Corey Mwamba


Absolutely humongous rant about subsidised arts in Derby

Yesterday, I attended a consultation meeting to talk about how subsidised arts in Derby was going to move forward after the knee-smashing delivered by the last City Council. It wasn't the only one—small groups have been assembled and the consultants [Graham Devlin and Peter Boyden] are talking to those groups; the findings from the discussion will then be drawn up into the evaluation and the evaluation will formulate the strategy for subsided arts and culture in Derby.

I sat around the table with Gopa Nath from Surtal, Baby J from Baby People and Amanda Harker from ArtCore—all of us having been part of the furniture in the arts for a number of years. The independent consultant was a good listener, and took hold of what we were saying.

But the thing that struck me was that about twelve or so years ago, I was in a room with a bunch of people from the arts landscape of Derby [I think Alf Fullerton was around then] and an independent consultant, talking generally about exactly the same things. And about two years before that, I did the same thing, but Richard Powell was the consultant then, but other than that, the meeting was on a similar theme.

Now I'm not saying that the meeting yesterday wasn't necessary—because it really, really was—but I am saying that what was mentioned at the meeting was very similar to what was mentioned almost a decade and a half ago. This is a different situation from the other times, but the themes are still there. And they were repeated again.

Having thought about yesterday's meeting, I think perhaps we have said these things too subtly: so I'd like to say some of them from my own perspective [I'm not speaking on behalf of anyone else—these are my observations], as clearly as I can, now.

  1. There has been and is a growing and systematic lack of communication, recognition of value and care for what is happening here across the whole arts landscape, and we are all at fault.
  2. If the main arts landscape in Derby is viewed as a narrow field comprised of building-based organisations that exist only in the city centre, a monoculture could develop which would be detrimental to Derby in the long run.
  3. Money is a small part of all this. Even though we're currently in a recession, in real terms there is more money than there was a decade ago. No one likes to say it, but it's true. How it is spent is the problem.
  4. The City Council and larger funded organisations should have a duty of care towards subsidised arts provision in the city that extends beyond their four walls and the city centre.
  5. Derby is not large enough as a city to have unfriendly, corporate, top-down conversations in the arts.

There are more. But [for readability] I'm going to break down what I mean in the comments; and post more, subsequently.

comments (9)

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 10:50am

I'll put more detail here.

That first point will take a lot of unpacking. I'm thinking back to about ten years ago or more, when work in Derby was mainly about people giving me a ring and asking if I was around to work with insert name of group/school/project here and I'd get there and there would be a whole bunch of other people from Derby. Also working. With a nice mix of individual artists, small-to-medium organisations, larger ones. And everyone getting credit and recognition for putting on great work.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 10:55am

Or I'd be out in the city centre, and I'd know about something happening that wasn't in the city centre and was with a wide mix of people. Because people could promote their stuff wherever they liked.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 10:57am

I probably ought to say that it isn't all doom and gloom: there are lots of positive things happening here in Derby, and people wanting to make a difference to the city. City-wide. I'm talking specifically about a 15-year itch.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 11:16am

There was a point [and I cannot remember exactly when] at which the arts [well, the subsidised end] became formalised—overly so. I feel it's now tipped into the corporate.

Perhaps the wisdom is that it has to be that way it has to be in order to survive: but I think that it has had the effect of creating more barriers for artists in Derby to fully connect. Being called only when we're needed ["could do with some ethnicity/young people/a local person to pad out our professional programme here"] and not because we're wanted is a barrier. It creates divisions and [as we all said in the meeting yesterday] forms a tiered system.

This has happened over time and is still happening. That's why the Save Derby Arts page could initially create a narrative of saving the arts in Derby that only talked about the city centre buildings, and that narrative be validated. It's the creation of a monoculture.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 11:32am

With some proper communication, the narrative shifted to a more inclusive position; but when the previous council played politics and handed over the stay of execution, the campaigning suddenly went very very quiet. Even though there are organisations that have lost funding by 30%, and are operating in those circumstances.

And, as I have said before I don't think any of those other organisations particularly recommended that 30%.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 12:07pm

The up-side of my job is that I get to travel. I get asked about Derby. Bands come here. They want to see where I live. And why I stay here.

Two musicians have said to me recently, "there are only two reasons to come here; you and the beer." As flattering as that is, I'd really like that not to be true—and indeed, I do not think it is. But we in Derby need to resume recognising the value of our arts here.

I say resume because Derby's involvement in the arts is so tied in with its history—its past culture. Our very tourism is built upon our artistic heritage.

And we have so much happening here—across the board—that it makes the struggles I hear about and experience in maintaining that heritage; and the effort required in getting those who are charged to support it to actually support it, all the more saddening.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 12:23pm

Anyway, enough rambling. If the Council wants to form a strategy it needs to start noticing what's actually around them rather than listening to the biggest voices. And it needs to care what they say, and value what's being said.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 1:01pm

If we want artists to stay in/come to Derby we need to have things worth coming and staying for, all over Derby. And if it's there, it needs to be highlighted and cared about—no matter the size of who's doing it.

Corey Mwamba

13th Jun 2012 | 1:08pm

And if the artist/s is/are being recognised as good and trusted outside Derby, then the same should go for inside Derby and that recognition and trust should be shown from organisations and the infrastructure. It's a slightly personal note, I know; but I know there are others in exactly the same situation.

I'm not talking about the red carpet treatment—but simply a recognition of the work and experience, what it means and what it brings to the city.

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