State of the Arts 2011 and Future Democracy ‘10

21.02.2011 State of the Arts 2011 and Future Democracy ‘10

Review of State of the Arts 2011 and Future Democracy ‘10.

When the State of the Arts 2011 conference (London, 10th February) appeared on the Twitter radar a few weeks ago I eagerly snapped up one of the last remaining places.

It was an extraordinary gathering of delegates. Most industry meet-ups have a very obvious focus but at the State of The Arts 2011 the sheer diversity of interests (from the quasi-humanitarian to the purely egotistical, from the traditional to the cutting-edge, from the subsidised to the profit-making, and somewhere amongst it all, education and health) was quickly apparent. So too was the absolute passion of the attendees for what they do.

The best sessions were those where the panellists brought and shared specific knowledge about what they are working on. Rethinking cultural philanthropy was excellent. The points made by Erica Whyman (Chief Executive, Northern Stage) being particularly incisive. Ironically, I only saw this session for the first time on video a few days after the conference itself. I have watched the video twice.

Thank you to the RSA and the Arts Council England for organising this great conference and making videos of all the sessions and also the Flash Conference freely available to everyone.

Elsewhere in London on 17th February, Arts & Business – Frontline Funding Symposium 2011 was, from all accounts, inspirational. Certainly the Audio Boo Lunchtime and End of Day interviews are good fun and contain some valuable points.

And in Tokyo (12th to 13th February), the British Council organised the Digital Creative Conference Fumihiko Sumitomo starts the final panel Thinking about the future of digital art by quoting Fumio Nanjo (Director, Mori Art Museum) from an earlier session: “As a result of new technology emerging, ‘art’ cannot maintain its autonomous sphere. Art is disappearing, everyone is becoming creative and we have to respond to this new trend.”

These two latter conferences I followed via Twitter.

Turning the clock back a little, I was fortunate enough to attend Future Democracy ’10 (London, 2nd December 2010).

The keynote speaker was Steve Thompson, Institute of Digital Innovation, University of Teesside. That it was an inspired choice became clear as the day unfolded, his “alternative perspective” somehow illuminating the other later sessions which were of more direct interest to me.

In the Apps for Democracy workshop Jonathan Simmons talked about Public Zone’s app for connecting MPs to their constituents. A product not quite there yet, but which was close enough to make me feel a real thrill of impending change. Iris Lapinski, CDI Europe talked about the equally fascinating though quite different Apps for Good initiative.

Gez Smith from Delib discussed the government initiative Your Freedom which generated 14,000 ideas (across the whole spectrum of public concerns) and 95,000 comments (considered to be of mixed quality!).

Straight away I was struck by the thought that whilst the approach of Your Freedom, in terms of soliciting and evaluating ideas, was completely different to the MAG Poetry Prize, something very similar was going on. This year the MAG Poetry Prize generated 600 poems and 700 comments.

In the mysteriously named Workshop B: Large-scale online debate, Hans Hagedorn talked about the Citizens’ Forum Project in Germany. Here, across 25 regions, 10,000 citizens will be recruited with a view to generating a set of critically thought out ideas to be put forward and fed into public policy-making.

Hans Hagedorn and Anna Wohlfarth described in detail the processes for telephone recruitment (constructed to create a “random” sample by age, gender and education), challenge selection, group moderation and idea condensation. Each of the 25 regions has its own media budget. The scale of the project is jaw-dropping. The project kicks off in earnest in March and I can’t wait to see how this develops.

It is interesting to consider Your Freedom, the Citizen’s Forum and the MAG Poetry Prize together. All three are a call for ideas followed by an evaluation of these ideas.

In the case of Your Freedom, the organizer arranges for a professional team to evaluate and filter the ideas.

In the case of the Citizens’ Forum the idea generation and evaluation is a rolling process carried out by the participants. The participants are responsible for the final outcome although the unfolding of the process is guided by a team of professionals.

In the MAG Poetry Prize the participants submit and evaluate poems through a system of anonymous peer review. The rules are set in advance and the outcome is whatever the outcome is.

Future-Democracy ’10 took place in the circumstances of severe winter weather and many people were unable to attend. I was one of the lucky ones to make it and would like to thank Headstar and Dan Jellinek for organising another very stimulating event.

Some of the highlights are available on video thanks to Catch 21.


Peter Hartey

Founder, Poetic Republic