Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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Day  51 .. …  26  … Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our  Mighty (Un)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection:  Measuring the Arts. Again. And again. And again…

Many of us in the arts and creative industries have gotten used to measuring our work and talking about it in terms of value, value added, gross value added and all those signals which try to suggest that we’re doing more for the world than simply making great art.

We keep a keen eye on our financial outputs through annual accounts, box office returns, projections and bottom lines as if we’re talking about the arts as a golden goose which is going to keep laying us lots of lovely Faberge nest eggs for our future retirement.  

We use a whole systems of Heath Robinson-esque paraphernalia to measure personal growth, family change and social wellbeing if we’re using the arts instrumentally to affect people’s health, mindfulness and general absence of psychotic tendencies; and we’re in thrall to audience engagement tools which help us understand who came to an event, why they came, which bit of Beethoven’s 5th they most enjoyed, which bit they least enjoyed and whether they’re more likely to return if we just play them the best bits over and over and over again.

This fetish for measurement never stops and there’s always someone somewhere who wants to measure it again. And again. And again. In different ways, with different criteria, with different emphases and with different toolboxes. All in their own way to prove, beyond incontrovertible doubt that there is more to great art than just great art. That it has other benefits which are more measurable and definable, and that if we could only understand what they were, the arts world – our world, your world – everyone’s world would be a damn sight happier place.

The trouble is, this desire to measure everything within an inch of its life is having precious little effect on the political movers and shakers and critical opinion makers who will listen to what they want to listen to, irrespective of the evidence of all that measurement.

For example, the case for the economic importance of the arts has been made ad nauseum since the 1980s and yet it seems to have little influence on the key politicians and decision makers of anyone’s generation. Every 6 months or so it seems there’s another arts funding crisis which uses the same rhetoric as 5, 10 and 20 years ago. 

For all the measurement that’s been going on, and for all the cases that have been made that the arts are good for the nation’s bank balance, its mental health and its artistic sophistication, there’s been remarkably little effect on the politicians who instruct the bean counters to change their thinking to any great degree. 

The only study that seems to be missing is the one which measures the effect that measuring the arts has on the measurers.

Perhaps one day we’ll recognise the futility of the measurement paradigm and accept that great art is just that – great in its own right, impossible to quantify, pin down and stick in a butterfly cabinet.


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Day  50 .. …  ..  … Big  …. Up: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our Mighty (Un)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection: Act4Change: what binds us?

People say to me that there’s no such thing as the East Midlands. That the region is a figment of some politicians’ imaginations, cooked up in the back streets of Westminster back in the day when politicians carved up several regional and national boundaries, along with their breakfast bacon and eggs, not only here but across the world.

Many of you will know that Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent have all been on the receiving end of British politicians who have tended to cause disruption, distress and dismay with their arbitrary carving up of regions and communities so that people are left confused and bewildered about where they live, who their neighbours are and who they belong to.

A few years ago I was riding a train one day back from the Taj Mahal to Delhi in India and found myself completely baffled about what was it that bound the people of India: a country with over 1.3 billion people, more than 2000 ethnic groups and with representatives from every major religion, who between them, utter all four major families of the world’s languages across its vast land mass.

What binds you all together? I asked of a fellow traveller who was sat next to me on that rickety rackety train which stumbled along at an average speed of no more than 10mph. What connects the man or woman in the south of this huge country to the man or woman in its north? His answer was swift, decisive and simple: cricket.

For him, cricket provided the solution to the challenges posed by geography, language and faith. Cricket bound his people to a common cause and in doing so, allowed the country to celebrate the achievements of its communities throughout the ages.

And that’s what we’re doing here tonight, albeit in a more modest way. With all of you who’ve travelled the journeys you have – and I don’t just mean the physical travel up or down the regional motorways or train lines – but the emotional and psychological challenges you will have faced during the time you worked with on your Act4Change project – all of you are here because you’ve been bound by the power of art and culture.

