-scenes insight, and they came up with alternative ways of producing news stories. They also set up parallel news rooms in various schools and set up an online editor which allowed the young people to edit stories in their own way. One of the big impacts of this project was the way it made the C4 producers such as Martin Fewell, (deputy editor of Channel 4 News) think differently about their audiences, and take them out of the comfort zone of always reporting certain stories in a certain way. (Time will tell as to how this will change on screen.)

In the Q&A session with the young people, the most common responses to the question, “what impact have these projects had on you?” were;

1) Self-confidence
2) Wanting to be a journalist
3) Ability to have own voice heard

Both BBC and C4 are rolling out their projects to be taken up by schools and other groups across the country, or actually anywhere in the world as the resources are web based.

There is no doubt that these were fantastic projects, though watching the presentations I had a strange sense of de ja vu, as they (especially BBC’s School Report) was identical to our (Firstborn Creatives’) 2003 – present project Channel Zer0. (Or to see the website for Channel Zer0 in text only version rather than Flash, click here) What I saw in these presentations in Parliament was Channel Zer0 again, though on a much grander and gigantic scale. Please know that with these comments I’m not being a jealous playa hata as I’m applauding them on their achievements. It was slightly strange for me though as I saw before me how an institution such as the BBC could (seemingly) effortlessly mobilise in 4 months a project that we have been trying to really galvanise over 4 years. Same with the Channel 4 project which was also quite similar.

channel zer0

And here in lies the opportunity for a more sustainable future for both BBC’s and Channel 4’s projects, that I fear hasn’t really been grasped as yet.

Both are relying on teachers, youth workers, etc, to visit & download their online resources and replicate the projects year after year. The BBC talked about this years schools becoming mentors for the news schools. Whilst knowing the BBC I’m sure they could make this happen, but really teachers are far too busy and already swamped by initiatives for a huge number of them to take it upon themselves to deliver an online media literacy project.

Here BBC & C4 are missing the opportunity to commission community media companies across the country to take these initiatives forward in the subsequent years after this initial pilot. Helen Shreeve quite rightly said they wouldn’t be able to give the same access tob BBC journalists, etc as they did this year, but contracting smaller media companies to take this work forward would allow access to media expertise. Here it might sound like I’m touting for work for Firstborn Creatives, which I very well might be, but much bigger than that is the unique opportunity for the big institutions such as BBC & C4 work strategically with the smaller community media companies to deliver an annual project that would have national impact, and a model globally on what is achievable in the name of media literacy.

To be fair both Adam and Helen did suggest they could link with community video outfits, but the emphasis and resources definitely were steering in the direction of their online resources. For starters, they are A LOT cheaper than getting funding to commission a load of community media organisations. Finance is obviously a huge issue here. But so is the opportunity. I’ll work my hardest to at least getting it discussed at a deeper, logistical level.

Watch this space.