The Evil Imp

Talk Is Not Cheap

Last week saw the return of the much maligned ‘State of the Arts’ conference rebranded as ‘No Boundaries’. The website and the logo might look bit cooler but it’s really just another conference.

For 2014 the talking shop to end all talking shops took place in two separate cities in England; Bristol and York, connected by the magic of the internet.

The conference blurb gives you some idea of what to expect if you paid your fees and showed up in person;

“No Boundaries will explore the role of arts and culture in contemporary society. It will be a conference about doing not funding. Our aim is stimulate the imagination and look to the future.”

What actually followed was a seemingly never-ending procession of people talking in catchphrases like “talking to people who we don’t already talk to and to dare ourselves to do things we don’t know how to do.”

Most of the speeches reminded us, here in TheLab™, of the old Casey Kasem line “keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars”. It was all just as trite and just as meaningless.

One particularly hilarious moment occurred when Brian Gambles, the director of the Library of Birmingham, took on his own Power Point™ presentation in a battle of wits and lost mightily. It also didn’t help that he appeared to be completely disinterested in what he was saying when he actually managed to speak.


Abigail Posner from Google talks about goats and maps and emotions or something

When Abigail Posner from Google took the stage it all got very creepy indeed when she blatantly used video of her own children to shill for Google and their products.

Ms Posner tried to spin the well worn line that technology elevates the human race and we should all take pictures of goats and put them on maps while licking our phone screens or, you know, whatever!

The world and their collective cat couldn’t make any sense of what Ms Posner was talking about. It was a theme that recurred throughout the two day event.

Origin Story

‘No Boundaries’ was somewhat unusual in that it was a funded commission. Arts Council England and The British Council actively sought out people to run this gathering and paid handsomely for it. £160,000 in total with £110,000 of that money coming from ACE themselves.

ACE were very specific about what was to be discussed at the event, “ideas and thinking” in case you are interested, and where the event was to take place.

The reasons for choosing Bristol specifically in the application guidelines is not made clear but the choice was almost certainly to make ACE look “regional”.

ACE also wanted to ensure that the participants at the event were “high quality international speakers.” A memo that Mr Gamble from Birmingham Library apparently didn’t get.

The Big Bad and their partners in crime at The British Council also excercised an alarming amount of control over press releases and all media communications;

“You will devise a media plan for the event with all press releases approved in advance in writing by Arts Council England and the British Council.”

When things are being broadcast live you have to make sure the party line is adhered to and deviation would not, evidently, be tolerated.

In Conclusion

It is no coincidence that the main theme of this talking shop was “about doing not funding” because the last thing ACE wants to talk about right now is funding and the attendees were only too happy to oblige.

The funding monolith has already thrown in the towel and swallowed the current government spin about money whole, aided and abetted, in no small part, by the current chairman Peter Balzagette, a Conservative Party shill if ever there was one.

ACE CEO Alan Davey said at the conference (quoted via a Tweet from the ACE Twitter account) that “we’re in a time of change, paternal funding has passed, sector gets bigger, £ smaller: dilemmas. Let’s adapt”.

You probably had no idea that all this time ACE was your dad and NPOs and independent artists were mere children, given pocket money to play at doing culture.

Never before has the CEO of a funding body come across as such a massively patronising, condescending git! Let’s be clear, culture in this country is an essential public service, a public service that needs to be paid for irrespective of the idealistic views of the current government.

It’s all very well talking about ideas but executing those ideas costs money. If ACE wants to accept something then it should be this, trying to replace all the public money lost over the last few years with private sponsorship is a delusion on a grand scale.

Generously funding projects like ‘No Boundaries’ and deliberately steering the discussion away from the issues surrounding funding of the arts in this country is as feckless as it is stupid and all those involved deserve to be hauled across the coals.

And Finally

As we often do here at Article19 we “live tweeted” this particular event providing coverage, of sorts, for the folks who either couldn’t be there or, more likely, couldn’t be bothered being there.

Some folks don’t take too kindly to these high jinxs one of them being Marcus Romer, the director of Pilot Theatre in York. That particular theatre company was one of the organisations that received the funding to stage this event.

These folks love to talk about the internet unless the internet is being used to mercilessly debunk their pretentious yammering.

Mr Romer declined to be interviewed on camera by Article19 about ‘No Boundaries’ stating, to paraphrase, that everybody knows what he has to say.

Much like ACE themselves Mr Romer and his ilk will skulk out of the room when they know the party line will not hold up under close scrutiny.

It should be noted that conference attendees could not ask questions of those giving the speeches because, despite all of the technological boasting going on, they didn’t have microphones for the audience to use.

With this type of feckless leadership pouring yet more money down the drain and too many people only too happy to help spend the money these really are dark times for the arts.

[ Watch Video from No Boundaries Here ]
[ More on Marcus Romer in ‘Please!’ ]

NB: One note of encouragement to be gleaned from the attendee list showed just one person from the wide world of dance showed up. Something to be thankful for!