#artsmeetingspace

The rather brilliant and inspiring Lucy Ellinson, who you many of you may know and many of you may know of from her One Minute Manifestos last year at Forest Fringe or the numerous other things that she has done, is doing some brilliant working encouraging the creation of #artsmeetingspace, that is a virtual and occasionally real-world space in which we can come together to talk about the cuts (both to the arts and, importantly, in general). A space in which we can talk and argue and share ideas about possible responses to the cuts and hear more about other movements that are responding in different sectors.

One of the things I object to most in this particular barrage is the way in which the conservatives have circumvented any discussion around the ideological basis for these cuts by constantly reinforcing a problematic and misleading rhetoric about our catastrophic and unprecedented deficit. The present assault upon Vodaphone is, I think, perhaps the simplest demonstration of the degree to which people are aware that there is an ideology behind these cuts that the government almost totally avoided making a case for, simply by putting on their very best frowny and sincere faces and saying ‘yes we understand, of course we agree with you, but there’s nothing we could do.’

Whilst such spectacular compromises are brokered with big business it somewhat disingenuous that for every other sector all we get is some apologetic shoulder-shrugging Lib Dem hauled out to mumble defiantly about how their hands were tied and its actually all Labour’s fault. But this is the New Image-aware Conservatives, like some be-suited Etonite version of the Aliens from Mars Attacks, they will avoid any confrontation by simply agreeing with everything you say, then going ahead with what they wanted to do anyway, claiming they had no choice.

I couldn’t be at the #artsmeetingspace event organised yesterday and Lucy asked me if there was anything I wanted to contribute in absentia. I said yes maybe there was, and this is it:

I guess the main thing I’ve been is important it feels that we encourage an infrastructure for ourselves that that functions like a union.

When I say a union I don’t mean an organisation necessarily, or a lobbying body. I mean an infrastructure that allows us to do what unions allow other more conventionally organised sectors or industries to do, that is to construct our own vocabulary and our own context around our work. An infrastructure that gives us the space and opportunity to articulate why what we do is important on our own terms. A body that in its construction, in how it is organised and how it functions, embodies the kind of politics that we believe in. An infrastructure that also brings together a pool of skills and talent, a significant number of people – a mobilisable community that can contribute its part to a wider critical movement against the excesses of these cuts and of this government.

In the thinking we’ve done around the future of Forest Fringe, I’ve definitely been wondering about how it might be a part of that kind of infrastructure. That is partly what motived us to want to set our very clearly what we feel Forest Fringe is; to serve as a statement of intent. To demonstrate that the present structure of Forest Fringe is not merely the embryo that naturally develops into a more centrally organised, better funded organisation. An organisation that slots more neatly into the prevailing rhetoric of the ‘culture industry’ and that is thus required to justify itself in more stringently economic terms; to demonstrate its viability, its value for money, its reach, its excellence. As Stewart Lee has recently stated, those are battles fought on government’s terms and they will, in the end, justify our own destruction.

We wanted to ensure that Forest Fringe remained above all else a community and thus was answerable only to that community, that is the artists and audiences that make up Forest Fringe. It only needs to justify itself in terms of whether it is serving those people. That is the measure of its success and that to me feels a very different standard by which to judge ourselves and a very different means of articulating the value of what we do. In figuring out how Forest Fringe is going to change and evolve (which it has to do because Debbie and I can’t go on like this forever) It felt important that Forest Fringe continued to be primarily a community and not a business for exactly those reasons.

Which is definitely, definitely not to disparage the majority arts organisations that must function as businesses – they are the rock on which this whole arts ecology is built. What I am saying is that perhaps, coming back to my opening point, it is important to have organisations like Forest Fringe to function alongside these formal institutions. I like the idea that we would all seek to be part of both a conventional arts organisations and contributing to a more informal grouping. I hope Forest Fringe might serve as an example of the kind of informal, collaborative, community-led organisation that works with and alongside those established arts businesses, functioning as a space in which we can discuss and share and articulate the value of what we do in terms not reliant on economic notions of value and excellence. Where we get a chance to say what we think is important and why, rather than being told what is important and asked to demonstrate how we meet that criteria.

So what this perhaps comes down to is the suggestion that what we need to establish is an infrastructure made up of a network of informal organisations that complement our professional work. Spaces constructed out of shared values, shared generosity, shared enthusiasm and shared commitment.

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