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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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or 

 I wonder if anyone will ever realise how wonderful it all was?

Mimi, Chinchilla, Robert David MacDonald, 1977

The biggest mystery of the last few weeks is how passive  civil society has been about the  cuts in public expenditure.  The reasons usually proffered for this are, first, the complete  absence of political  opposition and second, a compliant media, generally supportive of the coalition government.  Third, the trade union movement has industrial muscle in some sectors, but little political clout.  And this is not the whole story– as Joyce Macmillan, one of the finest journalists in Scotland has pointed out in her blog: the SNP is also rolling over to the cuts agenda despite having the power to raise taxes  and with no Tory/LibDem support left in Scotland.  http://joycemcmillan.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/the-dog-that-did-not-bark-or-the-strange-silence-of-the-snp-column-31-7-10

It could be, of course, that wholesale public sector  cuts is the correct response to our desperate financial situation.  This is indeed the triumph of the Cameron/Osborne strategy: having bought off the LibDems, and with Labour in a post election stupor, not only have they the political clout, they also have succeeded in persuading us to believe a new story.  For,  it’s not all the fault of greedy bankers.  No, it’s public sector workers who are to blame.  In a twinkle of an eye the ‘public sector’  has changed  meaning from ‘the services needed by us all’ to ‘leeches living off the state’.  Never has a term been so completely transformed since ‘asylum seeker’  stopped meaning fleeing ballet dancers and became ‘economic migrants taking our jobs’.   And many do believe cuts in public sector jobs and services are inevitable  but the severity and brutality and long term nature of these is perhaps not yet apparent. Of course the other great change in rhetoric is around taxes- remember when LibDems advocated  1p in the pound tax rise to support the NHS?

Which brings me back to the question, when will the fightback begin?  Where is the focus for opposition? This has become more and more urgent critical over the last few weeks as the in-year cuts were implemented, and announcements are made about the closure of  some key agencies particularly those working on enterprise, job creation and skills.  I am sitting here in the real world of the West Midlands  —  as opposed to the virtual one –and seen the near complete dismantling of all regional bodies.  This region no longer exists.

The arts and wider creative industries is the main interest of this blog and we already have witnessed some dramatic closure announcement  in MLA and UK Film.  The Arts Council has asked for organisations to plan on 10% cuts as a minimum for next year and local authorities are battling to balance the needs of the most vulnerable and needy against the obvious advantages of a buzzy cultural scene serving all citizens.  So bad times are ahead whether or not you were thinking of a career in  museum service, setting up a new creative company and looking for some enterprise support or wishing to work in arts education.    

We must, we are told, look to private sector patronage to fill the gap.  Let’s look to the US.  Bank of America Merrill Lynch spends $40m globally,  less than Arts Council Wales.    

The  problem is we are relying on old arguments: the economic impact of our cultural sector- jobs created, tourists attracted, GVA generated, the link between the creative artists and multi million earners like Harry Potter.  Doesn’t wash.  We point to kids who are inspired,  old people engaged, disabled people who find new ways of communicating,  prisoners who repent — on it goes but does not chime with the new politics. Even heritage preserved, traditions cherished, does not seem to work with this government.

Maybe batten down the hatches and wait until tidal wave has swept all away and then start re-building is the only response. But surely there is a better one than that?

I would like to think so.  Some of us can start by responding to the invitations to contribute to the Parliamentary Select Committee http://fb.me/EJmvKRBU and pick up  and use the information provided by the Arts Council. http://fb.me/EPjj8OI8

But it has to go beyond that and really engage some creative people out there with finding new ways of campaigning and, as artists do, bear witness to what is happening..  The fight back has to start now and here.

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Thurs 10th September 11.00 am – 5.00pm

F2 Digital Creative Development Programme is a 6 month project for established creative professionals,  based in the West Midlands, who want to investigate the opportunities offered by digital media, form new collaborative partnerships and develop new ideas. The programme will offer artists, producers, writers, developers and practitioners from a range of backgrounds an opportunity to explore new forms of practice and challenge them to develop innovative, interdisciplinary projects.

