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Monday, 14 January 2008

Ticking Boxes

In the UK, there is a sense of reckoning. The Arts Council has issued a new report, which is the basis of a Guardian editorial today. At the core of the report, and the deep cuts to many arts projects, is a false dichotomy made, between "ticking boxes" and "excellence". The report, in fact, confuses the idea of excellence with innovation (see the Heaney post, above), but worse, assumes that one cannot tick boxes while pursuing the "real" goals of artistic endeavour. In Britain, "ticking boxes" is a euphemism for multicultural inclusivity, and socio-economic outreach. Over the last ten years, the Arts Council funded any number of museums, galleries, theatres, ballet companies, orchestras, and publishing projects, and one of the criteria was the relevance of the work, in terms of reaching out, or relating to, any number of British (often non-White) communities. I have often heard that sneer, from the Oxbridge elite, about those damn boxes - because "excellence" all too often is simply a comfortable status quo zone, where one class, and one culture, see eye-to-eye. Ticking those boxes allowed my Arts Council-funded Oxfam project to be the success it was. I was compelled to think outside my own limits of experience, and stretch, to consider, and get into dialogue with, cultures, communities, and values, different from mine - and sometimes on society's margins. It is true that, for instance, a poetry world funded only to reach the margins, and historically-underepresented cultures, might punish the established heart of things, where much good traditional and mainstream work gets done. However, aside from the few success stories, like Apples & Snakes, the performance poetry, and multicultural, poetry communities in Britain, have yet to really come in from the cold, and become productively integrated with print-based lyrical work. My fear is, in the new environment so openly opposed to the ticking of boxes, resides a ticking time bomb - one that may go off, when a whole series of people, places, and concerns, are once again sidelined and left relatively mute.
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