In your work on your Act4Change projects, you’ve demonstrated the power of storytelling, of radio, of photography, drama, music, art, fashion and literature. It’s these things which have brought you together tonight and bind you to a greater cause.

The power in your art means that not only have you achieved great things for you and your communities, but you are now empowered to make even greater social and cultural changes in your lives to come across the region which you are creating because of your inspiration and commitment.

We’re delighted to be celebrating those journeys with you and to celebrate the power of your achievements and your artistic ambition, endeavour and insights.

Tonight is about recognising that the power of the East Midlands – its identity and place in the world – is being made by you, its children and young people.

Keynote speech at the launch of The Mighty Creatives Act4Change event at Attenborough Arts Centre, 4 May 2017: projects designed to challenge young people to change their communities through the power of art and culture.

  • The programme exceeded planned targeted resulting in:
  • 878 children and young people participating in the programme
  • 267 of those participating directly influencing change in local communities
  • 385 children and young people gaining a better understanding of local communities
  • 18 events delivered by partners, sharing knowledge and exchanging models of practice
  • 272 children and young people with improved communication and leadership skills
  • 158 young people taking leadership roles as part of the programme
  • 154 qualifications achieved by children and young people
  • 105 organisations supporting young people led social action
  • 30 social action projects happening across the region
  • £30K invested in project awards to young people in their communities
  • 28 films, exhibitions, performances, songs, recordings, live radio, newsletters, social media, presentations and awards events produced and shared in local communities and regional network event


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Day  49 .. …  ..  … Big  …. ..: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on arts funding on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are waiting in trepidation along with everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection: Risk Change: culture, migration and 3 days in Maribor.

Day 1

I’ve never been a refugee or a migrant. Sure, I’ve travelled from city to city in the UK sometimes to find work, sometimes to relocate in order to work – but never with a gun to my head, my entire family trudging through mud beside me or as a result of persecution in a place I once considered my home.

But I’m here at Kibla in Maribor, Slovenia this week representing The Mighty Creatives along with partners from 9 other EU countries to examine the refugee experience, research how cultural activity can inform that experience and who knows in the long run, perhaps inform future international policy on how cultural practice can enhance meaningful relationships between the migrant and their host community.

We’re doing this through a programme called Risk Change: a 4 year programme supported by Creative Europe Co-operation funding.   Organisations from 10 partner countries in the EU aim to  interact with different audiences, using a range of cultural methodologies to build connectivity  between new coming migrants and settled inhabitants of multicultural communities across Europe.

It’s a tall order at the moment given what’s happening across the continent and the U.K. especially given our recent Brexit ‘decision’.

We’ve no idea what to expect this week. Of course, we have the paperwork and the schedules and all the requisites to ensure a constructive collaboration. But until we look at each other in the eyes and hear how we breathe and talk together, the documentation is just text.  It’s the subtext that’s going to count this week: the verbal, nonverbal and physical communications which are going to tell us whether or not we’re on a long productive road with our colleagues at our sides or on our backs.

Day 2

We kicked off our kick off meeting yesterday with an introduction to the research that all 10 partners need to do as the first stage of the project. There’s quite a bit of it too: a shed load of desk based research covering national policy and initiatives on migration; 60 participant interviews per partner and countless reports, ‘call-outs’ and actions. 

The list goes on and on and on and on….

It occurred to me mid-session that we could really add some value to the process by introducing colleagues to the methodologies involved in arts based educational research (ABER), a form of ethnographic research which involves using arts based processes as the means of undertaking research (not just communicating its results).

