The itinerary of out third session included an assessment of the social and economic values of the cultural sector and an informal panel discussion with selected members of Birmingham’s cultural sector.
The first part of the session was led by Amy Martin who gave an informal presentation that combined her life within the cultural industry and the value of this sector to society. She highlighted the main disciplines within this sector as:
- Visual Arts
- Digital Media
Before continuing to explain that the government invests into the creative & cultural sector through Arts Council England who spend taxpayer’s money in granting funds to arts and cultural activities. A group discussion then followed analysing the economic and social benefits of this investment and the reasons discovered were:
- ‘The Cultural Experience’- How a cultural event such as a fashion show or theatre performance stimulates money spent on food and merchandise and increases the footfall on a certain city as people will often ‘make a day’ of the experience by sightseeing and engaging in retail therapy.
- National Image- The export of culture on a global scale and a demonstration of the excellence and diversity contained within our country. A means of ‘putting Britain on the map’ and showcasing our commitment to independent artistic expression and creativity. (see home-grown such as Film4)
- Jobs and Rehabilitation- The creation of jobs in and around the industry which involves employing people to work backstage, catering, administration and marketing but also on a level of social responsibility by inspiring people to partake in these mediums. For example, to encourage discontent young people into embracing arts and culture to express themselves.
- Entertainment- As a tool for ‘winding down’ and escapism whether this entails tuning into the television after work or making the journey to a theatre to totally immerse oneself in a live and interactive atmosphere.
It is evident that culture serves EVERYONE’S needs in an economic, social, material and aesthetic sense.
After meditating on arts and culture in the present, in keeping with the futurist aesthetic of Birmingham 2022, Amy further noted how these seemingly disparate cultural disciplines frequently converge whether that be due to the rise of the internet inventing a more democratic age where everybody can participate in culture or the combination of ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures such as a theatrical appropriation of Shrek. Whether these cultural slippages are artistically valid or a ‘dumbing down’ of culture is open for debate, this nevertheless signifies the increasing growth and relevance of cultural events.
The second part of the session focused on a panel discussion with four members of Birmingham’s cultural sectors. The panel featured Ruth Claxton (Director of Eastside Projects and practising artist), Noel Dunne (involved with an organisation that offers advice and guidance for Birmingham’s emerging creative talent called Creative Alliance), Dan Whitehouse (the Next Generation producer at mac) and Katie Banks (Head of Education and Community at Town Hall and Symphony Hall). Chaired by Amy, the panel sunk their teeth into questions from the floor.
Rather than typing up the discussion verbatim, I will mention the key themes that showcased the similar ethos of the group:
- Career convergence- As previously mentioned, different cultural areas have overlapped in each of the panel’s careers. Each of them listed a long resume of jobs that involved dabbling and experimenting out of their comfort zones until they became content in their chosen field.
- Beg, steal and borrow- A career in the cultural sector requires a strong value system, graft, persistence and drive. The confidence and enthusiasm to not only throw yourself into challenges but to realise when a chosen area is not for you. Must be willing to subsidise yourself with evening and part-time jobs whilst experimenting with your creativity and trying to break into your chosen area. Make it happen yourself!
- In relation to our thinking about the future of Birmingham, the panel answered questions about the future of the cultural sector:
- Globalisation- Many noted, particularly Ruth that ‘art was a global language’ and that exhibitions were becomingly increasingly popular on an international scale.
- The Concept of Creativity- How ideas about venues/exhibitions will change with the influence of the internet in creating an online virtual space for advertising and artistic displays. How the Internet and mass media can alter the concept of creativity in the blink of an eye.
- The Shrinking of the Industry- Budget cuts have left arts and culture in a more precarious and limiting position than previous and how personal drive and enterprise using new technologies can combat the lack of outside funding, introducing a new D.I.Y ethos.
- The Library of Birmingham- How, as Dan stated, ‘it must become more than a library’ and encapsulate the convergence and inter-disciplinary ideas that are clear in the cultural industry. Working as a meeting place and community project rather than a space reserved entirely for books.
Written by Dan Owens