Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Trouble with Small Ones

Annabell (short for Baby Annabell, which is not a name given to her by the six year old also known here as 'Small One', but her name...) is a doll that makes dreadful crying and burbling sounds when left on the kitchen table. Apparently, there is an off button, as Annabell has batteries inside her, but I am informed by the Small One, that crying and burbling is what she is supposed to do.

This is what is said about her in the sales blurb:

Baby Annabell Doll
Description: 18 inch sound and motion sensitive doll.
Baby Annabell babbles gurgles and giggles just like a real baby.
When drinking she makes real sucking sounds with an amazingly realistic mouth movement.
When you rub her tummy she burps.
Baby Annabell closes her eyes yawns breathes little baby snores when asleep.
But be quiet any noise will wake her up again.
Baby Annabell will be a perfect addition to your family.
Requires 4xAA batteries.

This is Small One with her doll Annabell in her house. The house also doubles as a mattress in front room for spare guests, but is more fun in the hall at an angle.

Small One warns me that if we make a noise the crying will start up again and she will have to be nursed back to sleep with a bottle of water. The rest of the family seem to share my dismay at the sounds that emit from her, but are, by now, used to the idea of the doll. (She came last Christmas.) I'm suffering double trauma: at the constant sound of crying and the fact of a doll that replicates all that is most uninspiring about babies. Small One tells me that another doll actually poos and this is what she wants for Christmas this year. Oh sorry, that's one thing that Annabell doesn't do that I find uninspiring about very small ones. Does Annabell smile, sit up, learn, look into Small One's eyes trustingly? Of course not.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Saturday Lunchtime in the 'Burbs

At a house auction, somewhere in the Inner West suburbs of Sydney, the neighbours and the curious gathered expectantly alongside a few hopeful bidders, and the sun beat hard on the concrete backyard. Nothing happened for a long time and then six suited gents appeared with clipboards and sly smiles, out of the house that all the fuss was about.

The house? We'd wandered through it on the way to the last shady spot in the yard and what a mess it was. Low and wide like all of Sydney's suburbs, the house had been occupied by people who didn't love it. The occasional furniture was tawdry. Apart from brown floral carpet throughout and the bubbling paint, a huge crack wound through the main bedroom and a further crack adorned the extension. The survey suggested total underpinning would be needed. In all, a house needing more than Aus$ 100,000 invested in it to make it back into pleasant family accommodation.

Small One and I sat quietly on the concrete. Big One stood, flanked by a flunkey, holding a registration card allowing him to bid. He didn't.

The fun started at exactly the price that the family had agreed in the car as their ceiling. It went on rapidly past as two parties fell into competition, adding 5K to 10K each time to the last one's offer. It spiralled.

An oily auctioneer, wielding a gavel, ramped up the tension. Three times, he took it to the final 'gone' but it was still going, going, going as the slower party of the two stumbled to another bid. He was haunted by a suit with a mission, the equivalent of the game show host who eggs contestants to risk all and take the next question. The house lurched from plausible, to inflated, to ridiculous. And then it was sold. Bought by a nice looking young couple - with a big bankroll it would seem.

We left stolidly, reliving the comment - made to the Big One, before the auction, by the oily boss - that there were a couple of emotional bidders that hadn't done their homework there that day. And one of them has now got a whole lot of headache. I could only imagine that my friends had got away lightly. Especially with businessmen as talented as that at the helm.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Buttons that Whoosh

The sound of the traffic lights in central Sydney when they are on pedestrian green is slightly like the opening of The Beatles' Helter Skelter. A sort of whoosh. I have been singing the damn thing in my head for three days now, fuelled by several occasions of road crossing in George Street.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Cultural Management vs Cultural Leadership

The charming Slovenian has supplied an answer to the cultural management question. Actually, he supplied it some time ago but I seem to have generated both a series of interesting blog-type materials and so much alternative activity that I haven't had time to put them up. Recipe for backlog. (Bacalhau is more tasty though.)

