Tag Archive for 'No Quarter Given'

City of Dreams – What Next for Leicester?

Last night I attended the recording of the BBC Leicester debate ‘What’s Next for Leicester?’ after its bid to become the UK Capital of Culture 2017 failed. As a structured debate the BBC are expert at bringing people together to consider a controversial subject in-depth. This should have been a vibrant and dynamic discussion about the cultural activities that matter, not only to ordinary citizens and residents, but also to people who want to push ahead and take a lead in arts and culture in the city. Instead, this debate was sterile and had about as much passion as a group of accountants trying to settle a bill at a business development seminar.

The panel included Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor; Cllr Nick Rushton, the leader of Leicestershire County Council; Fiona Allen, chief executive of Curve theatre. Aminata Kimara, Artistic Director of Unidentified Drama theatre company, and James Bowen, MD of the Belmont Hotel.  The recording was tucked away on the top floor of Curve, in one of the private seminar rooms, with an audience that was brought together by invitation only, based on a carefully controlled list of attendees. Perhaps this is representative of the wider issues of cultural and economic debate in Leicester?

There was no strong creative voice expressed on the panel, and no testimony by grassroots creative practitioners to relate this debate to the experiences of creative artists and activists who struggle to get by in Leicester. The debate and discussion focussed, instead, on the problems of booking hotel rooms and planning a ‘brand’ for the city. Important as these things are, I can’t help but think that this is putting the cart before the horse. Where is the creative leadership? Where are the artists, and writers and producers and developers of creative content, performers, activists and events planners? Surely an ethos of creative ambition and intention – dare I say a manifesto – needs to be articulated before the debate is turned to models of organisation, business planning and marketing?

There was no mention during the discussion of what actually takes place in Leicester. Look at Pedestrian, Off The Fence, Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery, Handmade Festival, among many other groups. Then there is FD2D, The Monograph, Arts in Leicestershire, and [the bizarrely titled] Leicester: It’s Not Shit, who are telling the story of how Leicester’s arts and creative communities work and what makes them interesting – and have been doing so for a long time. Did any of these groups get given any acknowledgement or recognition in the official debate? If I was being unkind, I’d say that the expectation is that the community arts and grassroots creative champions are expected merely to sit in the audience and listen to the executive managers devise a strategy on their behalf, and then they are expected to act as ‘brand ambassadors‘ for something that they don’t feel they belong to, didn’t help form, and yet are still expected to be grateful for, even when it doesn’t work in their interest.

Would the debate be stronger if it brought together people who practice art and creative performance in the city? Would it have been a stronger debate if the people who administer and manage the infrastructure had taken seats in the audience instead? Who is empowered to speak in this debate is as important as what they speak about? Where are the young people? Where are the voices that are marginalised? Where is the challenge to the people who hold the purse strings and make the spending decisions?

I wonder, though, that Leicester has missed the boat when it comes to the creative economy debate? Does there need to be a de-coupling of the economic and the cultural regeneration debate in the city? Would Leicester be better served by cutting its arts and culture free from the professional management organisations and allowing them to find their own feet? Would the regeneration money be better spent on technology infrastructure, on transport infrastructure, on environmental development? The point was made well on Jim Davis’ BBC Leicester phone-in this morning: ‘If people don’t have cash in their pockets to spend, they can’t be going to events and theatre?’ If you can’t get a cheap bus into the city then you are cut-off from what’s on offer. Perhaps solving these problems is less attractive and brings less glamour, but its a whole lot more important.

Realistically, Leicester has to face up to the fact that other cities are doing the creative economy thing better, and have stolen a march by building infrastructure and networks that have more pull and a stronger sense of identity. Investing in challenging creative activities is not just about spending money on prestige buildings, it is about creating space for people to share and experiment. Other cities, though, have put massive amounts of money, time and expert investment into their infrastructure, buildings, services and communication networks. Leicester doesn’t have an independent contemporary gallery? Perhaps this tells us something about the nature of the debate and gives us a sense of why the next steps for Leicester have to be founded on more than a sense of optimism and blind hope. While Leicester is Forever Steadfast, it isn’t a city of dreams, and ironically, that’s the strength that being missed.

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Rob Watson » DMU 2013-11-21 12:36:54

Leicester’s Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby Photographed in the Leicester Mercury

We were particularly impressed with Hull’s evidence of community and creative engagement”. These are the words of the selecting committee for the UK Capital of Culture that was announced on Wednesday and reported in the Leicester Mercury. Hull’s successful bid to be the next host city emphasised the down-to-earth nature of the city, with the campaign video, according to The Telegraph, emphasising the city’s ‘Golden Rules’:

Don’t go thinking you’re something you’re not; don’t go thinking that you’re better than anybody else, or that anybody else is better than you, and don’t shout about it, get on with it.”

As Leicester takes stock and thinks about why it’s own bid didn’t succeed, it might be worth looking at Hull’s golden rules and asking what can be learnt from this ethos and applying them in Leicester?