I was involved in a lot of ABER practice some years ago when I ran the Special Interest Group for the British Educational Research Association (or the ABER SIG for BERA as it was called in those acronym crazed days): so I drew on some of that work and presented it to colleagues.  If you’re interested in the field, the following practitioners are as a good a place to start as any:

  • ABBS, P. (2003). Against the Flow. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • BAGLEY, C. (2008). ‘Educational ethnography as performance art: towards a sensuous
  • feeling and knowing’, Qualitative Research, 8, 1, 53–72.
  • EISNER, E. (1993). ‘Forms of understanding and the future of educational research’,
  • Educational Researcher, 22, 7, 5–11.
  • LEITCH, R. (2006). ‘Limitations of language: developing arts-based creative narrative in stories of teachers’ identities’, Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 12, 5, 549–69.
  • SAUNDERS, L. (2003). ‘On flying, writing poetry and doing educational research.’ British Educational Research Journal, 29, 2, 175–187.

Day 3

“I’ve never been a refugee or a migrant…” or so I thought at the start of this week. Yesterday we covered a lot of ground about the concept of who ‘counts’ as a migrant and why they ‘count’.

Fortunately, we were spared conversations about definitions of migrants which much like definitions of ‘creativity’ are interminable, exhausting and inconclusive. This is because someone at UNESCO had the good sense to conjure up some definitions of what counted as international migration which all the partners were happy enough to go along with. In summary, these were:

  1. Temporary labour migrants: also known as guest workers or overseas contract workers: people who migrate for a limited period of time in order to take up employment and send money home;
  • Highly skilled and business migrants: people with qualifications as managers, executives, professionals, technicians or similar, who move within the internal labour markets of trans-national corporations and international organisations, or who seek employment through international labour markets for scarce skills;
  • Irregular migrants or undocumented / illegal migrants: people who enter a country, usually in search of employment, without the necessary documents and permits;
  •  Forced migration: in a broader sense, this includes not only refugees and asylum seekers but also people forced to move due to external factors, such as environmental catastrophes or development projects. This form of migration has similar characteristics to displacement;
  • Family members: or family reunion / family reunification migrants: people sharing family ties joining people who have already entered an immigration country under one of the above mentioned categories;
  • Return migrants: people who return to their countries of origin after a period in another country.

The guys at UNESCO also make the useful point that:

“Migration is not a single act of crossing a border, but rather a lifelong process that affects all aspects of the lives of those involved.”

So in hindsight (always my best friend, Mr Hindsight), perhaps I am a migrant after all… perhaps we all are, one way or another… Something to consider over the weekend as I migrate from Maribor to Ljubljana and take on the role of being another form of transient: the tourist.

More on how Rick Change developed in the East Midlands here.


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…  48 .. …  ..  … Big  …. ..: Reimaginings

After a long period of silence, Arts Council England are announcing the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their funding applications on Friday 4 November.  

The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector. So, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, our period of not-quite-silence on the reflections of our past and re-imaginings of our futures continues unabated.

If this period of not-quite-silence is getting on your nerves, you could do a lot worse than to support our Mighty (UN)Mute  campaign here. One thing I promise: if you can help us reach our target, I’ll never ask you ever again!  You will have well and truly shut me up 🙂

Today’s reflection: Wakey Wakey!  The Four Awakenings of Public Sector Change

The avuncular British entertainer, Billy Cotton, used to exhort his audiences at the start of his 1960s TV programmes with the clarion catch phrase call, Wakey Wakey! before whipping through an hour of traditional English light entertainment reminiscent of the old British dance band days of the 1920s and 30s.

His orchestra was one of the few which survived that era and made it to the modern world of the television whilst generating a fond nostalgia for the olden days of social certainties, moral rectitude and people knowing their place in the world.

His call to wake up was poignant. The era he had grown up in was way in the past, and he may well have been urging himself to wake up as much as he was exhorting his audience. But he kept awake and alert and successfully made the transition from old time English band leader and entertainer to nationally recognised radio and television star.

Strange though it may seem, there’s a lot of learning to be had from a fading English big band leader when it comes to understanding public sector change. That learning can help you be on top of the changes you’re going through, rather than being squashed by them.