Meanwhile, another medusa-like tentacle has reared. The friend that lives in Tooting and sees David Tennant around (clearly another person in need of a better descriptor) is now charged with looking after cultural leadership for her organisation. She acknowledged that the term is new and still being clarified, but it had her very excited.

How does it relate to my discussion of cultural management? I was first worried that this might be another conflation of management and leadership as so often happens in industry. After all, people who run things are supposed to lead and manage and so the lines are regularly blurred. Leading culture vs managing culture… charisma vs efficiency… no room to do it justice here, but have a look at Changing Minds, building on the old proverb: leadership is doing the right thing; management is doing things right. Meanwhile, culture just goes on doing its own thing no matter how much Tessa Jowell's Department for Culture, Media and Sport is implicated in directing it.

Anyway, The Swimmer (as she will now be called, for reasons never to be divulged here) informed me that cultural leadership is about supporting leaders in the cultural sectors to make them more effective. This sector is badly served by traditional forms of support and people arrive in leadership positions without engaging with other leaders or learning how to lead. (And maybe management will be subsumed in that, but it all sounds very worthwhile.)

So it's not about leading culture at all, it's about leading leaders. That makes me very happy. I can return to the thorny issue of managing culture and that definition of cultural management:

It's a knowledge of economy, marketing and leadership (= management), applied in cultural sector with special consideration to special needs and aims of artists, arts and cultural organizations.

How does it differ from Arts Management? It seems that there is no common definition, but basic differences appear in the description of both words:

"Culture" as the way of life for entire society (or group of people), and as such including "codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, norms of behaviour and systems of belief" and "Arts" as a broad subdivision of culture, composed of many expressive disciplines. In modern usage, it is a term broader than "art", which usually means the visual arts (comprising both fine art and crafts).

See the difference in taught programmes at City University: PG Diploma in Cultural
vs MA Arts Management.

And that would, basically, be the answer.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Quite a Lot about Francis and a Little about Rules

The latest friend to merit an appearance here charged me to decide on a moniker for him independently of his opinion. Well, that's a dangerous thing to do. And because I don't seem to be able to resist a challenge, I just nodded as if I gave people nicknames everyday all day.

Tempted as I was at first to call him The Lord of Misrule, that name really belongs to the late Francis Batten, who introduced the idea of Magister Ludi to me (a different creature from Hesse's in the Glass Bead Game, rather an 'opportunity to be playfully serious and seriously playful' as FB put it). Francis' workshop at Cae Mabon was the first space where I saw clearly how far I play with rules (I thought I was following them and everyone else admired the way that I broke them so freely - something to do with the letter vs the spirit, I believe, and honouring the outcome more than the path most travelled). Francis' essay on the subject is a mix of Gestalt and Morenian advocacy as to how to live a spontaneously creative life, exploring all the roles within one's grasp and developing each to its full potential. There is a bit more about his Magister Ludi figure in the obituaries in Tele (a pdf) and a lot more about his vision.

With Francis' death early this year, I lost a mentor, someone who grinned at the same absurdities as me, and my tutor in Sociodrama. He once had to describe me and his 'Ann of the clear blue eyes and mind' has stayed with me as the finest of compliments. I wasn't intending to write this entry as a memorial to him, but it seems to have gone that way as a great sadness again gathers inside me.

However, it is not inappropriate to think of the two men together - Francis and my new friend. They are both shy, wise and kind (and modest enough to be embarrassed to be so described here). And I have touched on some of the same issues with each. New friend says:

It seems to me that one should try and find a way that is true to as many of one's identities as possible - but it is not necessarily the case that the complex one discovers is right for everyone else all the time.

I understand what he means more fully for having thought about it myself quite a lot over the last few years.

New friend is also an expert on rules and boundaries, though he is far more subversive. And new friend is not fatherly. He is far more the Jack of Misrule. In fact, in most ways he is nothing like Francis, except that they have both inspired enduring respect in me. New friend will get his moniker in another post. Jack of Misrule... it's a possibility.