F2 will explore the new possibilities for creative practice in the digital age and equip its participants with the knowledge and skills to work with new media, taking advantage of digitisation and the emergence of new tools for production, marketing and distribution.

To launch the new F2 Digital Creative Development programme, the Institute for Creative Enterprise at Coventry University is hosting an introductory workshop for potential participants to find out more about this exciting new initiative.

F2 Future Forum
will be led by F2 delivery partners, Frank Boyd and Andre Ktori from Unexpected Media, a media development agency with an extensive track record of supporting innovation and creative research in the digital media. They will be joined by Chris Bennewith from Squidsoup who will be presenting some of this international interactive design group’s current projects about to be premiered at ISEA, Ireland and onedotzero festival, London.

This one day recruitment event aims to provide potential participants with an opportunity to find out more about the F2 goals, explore the programme’s themes with the delivery team and network with peers and potential collaborators.

To book a place on the F2 Future Forum
send an email to Rebecca Owen rebecca@smithowen.demon.co.uk

You should include your name and, if applicable, the name of your company and your address.

For more information, see ICE website www.coventry.ac.uk/ice

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ICA Feedback

James Harkin, the Director of Talks at the ICA, in London, and the man who has spearheaded the Feedback sessions there, has published a piece (I think it’s an excerpt actually) from/based on his new book, Cyburbia, called Our new home Cyburbia.

In the article, he outlines the notion of cybernetic feedback as being intrinsic to the principle of what the Internet does and how it is affecting us. He cites the early work on cybernetics of Norbert Wiener who developed the notion of cybernetics as a feedback system. To quote from the above link to his biography:

The idea of “cybernetics” came to Wiener at the beginning of the forties, prompted by his work on anti-aircraft defence and by contacts with colleagues in Mexico (“Behavior, purpose and teleology” with A. Rosenblueth and J. Bigelow, Philos.Sci 1943). lt was made known to the world by the book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, published in l948 after contacts in l946 with M. Freymann of Hermann et Cie (Paris). Coined from the Greek “kubernetike” (the art of the steersman), cybernetics involves the theory of regulation and of signal transmission applied to technical devices, living beings and even societies. It may also concern the art of government, or “cybernétique” as Ampère conceived it in 1843, which Plato, using the already existent Greek word, compared to that of the captain of a ship. Two main ideas play a part in cybernetics: negative feedback with its stabilizing properties, and transmission of information, which helps to make a whole of the many parts of a complex system, whether living or not. The metaphor of the computer, with the role of Boolean logic, is also present in cybernetics. It is of interest to note that Wiener, remembering Leibniz’s “calculus ratiocinator” and his construction, after Pascal, of a mechanical computer, considered him a patron saint of cybernetics, whereas Warren S. McCulloch favoured Descartes.

Harkin feels that the Internet is a product (or a model, at least) of this cybernetic loop system and goes on to discuss how it will change the way we as humans think and behave . I know that others are already talking about this, but more in the negative (I can’t find any links at the mo). But I like the idea and also, I think it’s about time for a cybernetic culture revival again. I haven’t seen Sadie Plant for over a year at any Birmingham events, but it would be great to see her step up to the (cybernetic) plate again and, along with Nick Land (see also Mark K-Punk and Kode-9 et al), return to save us all from the drab Silicon Valley evangelists.

Cybernetics has brought us a long way, but now that its global information loop is fully built, it is in danger of leaving us lost and directionless. Now we need to spend some time thinking about the message – what it does to us to have the new communication technologies around, and how artists, culture-makers and everyone else might harness that new sensibility and turn it to their own advantage. The humble book took off, remember, not because its early evangelists went around waving them in people’s faces or attesting to their incredible power, but because talented authors took the trouble to master this new way of working and write great books.

I’m not sure we have to ‘start’ thinking about the possibilities because, many net.artists have been doing that for a while, and of course, there is a whole genre, if that’s the right word, of e-Literature that explores the networked nature of the web. But perhaps he is referring to the broader cross-section of artists.Incidentally, the ICA caused a ruckus a few months ago, because they shut down funding for media arts activities. Not that Harkin is directly responsible, but it does make you wonder if the different depts. speak to each other?