There are three things to wake up to about change in the public sector, the first of which is eloquently hinted at in Yeats’ poem of 1924, The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…

“The centre cannot hold…” has been particularly true in the UK these days where financial pressures and huge shifts in what is expected of the public sector means that organisations are having to reinvent themselves – sometime willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming into the market place – in partnership with organisations from other sectors such as the voluntary, social enterprise and private sectors.

The Second Awakening concerns the question of organisational identity. One critical consequence of the centre falling apart is that organisational identity also comes under severe pressure, and in some cases, crisis. Organisations are no longer able to conceive of themselves in the same way and if they are to survive that pressure and fend off the crisis, and for their reinvention to be effective, they will require a fundamental change in organisational culture.

The Third Awakening results from an acknowledgement that organisational culture change comes about through changes in how we think about, and act upon, our understanding of what it is to work in partnership.

The Art of Falling Apart

Yeats isn’t alone with his observation of the centre falling apart. Goethe took the argument one stage further when he warned that political centralisation would lead to the destruction of all culture. In his conversation with Johann Peter Eckermann in 1828 he wrote:

“To be sure, the state has been compared to a living body with many parts, and a state’s capital thus might be compared to the heart, which supports the life and well being of its near and distant parts. If the parts are very far from the heart, however, the flow of life will become weaker and weaker…”

And more recently, the historian and philosopher Terry Eagleton in 2001 positively urged the benefits of the centre collapsing whilst noting some of the collateral damage that this entailed:

These days, centrality is distinctly uncool. The centre has been marginalised, and marginality, like Bohemian Manchester or Cornish fishing villages, is the place to be. With so many groups muscling in on them, from sexual and ethnic minorities to dog-on-a-rope anarchists, the margins have grown so crowded that there is now standing room only. Indeed, they have bulged to spread over most of the page. Like elitism, marginality isn’t possible if too many people want to do it. It is an uncomfortable place, yet, oddly, it is where a lot of people want to be. In this sense it is a bit like Bangkok or the Aran islands.

So, if the centre cannot hold despite our best intentions, it may be best to wake up to the fact, embrace its possibilities and wake up to the new identity our organisation is going to find itself with. 

The falling apart of the centre means that whilst our organisations might have been sleeping caterpillars in recent years, there every possibility that they can emerge into the sunlight as bright new butterflies ready to face the challenges ahead.

From pupae to butterfly: changing organisational culture

Organisational culture is a complex phenomenon. Nilofer Merchant in the Harvard Business Review described culture as: “all that invisible stuff that glues organizations together… norms of purpose, values, approach — the stuff that’s hard to codify, hard to evaluate, and certainly hard to measure and therefore manage…”

She suggests there are three important questions to ask ourselves which tell us about the culture of an organisation:

Do We Trust Each Other?

Disagreements Mean What? and

Who Cares About the Baby?

She suggests that in an organisation with poor levels of trust, every team member “simply surrounds an issue much like a team of kids surrounds the ball. They then travel en masse, afraid to move away from the proverbial “ball.” In this culture, no one owns a position on the field. When they are huddling, what they are signalling is that they don’t know how to trust one another to do their unique part. They don’t know how to “let go” to and with others, thus risking their ability to scale results.

Her question about how organisations deal with disagreements indicate how dissent and diversity can be handled within the culture of an organisation: “When teams don’t know how to handle disagreement, molehill issues can become do-or-die mountains, or, conversely, passive-aggressiveness insinuates itself as a mechanism to avoid overt disagreements at all costs.”

The question of Who Cares About the Baby? might not seem appropriate for any organisation other than a large hospital but she describes a scenario which many of us may recognise:

“A team that is part of a 50,000+ organisation recently described an issue where one team does their best right up to a hand-off milestone, then relinquishes any part of the project’s ultimate success. They described their discomfort with this using a baby analogy. “Will you take care of my [baby] the same way I would, knowing our shared goal is to [get this kid to a good college]. When the “baby” or in this case, business performance isn’t co-owned by everyone, things can easily fall through the cracks.”

