Friday, December 02, 2005

a long month

four weeks from hell so I've not had time to post anything, let alone anything erudite here for a while. Some random reflections on events I've been at this autumn:

The Catalyst conference in Manchester which was in turns annoying and vague. A gathering of lots of interesting people but somehow the programme was set up in such a way that it was really difficult to find any spaces for meaningful conversation. And the charlatan Ben Zander's trivial and patronising musings on leadership were enough to force me away from the event a day earlier than I had planned. What a waste of money to put all those distinguished and intelligent people in a room and make them listen to such vacuous nonsense...

The Open Secrets seminar series that Demos has organised - both events I've attended have brought together a decent cross-section of people from the very top of the education and public services tree with practitioners and those like me that shuttle between different worlds. It's been good that a space has been created which draws together people from these different worlds to debate the hot issue of how you do innovation better; one obvious observation is that perhaps if more of these sorts of conversations were an everyday occurrence in education institutions then change might be more readily precipitated...

I went to the launch of The Turning World which is Rose Fenton and Lucy Neal's reflections on their extraordinary quarter century at LIFT. The book tells the story of all the artists, companies and happenings that LIFT brought to London since their 1983 debut. One of my absolutely favourite organisations, LIFT has constantly cut through navel-gazing and pretension that passes for contemporary theatre in many corners of London and brought work into being which is constantly challenging, vexing, mould breaking, etc etc. It's been a continual privilege to have been able to work with LIFT over the last nine or so years. What is so distinctive about LIFT is that it has a catalytic effect on the people touched by the work - it enables people to make journeys and transitions of their own - an example of redistributive leadership in action - (more on that in another post)

I went to Melbourne for the Risky Business conference which featured a really wide range of, in the main, well conceived and executed research projects documenting various arts interventions with young people deemed 'at risk.' What was so refreshing about the event (in spite of my jetlag and occasional sleepiness) was the openness with which the debates were conducted. There was a sharpness about recognising the double-tongued discourses of risk and 'exclusion' when applied to young people, when the last thing they need is to be labelled as is 'risky' and 'excluded'...a book of papers from the conference is planned in the new year and I'm looking forward to it...

I've been in Barcelona a couple of times to set up the teacher-artist partnership exchange. Every time I am in that city I am struck by how public culture, street culture, urbanism and outdoor discourse permeates the whole place...partly climate and partly the industrious and intellectual Catalan sharp and stylish hunger for knowledge and creativity...the big challenge seems to be about inclusion and diversity - how does this highly evolved urban culture learn how to deal with difference and develop education systems which allow access into this urban culture for all? How does a justifiable pride in the extraordinary regeneration story translate into education and learning systems in which all young people can participate, particularly in an arts scene where there is an apparently unstoppable supply of 'talent' in any case ? It may be the home of the 'learning city'movement but there seems still to be a long way to go in opening up further and higher education institutions to participation. I may be doing some more thinking about that in 2006. We'll see. There may also be some parallels to be drawn between what is currently happening in Glasgow's arts education planning and what is happening in Barcelona. Or maybe not.

I've spent far too much time in airport land and passenger processing systems. As the government hypes up the cold weather and threat of energy crisis further in order to build the strange logic (and weird and scary science) around nuclear power, I'm conscious that I've personally done precious little to help the case that our insatiable hunger for energy is at the root of the issue. I've just been lining the pockets of the airlines and the oil companies. No need to rehearse all the arguments here, but if we could just have a serious energy conservation and usage reduction policy we might be able to reduce our dependence on gas guzzling and gigawatts. But I'm utterly hypocritical because I've spent far too much time whizzing around to make a credible argument. If even more people continue to behave like me (as they appear to be doing) we really are staring at the edge of the abyss in environmental terms.

I went to the Designing for the 21st Century 'reflections and projections' conference in Glasgow. This was another useful collection of very disparate projects, very interdiscipinary, very divergent - although, as with so many things, there was a lack of representation from beyond the citadels of higher education in spite of the initiative being about collaboration, knowledge exchange, etc. There was an overwhelming consensus, in spite of this not being the explicit aim of the initiative, that ecological catastrophe is the key design challenge over the next thirty years: and that all designers in whatever sense need to be thinking about this. Design in this sense is about survival - social architecture, intelligent urban systems, re-use and recycling of materials, design for longevity and adaptability, entredonneurship (the first time I've heard that word used, and it deals with some of the problems of the 'social enterprise' model rather neatly I think) and - what I'm interested in - the design of learning systems that build capacity for dialogue, exchange and progression will all be crucial.

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