In his role as Director of Talks at the ICA, James Harkin is trying to make real this feedback loops of growth and development. Maybe ICE:cubes can play a small part in that as well?

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Web 3.0

I guess part of the problem (or let us say, issue) around starting to comment and think about any new developments or memes, is that you immediately begin to be a carrier of that meme/virus yourself. You become part of the hype and the reason that everyone else is talking about it. So it’s with a certain amount of hesitation that I even write this post.

There’s already much talk about web 3.0 and people are mentioning it without necessarily engaging with the broader picture. Trying to find out some more information, the best report I’ve found so far has been this one in the TimesOnline: taking a nice overview and interviewing one of the people involved.Web 3.0 and beyond: the next 20 years of the internet. I have a feeling that as thing progress and the term gets taken over by the corporate sector, it’s meaning will become more wrapped up in marketing values and business speak, as Web 2.0 has done.

In essence, Web 3.0 is going to be about taking the current web (and all of our user-generated content and everything else we’ve been posting) and adding another layer on top of that. Making it more semantic (which many people ahve been talking about for a few years now). So, instead of just having that content there in place and using tools like Google to search, there will be the ability to aggregate content based on what you know and what you might also be interested in. Sounds familiar already? It is a bit like the Amazon function of suggesting that if you liked one thing, you’ll love something else similar that others enjoyed. It is also about ‘knowing’ more about your requests or needs in an intelligent way. As for the Web 3.0 moniker, here’s one of the best explanations of the use of 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 that I’ve heard so far, from Nova Spivack, the founder of Radar Networks:

“We have had the first decade of the web, or Web 1.0,” he says, which was about the development of the basic platform of the internet and the ability to make huge amounts of information widely accessible, “and we’re nearing the end of the second decade – Web 2.0 – which was all about the user interface” and enabling users to connect with one another.

“Now we’re about to enter the third decade – Web 3.0 – which is about making the web much smarter.”

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The Influence and Impact of Web 2.0 on e-Research Infrastructure, Applications and Users.

The number of Web 2.0 services and applications, widely used by Internet users, academics, industry and enterprise, are growing rapidly, which demonstrates Web 2.0’s solid foundations. These technologies and services are based on the open standards that underpin the Internet and Web, and are used in many forms, e.g. blogs, wikis, mashups, social websites, podcasting and content tagging. This field is having a significant impact on distributed infrastructure and applications, and on the way users and developers interact. The area needs to be thoroughly investigated and understood to encourage the development of new services and applications for e-Research.

Target Audience

We wish to engage the e-Science, and e-Research community, as well as those in the arts and humanities, and other researchers who have not been funded under the e-Science Programme.

Programme

This event is provisionally scheduled to start at 09:30 Monday 23 March 2009 and close at 17:00 on Friday 27 March 2009.

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Jock McQueenie

Last Thursday at ICE, we had Jock McQueenie come in and present to us, and afterwards hold a workshop for students. Jock has been working in Australia for many years now, engaging business and the creative sector (creative sector/industries: discuss) in working on projects that are mutually beneficial. Artists who perceive themselves as being ‘pure’ and having no truck with industry (afterall, that’s part of the reason they didn’t go into industry in teh first place: it’s not for them) often struggle with the notion of engaging and seeking funding through industry. However, it’s a reality that for most work-a-day creative folks, this will be at least one source of income for them.

Part of Jock’s talk was about projects that he has been involved with, and it certainly got us at ICE:cubes thinking about how we go about presenting the ICE folks through social networking channels.

Jock McQueenie has previously published a paper on his work so far. This quote was relevant to my own thoughts:

The emergence of concepts such as the “triple bottom line” – or “quadruple”, god help us – identify social and environmental outcomes as being as important to good corporate citizenship as purely financial ones. The social, political, economic environment is more complex than it has ever been. The greatest demand from those who need to navigate this complexity is not for art or finished cultural product but creativity itself – and it is the creative sector to which the economic and social sectors are turning to supply it.

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