It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it

Merchant argues that it’s how we get things done which drives performance, not what gets done and that it’s organisational culture – the set of habits that gives people permission to cooperate by assumption rather than by negotiation – which is critical to success.

But there’s one difficult outcome of this acknowledgement of the power of culture which Merchant amongst many others recognise: culture will trump strategy, every time.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture will look at your well crafted business plan, chew it up and spit it out before you’ve had time to say “mission drift.” Merchant makes the cautionary observation:

“The best strategic idea means nothing in isolation. If the strategy conflicts with how a group of people already believe, behave or make decisions it will fail. Conversely, a culturally robust team can turn a so-so strategy into a winner. The “how” matters in how we get performance.”

Culture change through partnership

The Third Awakening that Billy Cotton might have advised were he still alive with his Big Band, is that if an organisation’s culture is to change and, critically, to stick, it’s imperative to bring in new thinking, new ideas, new blood and new cultural practices into the work place. In the UK, this has involved new partnership building between the public, private and social sectors although this is not without its difficulties as Diamond points out:

“Change agents in the way they bring together different (and sometimes competing) interest

groups (means) regeneration partnerships are, therefore, often the sites of unresolved

interest.”

So, if we accept that cultural change is inevitable, given the forging of new organisational identity following the falling apart of the centre, what framework might we need to steer us through the process of partnership building?

The Fourth Awakening – or Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse if you’re feeling particularly threatened by organisational change – is that the following principles are essential to partnership building: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Knowledge.

Liberté: partnerships works best when both partners enter that partnership voluntarily and are not coerced into an arrangement that suits one partner better than the other. Liberté involves both commitment and compromise: accepting the need to be both focused on and committed to strategy whilst being flexible about tactics and delivery.

Egalité: partners need to respect language differences and appreciate that their way of knowing the world and acting upon it is not the only way of living the good life. Other partners will speak differently, use different metaphors and will not have the same language constraints: the value of the partnership is in appreciating those differences in language and not railroading over them.  A GSOH – a Good Sense of Humour – is essential here. It takes time to understand each other and there will be misunderstandings along the way. The task is to accept these moments in good grace and not storm out of the room in high dudgeon as if your mother has just been insulted.

Fraternité: partners need to accept that your organisational weight is not the be all and end-all. It’s not just your history that makes you a partner: you have to bring on-going skills, knowledge and wisdom to this process not just a superior histori-cultural capital. A decent partnership isn’t a forced marriage where you bring your ugly self and explain it away with the large financial contribution you’re bringing to justify your place at the table. Fraternité embraces the principles of dialogue as opposed to monologue. Partners need to talk with each other, not at each other.

Knowledge Partnership building can be like a completing a jigsaw puzzle without having the benefit of having the box top with the completed picture in front of you. But you can lessen your organisational anxiety if you know where you are in the building process which roughly follows the following pattern:

  1. Scoping: involves identifying personnel, ideas, facts, figures, whims, daydreams, ‘what-ifs’, impossible scenarios, dull ideas, bright ideas, snatches of speech, the flotsam and jetsam of everyday and not so every day life.
  2.  Planning: identifying where are the connections between your collections, what they lead to, what links suggest themselves and summoning up the new world your partnership will generate.
  3.  Building: involves combining the components into infrastructure and not being afraid to jettison structures that don’t fit (they may belong to another project which you are unaware of at this point in time) or changing the infrastructure itself. “Killing your darlings” is a phrase you might hear here a lot. It involves focusing on the form and content of your partnership; being sure that everything in it has a purpose, a role and a function.
  4.  Delivering: the eventual rolling out the work of the partnership in order to achieve the aims and objectives you have set yourselves.
  5. Evaluating: asking yourself has the partnership delivered? And if so, how? and if not, why not? And then back to the drawing board to revisit and revise.

