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19 September 2011

21st Century Tension

21st Century tension
(measuring the ‘sound’ of creativity – Decibel 2011)

The street never lies… where (high) art and culture collide, engaging reality. That is the starting point for our space in Hyson Green. Hold that thought.
I’ve just spent a couple of days at the ACE conference and showcase for diversity, Decibel - a festival of diversity exploring a new approach where diversity designs cultural production in the UK so it becomes positioned at the centre of what we assume as the mainstream. 
I believe I’m fairly optimistic, so for me meeting new people and consolidating old friendships strengthens my practice, outlook, networks and therefore the future impact of the work I champion. I came away with many business cards and one who claims to cover many trades and forms from dealing with antiques, making films, being a political analyst, security guard to promoting comedy karaoke! Now that’s diversity if I ever saw it…. I mean come on!
Championing diversity today is a complex mix of societal groups and poses tricky challenges. This 5th edition of Decibel, which included a symposium and a series of showcases, well attended and delivered across Manchester’s leading venues so Contact Theatre, Royal Exchange, Royal Northern College of Music for example . I love Manchester, it’s quite a city... from Cloud 23 cocktails, great galleries, to lush penthouse apartments to leading football teams… an essence and core with ambitious pulse and confidence about it.
In terms of my Decibel re-graduation this year I consulted peers to hear their thoughts so I could further my understanding of this new 21st century approach. The younger cohorts were on the whole inspired and the older, as expected mixed with British cynicism and frustration on the whole, dissatisfied with the debates.
 Growing up I was forever inspired by older people, half way in however, I am now left more inspired by young people. A young film maker from Liverpool explained her approach to life and this in front of an experienced audience of international representatives. Her energy and enthusiasm was refreshing and her message strong and simple delivered with charisma and confidence… her life challenging and rescued by creativity. 

So can diversity in the complexity of the 21st century be delivered with such strength, simplicity and confidence? Moving diversity into the heart of arts production is ambitious and a positive step and I’ve certainly witnessed over the years many contemporary spaces representing cultures and diverse societal experiences – perhaps driven by globalisation and economic power flips as opposed to conscious volition? For art to be relevant and make an impact, connecting with the disengaged means we need to work differently. We need to produce art which has meaning, done symbiotically with diverse audiences, communities and creatives. So ‘people of the community’ design and deliver, rather than art and culture be imposed as a form of cultural imperialism. Leadership and design are key.
The ‘street never lies’ approach means (high) art colliding with reality – sometimes like a head butt. Every day is a Decibel moment here at NAE, where quality art which can be ingeniously creative is supported, generated and promoted with a narrative enriched by culturally diverse expressions aiming to connect with local communities. Also central to championing diversity is the inclusion of diverse leaders who understand the pulse of minority groups and organisations and can champion as role model portals for change.
 Will ACE’s new approach resonate purposefully with its new list of portfolio organisations? What will success look like and how will it compare with what has been delivered within the network of RFOs previously? Or will this simply become rhetoric and yet another initiative that falls flat because the same guard make the decisions or simply can’t deal with the street. Will diversity be really fully embraced or will it face the risk of exoticisms of the past. Will the ‘mainstream’ get it! I’m not convinced… however remain optimistic and there lies our 21st century tension.

Skinder Hundal

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