If you start modestly, and don’t go unnecessarily claiming to be a world-class city, as Hull suggested it restrains itself from doing, then what implications does this approach have that would benefit arts and culture in Leicester? If the judges where impressed with the level of ‘community and creative engagement’ in Hull’s bid, why did Leicester not represent itself well on this score? Would Leicester benefit from having an extended period of ‘just getting on with things’, rather than thinking that it has to be flag waving to get noticed?

If we take Hull’s advice and stop shouting and get on with things, what are the things that would want to get done? How would these things be done with the support of the grassroots communities in Leicester? Who’s voices and stories would we validate and recognise? How can Leicester develop a mindset that pulls together and blends the diverse range of life stories associated with the city at a time of considerable social and cultural challenge?

Lets not forget, however, that funding for local authorities across the region is about to be cut considerably again. Economic regeneration for Leicester can’t be pinned on a lack-lustre creative enterprise dream when the reality has been that demand for creative services has been sucked out of the economy since the collapse of the banks in 2008. If Leicester is to be realistic, it has to do more than just pin its hopes on the bones of a dead king bringing in a few quid here and there.

Perhaps its time to think about how alternative types of civic, cultural and sustainable commercial engagement can be valued? Forms of engagement that give voice to the unique and vibrant ideas and opinions that are crying-out to be heard in Leicester? Fostering a diverse community-led culture that generates stories and connections between people of all ages, races, classes and backgrounds won’t happen by itself. This needs to be supported – and let’s be honest – without spending even modest amounts of cash, because there are other priorities crying out to be fixed first (pavements, roads, playgrounds, care homes, and more).

The questions that I’ve always had about the challenge of Leicester’s city of culture bid are pretty obvious:

  • Was there enough emphasis on grassroots support?
  • In what way could the social impact of community-led culture be enhanced in Leicester?
  • Was the bid shaped by a desire for economic regeneration rather than as something that iscreative, imaginative, challenging and inclusive?
  • Has Leicester done enough to invest in it’s cultural and community services in the past?
  • Did the bid rely on too many established events and entertainment formats without breaking enough new ground?
  • Would Leicester’s bid appeal to people from across the United Kingdom, Europe and internationally?

There are alternative ways of thinking about community approaches to culture in Leicester. Approaches that offer a different vision to the corporate, tick-box mentality that permeates much of our civic and working lives. This culture would need to offer the chance, at the very least, of being an alternative to the centralised and top-down approach that dominates, and would be one that is built, instead, as Henry Jenkins and others suggest, on “technical affordances that encourage iterative approaches to tasks, fluid roles and a lack of hierarchy, shared rather than owned material, and granular approaches to problem solving, network society encourages collaboration on projects by a ‘hive’ community. This community creates through an ‘on-going, perpetually unfinished, iterative and evolutionary process of gradual development of the informational resources shared by the community’” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. 183).

Rather than thinking about Leicester’s cultural identity as something that can be branded and marketed in a temporary slogan, the emphasis has to be on the opportunities that people have to live, share and express their sense of identity through the things that they participate in. We aren’t drones who follow a pre-determined and centralised cultural message, so instead, lets trust people to invest in their own sense of expression and their own sense of identity, and build Leicester’s cultural confidence from the ground up. Remember, reputations are built and not bought.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.

No Quarter Given Planning Session

Despite the rain this morning, the students for MEDS3108 Forms and Practices of Radio wandered away from the DMU campus over to Phoenix Arts for a coffee and a natter about the No Quarter Given reports they will be producing. It was good to sit and chat about the different arts and culture events that we are all interested in and would like to hear more about in the regular podcasts from the site. The next few weeks is going to be spent doing some background research and checking out some potential stories. So watch out for a regular update from the site.

No Quarter Given Planning Session

Despite the rain this morning, the students for MEDS3108 Forms and Practices of Radio wandered away from the DMU campus over to Phoenix Arts for a coffee and a natter about the No Quarter Given reports they will be producing. It was good to sit and chat about the different arts and culture events that we are all interested in and would like to hear more about in the regular podcasts from the site. The next few weeks is going to be spent doing some background research and checking out some potential stories. So watch out for a regular update from the site.

Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Open Exhibition Preview

wpid-BUYgb30IcAA9IYa-300x225-2013-09-18-20-142.jpgLast night I was at the preview for the 2013 Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Members Open Exhibition. I chatted to the guests and exhibitors about the photographs that are on display and what they thought of having the chance in Leicester to take part in such a democratic exhibition.

Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery – Royal Photographic Society Exhibition Launch

wpid-BOv9W-SCMAIi1co-300x225-2013-07-15-09-01.jpgThe Royal Photographic Society Exhibition came to Leicester’s People’s Photographic Gallery on Tuesday 9th July. Rob Watson caught up with some of the visitors and supporters of the gallery and asked what they thought of the exhibition.






Mad Hatters Tea Party – Stigmaart Summer Exhibition

The annual Summer exhibition by members of Stigmmart, who are affected by mental ill health, or are ex-offenders, will be open for public viewing from Monday 1st July until Thursday 1st of August. The exhibition, The Mad hatter’s tea party, hosted by Stigmaart, a member led mutual cooperative, will showcase art created by members from [...]