A final caveat

Partnership building can be a highly satisfying process which enables organisations to deliver far more together than they could ever achieve alone. It’s essential to driving effective public sector change. This can be attractive to a range of potential partners, some of whom aren’t necessarily driven by the same values as yourselves: so ensure that your partners have something at stake when they come to your table, or they may just end up taking the table away.

(Keynote speech given at the Oman Competitiveness Forum, 29th – 30th October 2014 at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat)


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…  47 .. …  ..  … …  …. ..: Reimaginings

So, although Arts Council England were supposed to have announced the results of their long-awaited investment decisions on Wednesday 26 October, this was delayed yesterday with a decision due ‘in the coming days’. The better news today is that they confirmed today that all applicants will receive a decision on Friday 4 November.

So, our re-imaginings can continue a little bit longer.

Today’s reflection: गम से फखर तक का आखिरी सफर: hearing the student voice in Jalandhar, India

Educational reform informed by creativity and cultural education is a global phenomenon. China, Singapore and Korea are some of the world’s major nations which are looking to creative and cultural methodologies to provide them with a new approach to teaching and learning and in recent months, we have developed a strong relationship with the Ivy Education Group in India who share our vision of transforming children and young people’s lives through creativity and cultural education.

This relationship led me to being invited to visit 6 Ivy Education Schools in the Jalandhar area of the Punjab, in order to establish exchanges between our organisations, teachers, students and universities across the Midlands.

This was an exciting prospect at the turn of the year but about two weeks before I arrived in Jalandhar, tension in the area escalated rapidly after a convoy of army vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a suicide bomber in the Pulwama district of Kashmir on 14 February: St. Valentines Day.

The attack resulted in the deaths of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel and the attacker: the responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed.  Kashmir is fiercely contested by India and Pakistan and three wars have been fought since Britain partitioned the country in 1947. The importance of cultural and creative education became more charged than I had expected when I was planning my visit at the turn of the year.

In the short time I was there, I presented the work of The Mighty Creatives to over 1,200 students, parents and teachers and was humbled by the welcome everyone showed me and the interest they expressed in the work we do across the Midlands.

One overwhelming memory was a poem written by a young student, Simran Bhardwaj, from Cambridge International School in Phagwara. As part of the school’s welcome, she read out her tribute poem, गम  से  फखर  तक  का  आखिरी  सफर (The Last Trip from Gam to Fakhar.)

Shown below in Hindi and its English translation, she mourns how a day dedicated to love became a day of tragedy through the eyes of a dying soldier.  Her performance reminded me that whilst newspaper reports and academic papers explain something of our history, it takes the word of the poet and the voices of children to provide a deeper insight into our humanity and the struggles in which we find ourselves.

There are no solutions to the region’s conflicts in Simran’s poetry and no objective analysis of the historical factors which have led to the current situation: just the clear, direct and plaintive voice of a young child whose past and future lives have been, and will be,  informed by that regional conflict.

गम  से  फखर  तक  का  आखिरी  सफर

मज़िल थी बड़ी दूर जनाब,

पर हमें में भी कम नहीं थे देश सेवा के जज़्बात…..

बाँध कफन सिर्फ़ पर और हाथों में लिए बंदूक,

घाटी की हसीन वादियों से निकल रहे थे हम……..

कभी घाटी की ख़ूबसूरती को निहारते,

तो कभी बीते हुए वक़्त से अपने परिवार की यादों को……

पर हुआ ही ना एहसास हमें कि वक़्त बदल रहा है अपनी करवट,

दिल में मेरे मची थी एक अजीब सी हरकत…….

मंज़िल की दूरी जैसे-जैसे हो रही थी कम,

वैसे ही हमारे क़ाफ़िले से जा टकराए यहाँ हमारी मौत का वो आख़िरी बम…….

