The Big Idea

Our recent news story concerning an undecipherable new programme from Arts Council England (ACE) to advocate arts leadership, we think, has led Article19 to believe that what dance lacks, among many other things, is a big idea. ACE is pushing the age old mantra that good ideas come from the top and trickle down through the subordinates and that leads to a healthy organisation full of bright thinking, exciting work and wild popularity. This editorial however begs to differ, what else would you expect of us?

A paragraph from the ACE document, ‘Cultural Leadership Programme, A Call for Ideas’ reads;

“Beyond these economy-wide initiatives, the cultural sector has been asked to prioritise leadership development, establishing a culture of excellence in leadership. Specifically, as an industry, we must ensure that more talented high-flyers in cultural organisations will be able to develop the business and leadership skills required to lead in a changing global environment. We need to encourage the leadership talents of leading minority ethnic figures in the cultural field. And we need to bring about a cultural change which ensures widespread recognition across the sector of the need for an ongoing programme of support and development for future leaders.”

The paragraph, like the entire document, is completely nonsensical, non committal and non specific about what ACE will be spending £12million of your money on or, almost more importantly, why they will be spending all that money.

Good leadership, which is what they appear to be advocating, is essential to any company, a strong and open minded individual at the top of the tree can be an inspiration and motivation to those working away within. But leadership can also bring with it problems along the lines of dictatorial behaviour, dogmatic thinking and, in certain cases, mild megalomania as the artistic directors begin lording it over their subjects.

Such behaviour is rare of course and most arts leaders, the ones we have come into contact with at any case, are not like that at all. It would be foolish to think however that many of those in charge of the future of dance and the arts in general in the UK are really the ones who will lead the art form into the next 20 years of development with anything approaching the energy and progressive thinking needed to make a dent in the cultural abstinence prevalent in this country.

The task is simply too big for individuals to take on and the very idea of ACE coordinating anything that involves radical thinking whilst moving at anything other than glacial speed makes us, here in the Lab, laugh so hard it hurts.

Time For Something New

What is needed are the massed ranks of artists, arts administrators and the other players all pooling their expertise together to bring new ideas and a new form of organisational structure to the arts in the UK. If two brains are better than one then 50,000 should bring us artistic utopia within a matter of weeks, probably!

What’s A Browser
A Web Browser is what you are using right now to view this web page.

It’s simply a device for interpreting the computer code and images created by web site designers, like us, and making them into nicely presented pages.

Because the internet has become such a powerful information and commerce tool, whoever controls the browser market is in a very powerful position.

The most popular browsers for PC computers are Firefox and Internet Explorer with a few others with tiny market share.

On the Mac platform the most prevalent browser is called Safari, with Firefox, Camino and a few others trailing in its wake.

For a comparison we shall look, oddly enough, at the world of website browsers and open source computer software where at this moment in time a war is being waged between the multi billion dollar corporation Microsoft and an organised bunch of geeks over at the Mozilla Foundation.

If you don ‘t know what a web browser is then have a quick look over at the side bar and rejoin us here in 2 minutes.

At present Microsoft’s Internet Explorer enjoys a hefty market share of about 83% with the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox trailing a long way behind with just 10.3%. Now that may not seem like a lot but Firefox has built that market share percentage up in just a few months with their website reporting 75 million downloads of their completely free web browser. To say nothing of how much the software has spread through other means apart from Mozilla ‘s own website.

The fundamental difference between Microsoft and Mozilla is simple. Mozilla is built around so-called ‘open source ‘ software development. Contributions, bug fixes and development are brought in from tens of thousands of developers all over the world.

Professional programmers and part time coders alike are invited to contribute to the growth and development of the programme. If problems arise they are fixed within days, if not minutes, by an individual or a committed team that just happen to find something wrong or have a new idea. It may seem like a chaotic approach but it works brilliantly and the result is a piece of computer software that is years ahead of Internet Explorer.

In comparison Microsoft, one of the worlds most profitable companies, with far less people working on their browser development, responds with all the dexterity and grace of a kangaroo with a broken leg. The Redmond giant took years to release substantial bug fixes and security updates to the current version of Internet Explorer and all they did was create more problems for the millions of people using the internet with their software.

Microsoft’s petulance has resulted in misery for its users with security problems, spyware problems and endless virus attacks being the order of the day for many. The sad fact is many users of their software are not even aware they have any kind of problem!

The world ‘s biggest software company is having its market share eaten away by an organised group of individuals and small teams all over the world committed to getting the job done properly and most of them have never even met!

Another big open source project that has achieved unprecedented success is Wikipedia an online encyclopedia that has hundreds of thousands of contributors all over the world. There is no central group of writers or analysts, anybody can make a contribution or edit an existing entry with no registration or oversight. You may think such a thing was destined to be mired in chaos and inaccuracy, but as with Firefox, it works brilliantly and with few problems.

In the examples given above an individual or small group had the idea and it was then handed over to the masses and they eagerly contributed to make the idea grow and become substantially better than corporate or paid for alternatives. People knew what they wanted so they stood up and took part. In return they and millions more besides got an improved experience with the features they had always wanted.

Let’s Go Open Source

Is it not possible to do the same thing within dance?

The arts are not computer code but the same philosophy can apply. We have thousands of articulate individuals working in this profession and they literally have no say in how the profession is run. Consultation, when it does happen, is often cursory and recommendations are rarely taken on board or get watered down so much they have little effect. Too often the art form is relying on a few people to establishing new projects, new ideas and new facilities.

Organisation ‘s connected with dance should establish permanent and easily accessible forums for dancers and dance makers to put forward ideas and make a substantive contribution to how the profession progresses. These forums should carry substantial weight by means of written agreements between the organisation and the professionals it supports.

The NDA network is the perfect place to start. Installing a dancer ‘s representative on the board of each of the NDA ‘s who in turn speaks for the community of dancers that particular NDA represents would send a strong message that the network is listening to the profession and an even stronger message that those at the sharp end, the dancers and choreographers, are interested in the decision making process that can substantially affect their lives.

Setting up a point of access for people to submit ideas, feedback and information is simple, the Internet was designed to do just that sort of thing. Analysing and collating the data is more problematic and will take time and resources. it ‘s not an easy task but the goals are achievable and it needn ‘t be expensive.

Of course this takes organisation and the dancers will need to play a big part in contributing to such a process and that is one of the biggest challenges. Getting dancers to step up and take an interest in how the profession is run is a tough challenge but it is one they must rise to if things on their side of the fence are to get any better. If you want better pay, better conditions and better treatment from the profession then it is time to say so and to say so publicly and with a loud voice.

Developing a culture of contribution for all aspects of how the profession is run and develops in the future will provide dance with thousands of new voices and thousands of new ideas that can only enhance this small world of creative people and possibly make it grow into something bigger, brighter and more influential on our society.

Our modern times leave little room for dogma when all the evidence for open thinking points to something wide reaching and innovative.

It ‘s time for dance to go open source.