Alistair Hudson, Chair of Culture Forum North, shares his perspectives on culture and education collectively strengthening the civic realm.
The socio-economic conditions of the UK have always been in flux, however the changes in our circumstances since the financial crash of 2007 have been dramatic. Never more so than in the days following the Referendum on June 23rd.
The place of culture and education has not often featured in the political debate, but at the heart of our collective efforts to build a future, the way we live and the way we learn create the fundamental building blocks of any society.
At the launch of Culture Forum North it was put most eloquently by one contributor: “The choice is not whether to have culture or not, but what kind of culture we want.” The arts and higher education sector play a hugely significant role in shaping this. At the same time these fields have up to this point operated in parallel, yet interconnected, fields.
Since the Crash in particular, both arts organisations and universities have been forced to rethink their mode of operation. With a squeeze on funding, the arts have looked to the education sector as a safety net, with their resources and infrastructure boosted by the income from student fees. Equally the Universities have increasingly looked to theatres, museums and galleries as a way to gain cultural capital, added value and a competitive edge in the marketplace. At the same time both have sought to take a greater part in civic life, to justify their public value and, it is argued by many, to fill a vacuum created by the withdrawal of the state.
Such conditions have been accentuated in the North of England, where the economic and political dominance of the South East has amplified the North-South Divide, with Westminster initiatives to counter this, such as the Northern Powerhouse, HS2 and an increasing devolution of power to local government. Universities in the North are also beginning to take more control of a research agenda that has been largely driven from London and responding to a customer focused business model, which demands increased value for money and employability. Northern arts organisations, being distanced from alternative support of private wealth and philanthropy concentrated in the South, are seeing a social and education remit as the best path to take. Whilst this may not be taken as wholly positive from all quarters, it has generated a nebulously distinct growth of socially orientated arts practice in the North that is more critically relevant on an international stage, than the more conservative methodologies that are maintained around the capital.
Within this context, Culture Forum North has been created to bring the Arts and Education closer together, to work together more effectively and coherently, to make a greater contribution to, and even take a lead on, building the civic realm.
The initial framework for the Forum’s is constructed around research, skills development and the civic. Through these complementary strands we aim to create a conceptual architecture for both arts and educational institutions to inhabit and begin to learn to live and work together, for genuine mutual and social benefit. At the same time we want to exemplify the best of the partnerships that are emerging between the sectors, that are real benefit to broadening culture, teaching skills, gaining knowledge and having a direct effect in the push for social change and a positive, contributive culture.