एक झटके में टूटी हमारी साँसों की डोरी,

फिर भी जारी थी हमारी ज़िंदगी और मौत से एक आख़िरी सीनाज़ोरी……

चाहकर भी चल ना सका बस हमारा,

आख़िर टूट ही गया जो देश से था वादा हमारा……..

ए ख़ुदा काश़ तु बख़श देता कुछ मोहलत इन कम्बख्त साँसों को,

तो इतना बता जाता कि……

ग़म ये नहीं की शहादत नसीब हुई,

पर ग़म और शिकायत तो उसके तरीक़े से है…….

ग़म ये नहीं की शहादत नसीब हुई,

पर ग़म इस बात का है कि आख़िरी बार माँ भारती की सेवा न कर सका……..

ग़म ये नहीं कि मेरी हम सफ़र का साथ छूट गया,

पर ग़म इस बात का है कि उसका मंगलसूत्र उतर गया……..

ग़म ये नहीं कि मोहब्बत के दिन फ़ना मैं हो गया,

पर ग़म ये है कि अपनी हम सफ़र से किये वो वादे मैं अधूरे छोड़ गया……

ग़म ये नहीं कि मेरे बच्चों के ऊपर से बाप का साया छिन गया,

पर ग़म ये है कि अपनी ही औलाद को पहली नज़र भी ना देख सका………

ग़म ये नहीं कि मेरे माँ-बाप के बुढ़ापे की लाठी छिन गयी,

पर ग़म ये है कि जिन बाँहों में बचपन बीता आज उन्हीं बाँहों को सुनी छोड़ आया हूँ, तड़पता छोड़ आया हूँ………

सुना है खुदा आख़िरी वक़्त पर इन्सान झूठ नहीं बोलता,

तो आज अपने इस आख़िरी वक़्त में मैं भी अपना एक आख़िरी सच बता जाता हूँ,

कि मुझे ग़म से ज़्यादा फ़ख्र है……

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि मैं एक हिंदुस्तानी सपूत हूँ …..

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि माँ भारती ने मुझे चुना है अपनी सेवा के लिए……

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि मोहब्बत के दिन अपने मुल्क से मोहब्बत मैं निभा सका…..

फ़ख्र है इस बात का कि मेरे प्राणों की आहुति मेरे देश के लिए थी…….

फख़्र है इस बात का कि आख़िरी वक़्त में भी मेरे तन पर सेना की वर्दी थी और मेरी आँखें फख़्र से ऊपर थी…….

फख़्र है इस बात का कि सोने चाँदी के बदले मेरा कफन तिरंगा था, मेरा कफन तिरंगा था,मेरा कफन तिरंगा था…..

The Last Trip from Gam to Fakhar

The destination was very far away,

But we also had high enthusiasm for serving our sacred motherland……

Tying shrouds on our heads and having rifles in our hands,

Passing through the valley of Kashmir the only heaven on earth……..

Sometimes beholden with the beauty of valley,

And sometimes lost in the memories of my family from the time passed by……….

But we didn’t realised that time is transforming itself,

Though I felt a strange movement from depth of my heart……….

As the destination was coming closer and closer,

The bomb of our death on the moving vehicle approached our convoy………

Just with one jerk the string of our life was broken,

Still we were continuing our struggle between our life and death for one last time…………

Trying our best to assert our will on our pre-decided destiny of ultimate death,

But we weren’t able to do so………

At last the promise to our motherland was broken……

Oh Almighty! I wish that you had lend me with some more breathes, so that I could tell everyone that:

Grief isn’t about being martyred,

But my complaint is about the way of being martyred……

Grief isn’t about my death being so early,

But my sorrow is about being not able to render my services to my nation for last time……

Grief isn’t about leaving my better half forever,

But my pain is for that her wedding necklace has been removed and her vermilion is cleared after my death…….

