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This Thursday, the second State of the Arts conference will be held in London.  It aims to “brings together a wide range of creative voices to debate issues around resilience, audience and the value of arts and culture”.
It is organised by the RSA and Arts Council England, with Ed Vaizey MP as the keynote speaker.  Other panellists, speakers and Chairs include Alan Davey, Chief Exec of ACE and Dame Liz Forgan, Chair of ACE; and Matthew Taylor, Chief Exec of RSA and former DCMS civil servant.

In other words, it is an entirely establishment event.  It’s likely that these speakers will present the most positive face on what is  the most disheartening  enviroment for the arts since the eighties.    I predict that ACE will deliver a steadfast line on ‘tough decisions have to be made but the best and best run organisations will win through’.  Last time I saw Ed Vaizey speak, he asserted that the DCMS had got “a good settlement from the Treasury”.  I expect more of the same, along with rather empty rhetoric about how much the Coalition values the arts and creative industries.

Tickets cost £100 each, and the conference begins at 9 in the morning, meaning that those furthest from London have the greatest expenses in attending.  This may well limit the numbers and type of audience there.  Those that are attending are likely to be hoping for clues as to which way their applications to the ACE National Portfolio will be going.  This is an anxious waiting time for them; assessments are taking place as I write and formal announcements are due to be made on 31st March.

But the list of speakers is eclectic and potentially both challenging and inspiring.  A mixture of folk from the subsidised art world and the wider creative industries, their perspective will be worth hearing.  Phil Redmond, for example (creator of Brookside and latterly creative director of the Liverpool Culture Company), is embedded in the private sector but well known for speaking his mind.   Ruth McKenzie, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Mark Wallinger are always worth hearing.  Further, there are enough policy and decision-makers at this event to give an insight into not only which way the wind is blowing, but how they intend to cope with the prevailing gale.  It’s entirely  possible that these same people will also be influenced positively by the debate that takes place.

Additionally, the conference organisers are making real efforts to gain input from a wider range of voices via the Flash conference, the release of four “provocation papers” prior to the conference and a blog platform to comment on them, and a mechanism to submit questions to a Cultural Question Time.  This all sounds very promising indeed.

The day is structured around panel discussions referencing the political  zeitgeist: cultural philanthropy, arts and the Big Society, innovation and change.  Theoretically, there should be some extremely high level, highly informed, very intelligent discussion around where the arts sits in this new landscape and how they can make the best of it.  I am looking forward to participating in them.

But somehow, I very much suspect that ultimately the story of the day will be written by the cultural winners.  I’ll explain what I mean by this in my next post-conference blog.

In the meantime, for anyone who can’t be there but is interested in how the day progresses,  I will be tweeting from the Conference under the hashtag #sota11.

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