Corey Mwamba


Long games II: The return of stupid arts speak

Since the beginning of the new year I've been trying to get myself to sleep until a relatively reasonable time of 4 o'clock, by setting generally good habits before bed-time. If you visit the link, you'll see it's a short one—but then if you move onto the insomnia page, there's a more detailed list. I am now about to do

Write a list of your worries and any ideas to solve them, then try to forget about it until the morning.

since I made the mistake of going to bed annoyed. If you've been following on here at all, there was a campaign against cuts to the arts in Derby [among all the other things, of course]. This forced me out of my slumber and caused me write

  1. an essay about how the language of the campaign needed to be more inclusive—which partially worked; and

  2. a very pointed open letter which spilled into several comments, again about the language used in conversations about the arts in Derby, specifically focussing on the subsidised end of things and how it interacts with the rest of the city.

It's worth noting that immediately after the last local Council announced its "stay of execution" on the larger organisations, the campaigning virtually stopped. This post on the Save Derby Arts wall articulates this point clearly: and since I had forgotten that I'd commented on it, I'll say again—Ivan Smith made a great point which over a year later no one is responding to right now.

In a sense, these larger organisations will be okay—the politics were about the grand gesture; a dance with people's emotions to see what could be got rid of with the minimal fuss. But what the campaign did highlight was how these organisations worked within the arts ecosystem here, and how, what and where they contributed to it.

Moving forward to the beginning of this year and I bumped into a friend who reminded me of what I'd written in my last essay. And we talked very enthusiastically about feudalism, edifices and how neither of those things really work when applied to the arts. It made me think that there are reasons why people don't live in castles any more.

It also reminded me that there was a report or consultation on the arts in Derby which—as far as I am aware—hardly anyone in the arts in Derby has seen. So I asked where it was, and this is the conversation so far.

To be honest, I can't help but feel annoyed. The insinuation that the Arts Council were somehow holding onto the report [which would be the only reason why you'd use a Freedom of Information request in this situation] is blatant, unnecessary and facile. The language is a clear pointer towards some form of conspiracy—a conspiracy that just doesn't exist. So in effect, they just lied to me in plain view.

When I e-mailed Peter Knott, he replied swiftly and plainly:

The report was paid for, in large part, by us but was commissioned by the Derby Active Culture Board and Quad held the budget on their behalf. {...} It is not our report so it is not down to me, but I can't see a problem in it being shared {...} It makes a very good case for what a creative and cultural city can look like.

So back I went, only to be given another name: Bob Betts. But in all this I am still thinking: what is the Save Derby Arts page for if they have the e-mail addresses and are not going to contact people as well? They [and it is a unnamed "they"] clearly know of the existence of the report. They also clearly know Bob Betts and the Derby Active Cultural Board. So what are they doing? Why is it necessary for me alone to do this?

In all this writing about my worries, I have to write some solutions before heading to bed. The easiest solution would be to just forget about it. But that really doesn't get anybody anywhere, and is highly unlikely to happen.

A better solution would be for whoever is running the Save Derby Arts page to be clear; and for the larger organisations, all of whom sit on the Derby Active Cultural Board, to share the report with the rest of the arts ecosystem.

At the heart of this is the same point I made in June: Derby is not large enough as a city to have unfriendly, corporate, top-down conversations in the arts. There is nowhere to hide here. If it's now extending to the very people who are fighting for the arts we're all sunk.

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