Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

A prized possession: a photograph from shortly after the First World War of a group of young people, in an architect practice clearly relaxed and friendly. The only woman in the photo is neatly but fashionably dressed. Her name is Chrissie Millar and she is stenographer. Both parents are dead and with her elder brother in Australia, she is supporting herself and younger sister Peggy by working. Chrissie has learnt shorthand and typing and landed this respectable position. We can assume, despite her skills, she would not be as well paid as the men. She also did not have the vote. Yet women like Chrissie were central to supporting commercial and telecommunications boom taking place at that time. Keyboard and shorthand skills, not known to many men outside journalism, were, and continued to be regarded, as women’s skills. Stenographer became typist, became secretary, became PA. (more…)


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I was in Edinburgh for six days during his year’s festival season, saw bunch of shows, couple of exhibitions, walked in the Botanics and caught up with friends and family. However what stuck in the mind now I am back home were three sessions at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. There was a revealing exchange between two great political cartoonist from the Guardian- Steve Bell and Gary Trudeau and an entertaining hour with Chris Mullin, former MP and political diarist whose latest volume has just been published and has been serialised on BBC Radio 4. (Sound much more entertaining than you-know- whose political memoirs also published last week). And looking ahead there was a debate on A Manifesto for Culture which was excellently chaired by Charlotte Higgins again from the Guardian and had a panel of Vicky Featherstone, National Theatre of Scotland, Penelope Curtis, Tate Britain, and Fiona Hyslop MSP, Minister for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government.
The first striking aspect of this event (apart from the fact it was packed on a rainy Saturday evening) was the line up of women. It is tiresome to constantly go to events where all the contributors are male and while I prefer a balance of all sorts, this was refreshing in its distinctively female voice. What it lacked in the cut and thrust of political debate (a point well-made by a young woman from Austria in the audience), it made up for in a thought- provoking introduction by Vicky on the responsibility of cultural institutions to artists and a some pointed comments from Penelope on how collaborations across art forms had led to some terrible work. But what about the politician? Fiona, (for that is what everyone called her, not Minister or anything so formal) banged the drum for her brief and was robust in declaring how important arts and culture is to her SNP Government in terms of education, tourism and economic development. There was an acknowledgement of the tough times to come but no suggestion that the arts and heritage are being singled out — quite the opposite.
The UK is facing the first major reduction in public expenditure since devolution. As the late Donald Dewar, (first) First Minister of Scotland said about devolution in 1999, ‘ This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.’ The whole point of the parliament and assemblies is to reflect values and priorities of the nations. It is cultural.
Today it is easy for an SNP government in Edinburgh to say warm things and then wash their hands and point to Westminster when the cuts come. The weekend saw an announcement of projected big cuts of £3.7 bn over next four years in the Scottish budget. It is unlikely that Fiona Hyslop’s department won’t take a big hit. Elsewhere in the UK, The Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) in Northern Ireland has warned of difficult times ahead and Arts Council Wales has begun the process of making cuts to its budget.
But what about England? The Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, was one of the first out of the starting blocks in offering up cuts to the Treasury. The mood music from London is distinctly chilly towards the arts and heritage. So, what would happen if the cuts were less savage elsewhere in the UK? Would we see a talent drain away from England? What would happen if artists, the heart of our creative output moved to Cardiff, Belfast or Edinburgh – or just as likely Derry and Glasgow? A global city like London could cope with this, but how about Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol Newcastle/Gateshead? It would also have an impact on smaller cities like Coventry. Culturally -led regeneration may be on the way out but it is dead if the artists leave.

Christine Hamilton

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The reason I was not at the Tom Hingley seminar was because I was at the Warwick Arts Centre watching this documentary shown as part of a Burning Issues series curated by John Gore, the WAC film programmer. Comedian Arthur Smith was the guest speaker – who is always entertaining – but the film was too American-centric and the discussion afterwards veered too-often towards opinionated waffle (where was the informed, cultural studies or linguist expert?). For me, a debate about the c-word would have been more relevant for our culture, at this time, and how its use seems to be creeping back as a result of Amercian TV.

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