Nov 272013
 

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?

WP_20131126_003There 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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Jan 292013
 
Play

There is a Liverpool theme to this week’s podcast. I travelled up to Liverpool at the weekend for a quick catch-up with my family, and rather than hanging around Liverpool One with the shoppers, I thought it might be a good idea to take a ‘snap-shot’ of some of the bands and performers that are making a name for themselves.

To help me with this, I met up with Jack Watson from ‘Windmill Moth Glue’, and Jack and I chatted about the Liverpool music scene in general, and the pressure for bands to conform now that Liverpool is a self-designated hub for culture.

Track-Listing Podcast 004 28th January 2013
Mango Shank – The Phantasmagorical Fruit Cave of Wonder
Stealing Sheep – White Lies
APATT – Yves Saint Laurent
Stig Noise Sound System – Western Europe Is 4 Weaklings (Like Us)
Windmill Moth Glue – Blade of Grass in a Bowl of Black Vomit
Enio Morricone – Dell’Orso – Matto, Caldro, Sold, Morto… Girotonday [from Dirty Angels]
Porest – Continental Revolt
Radio Pyongyang – Motherland Mega-Mix
The Hummingbirds – Doesn’t Really Matter
El Toro – Night of El Phantom
Lee Scott – Stay in School
DLA – Where I Live At (beat. One Armed Bandit)
Good Grief – Clean Up Your Own Shit, Pal
Kid Kin – You, Me & The Devil Makes Three

Jan 102013
 
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No Quarter Given Show Planning Spreadsheet

I spent this afternoons session for TECH3013 Advanced Radio Production working with the programme team to map out roles and task for the coming No Quarter Given Shows. Using Google Docs we have set-up a spreadsheet on which all of the key jobs and tasks are allocated and laid-out in a grid. This means that we can keep a track of who is supposed to be doing what and when. Google Docs has improved loads in recent times and means that we can share the document between us and update information as we go along.

Hopefully this means that the production process for the future content for No Quarter Given will be more efficiently produced and we can think about gaining access to bigger names and events. To help plan each programme we are using a document that gives the running order of the items, their timing and the script information that should be associated with the items. I like the idea of developing the scripted content for the programme. It means focussing before we venture in to the studio and really thinking about what we want to say.

At the beginning of March is the Cultural Exchanges Festival at De Montfort University, which we will be covering extensively for the programme. We are thinking of undertaking some live shows and building-in some more adventurous content, such as a live music performance. All into an hour on a Saturday morning?

Jan 102013
 
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No Quarter Given Website

I’ve been thinking about how the No Quarter Given Show that learners on my final year radio production module can be developed. We have been producing programmes that are broadcast each week on DemonFM, every Saturday from 12 to 1pm. A small group of learners have been consistent about developing and producing the content, but it doesn’t feel like it is enough, and the momentum that we gained in the early stages of the programme is in danger of falling back and slowing down.

I’ve taken a bit of a plunge and set-up a blog site at www.noquartergiven.co.uk that will interface with a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. The aim is to post and share content on the site and the pages, and then link them with the DemonFM site so that the content can be reformatted and pushed on as a podcast or as part of the DemonFM website.

I’ve not done any design for the site or the pages yet, other than to use a temporary image and logo that can fit into Twitter, Facebook and an iTunes feed. We will be linking the site to as many feeds and RSS accounts associated with the Leicester arts scene as we can. There is a lot of content that is generated in other site that we can reversion and use to supplement the original content that we produce.

The aim is to develop the site as a multimedia site that uses every form of media – video, images, audio and written content. I will be hosting the site myself, which will mean that I’ll be able to develop the capability of the site at my own pace and using the independent resources that are available to me. It also means that I can give users an email address each if they need it.

I hope this little expedition pays off, and that it allows the learners and other contributors to widen their net, and to take a much broader view of what they are able to produce. Who knows, the more that opportunities there are for sites like this to interconnect with each other, the more we can grow and support the arts and media in Leicester.