Interesting times indeed. Whichever way you voted in the EU referendum it is clear that we have entered into new and uncertain times. Institutions and structures which had seemed like the permanent backdrop for our work: very much there, important, but not particularly visible (and a little like the governing documents of many charities), are now both centre stage and potentially time limited. Not only EU membership, but many other long term structures and policies of state feel less stable, less secure, less to be taken for granted.
So what can our role be? Many of us work either for local authorities or for charities. Directly political action is both inappropriate and inadvisable, but this does not mean we do nothing. We need to think and plan for a landscape in flux.
I would like to suggest that there are two main kinds of action we can take.
The first is to think and plan for change and a landscape in flux. Our sector has long experience at building partnerships and working beyond the boundaries of our own organisations. I was recently able to attend the Art of Devolution, a seminar organised by the University of Manchester to explore the place of arts and culture within the northern powerhouse phenomenon. It became very clear that the ability of the arts and cultural sectors in Manchester and Liverpool to play a full part in the development of their devolved settlements had its base in their long-standing commitment to partnership working. These partnerships have extended through different policy frameworks and different purposes. For example, the networks and partnerships brought together for Liverpool 2008 European Capital of Culture are recognised as one of the major legacies, repositioning culture as central to the wider agenda of the city. You will all have relationships, networks and partners developed over time, for different purposes and in different places. Now is the time to ask how they can work together. We have already started this at a regional and national level, and last week the Arts Development UK regional co-ordinators, and the Chairs of the local chapters of ‘What Next?’ sat down together to ask how we can work together and share the tasks ahead.
The second and more fundamental action, draws on the specific and possibly unique capacity of arts and culture to create the particular open and reflective space where individuals and communities of all kinds are able to explore what they think and feel about this upheaval and the deep fractures opened up and made visible through the referendum process. This is not an easy or a simple task and right now if feels as if there are few tools able to take this on, but creative practice is one of them.
Jane Wilson, Culture & Community Manager, Cambridge City Council, and Chair of ADUK
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