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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Tomorrow Belongs to Us

From Matt Baker

It is 4 months now since the Dumfries and Galloway Regional Arts Conference - when we unveiled our new regional structure on an unsuspecting world. Getting to that point was an enormous collective effort by our whole community. Since then, our Regional Arts Convenor has been appointed and our four Area Arts Convenors.....a Regional Projects Fund has been opened and two important town centre arts projects put out to commission.....the Chamber of Arts now has its Charitable Status and a regional consortium bid has been submitted to a national funder.

This is all brilliant progress - but I have a nagging feeling that something could get lost. As soon as any system switches to a more professionalised version there is always a risk that things become less transparent, less visible and less inclusive. What we are doing in D+G is publicised as an 'arts-led regional structure' - we all set out to imagine and drive our own future and I believe it is crucial that we keep doing that. 

I was fortunate to be working with artists and community organisations in Scandinavia last week - one of the things that really hit home was how different their structures for local representation and involvement are. It was suddenly clearer than ever just how big a gap there is in the UK between the decision-making about public life from public life itself. I identify creative practice as one of the best means at our disposal to begin to bridge this gap - through a combination of collaborative working across different fields in society and through supporting people to participate, take initiative and ultimately responsibility. My hope is that our new regional structure could be an opportunity and a demonstration of the way that public/civil life (us!) could permeate into the structures of power (currently not us!) and we could begin to create a way of cooperative working that breaks down the weary divisions of us and them.

At a basic level this would mean changing the way public money is allocated by breaking down the absurdities of current procurement distances develop between people, trust is eroded - this leads to protective strategies (aka 'covering yer arse') - protective strategies are things like 'public procurement' - systems that are 'irrefutably fair'.....even they often result in the opposite effect that they set out to achieve. This is what happens when communication and trust break down in a system....this is what our system must help to change for the benefit of everyone.

The reason this post has an image of an eye is because my question here is about maintaining visibility and transparency within our system for the arts.

Four months on from our launch in November there is nowhere that anyone can go to find out about what is happening in the new structure (excellent work by Area Convenors on Facebook duly noted!). I was waiting for someone else to do something about this....when it dawned on me that this was still all about co-creation and all of us need to take responsibility for this thing we are making together. So today I have drafted a section at the top of The Commonty called 'eDGe - Regional Arts Structure for Dumfries and Galloway' (this will be on the 'menu' section of the mobile/tablet version of the blog). I have framed this page as something like a wiki page that can be jointly edited - please note THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL VERSION OF ANYTHING - it is an attempt to begin the work of making our new systems visible keeping to the spirit that we began with.

Doing this raised many more questions that answers - how does eDGe fit alongside everything else that we need/have in the region? Is Fresh Start finished now (I figured yes and have removed its section on The Commonty)? Does CABN still exist - if not is there a replacement? Is the D+G cultural map finished yet? What is the current situation with regional ticketing and whats-on listings?

For my money, what we need is a way of making the Arts visible in D+G - something that sign-posts you to information for - learners, audiences, practitioners, commissioners.

Lets all help the Convenors to keep this thing properly 'arts-led' by keeping channels open for us to contribute in whatever way we see fit........add to the eDGe discussion here, comment below or email


  1. This is great...Onwards and Outwards........

  2. I agree with everything you say, Matt. I find as an 'incomer' that unless I'm on a mailing list to every organization that it's difficult to get to hear what's going on and where in time to do anything about it. But for people who are not on mailing lists it's virtually impossible to get to hear about events unless they know someone involved. Each town and village needs a focal point for information that is visible and well maintained, that is part of the community and the community are part of. Maybe that could be a funded art project for someone? Communication here in Newton Stewart is poor - Wigtown fares much better in their own community but don't necessarily attract many people from the surrounding areas. You have to want to know about these things and then it's preaching to the converted - what we need is to also try to reach those people for whom 'art' is sneered at or rejected.

  3. Couldn't agree more Matt.It's good you're trying to help here. I thought I was the only one who was getting confused about the new structure, timescales etc. What we need is clarity, communication and collaboration. Just had a long phone call with Kathleen O''Neill today who put things into perspective - Thanks for your time Kathleen!