Grief isn’t about that I had died on the day of love,

But my sadness is about the promises which I made to my better half that will remained incomplete……..

Grief isn’t about that my children has lost the shade of their father over their heads,

But my mourning is being for the reason that I wasn’t able to see my child’s face even for first time……….

Grief isn’t about that my parents had lost their only support of old age,

But my regret is about that I had left those arms vacant and yearning in which I had grown…….

Oh God ! I had heard that at the time of death a person never lies. So, today at my final and last stage I shall tell my final and last truth of my life to this whole world that instead of being in grief I am highly proud:

I am proud of being an Indian warrior….

I am proud that Mother Bharat has chosen me for her service…….

I am proud of being able to fulfil my love for my motherland on the day of love……

I am proud that at my last movement my eyes were open high with pride…..

I am proud that at last movement also I was wearing the uniform of army on my body…….

I am proud that my life has been laid down for my country……

I am proud that instead of gold and silver my shroud was our national flag tirangaa, our national flag tirangaa.

By Simran Bhardwaj, February 2019

My time in Jalandhar was short, and my time with Ivy Education schools very sweet: albeit infused with the taste of tension in the airspace and on the land those two great nations occupy. Hopefully the voices of the poets and the country’s young people will be heard in the weeks to come and that a longer period of peaceful international relations will prevail.

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.


Leave a comment

Reimaginings

Well, today Arts Council England were supposed to have announced the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026.

As it happens, all applicants received an email yesterday which read:

Following discussions with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), we have agreed to delay sharing our Investment Programme decisions with applicants. The announcement will instead be made as soon as possible within the coming days. You can find a copy of our full published statement online here: www.artscouncil.org.uk/investment23.

So, our re-imaginings are going to have wait a little bit longer.

So, in the meantime, here is some music: “51 Reasons to Be Cheerful”, The Mighty Creatives playlist, pulled together during the dark lockdown days of Covid and pending ACE NPO announcements.

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.


Leave a comment

…  45 .. …  ..  … …  …. ..: Reimaginings

On 26 October 2022, Arts Council England will announce the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026. The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector and are ready for the email on 26 October which will tell us about what our relationship with Arts Council England will be over the next 3 years.  

So, in the meantime, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, here’s another reflection which highlights some of the amazing work the charity has done for children and young people in the East Midlands over the last ten years.

Today’s reflection: A Mighty Love Letter

To be mighty is to be creative, we know that much already.

Our drive is a renowned one. An engine of empowerment – 

our heart a toll-free motorway pumping access region-wide,

merging and emerging, fighting and defending.

We filled in the surveys like good tick-box others,

it’s all there – to be mighty is to collect the figures.

To be mighty is to untangle them. To feel the injustice within them.

The figures are Midlands children after all –

our seaside souls, our urban underbellies, our rural roots,

our stuck schools, our underrepresented origins, our ravaged resources. 

To be mighty is to fight for their voices.

There are still so many kids with austerity-plucked wings,

their potential fenced in, caught in netted thought.

To be mighty is to fall in love with their stories

and fill their heads with feathers and glue

and no instructions, only encouragement – 

let them be the architect of their own flight.

We find patterns amid the arrows, 

the splashes and swaths that point to transformation –

an arts award has direction, imagination can travel, 

change makers are the future.

To be mighty is to keep on doing. To see ‘young’ as a doing word.

Young poet, young confidence, young leader,

young purpose, young festival, young teacher,

young dancer, young education, young skill,

young conference, young artist, young will.

That’s all we’re doing, really – 

passing on the things we’ve learnt, the love we believe,

and what our mighty vision hopes to achieve.

And you, my love, for reading this, are mighty too. 

You feel our fight, hear our voice,

and we hope you will fall in love with our story.

(Commissioned from Charley Genever, Emerge Young Artist 2017, to mark the TMC Business Plan from 2019 – 2024)

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.


Leave a comment

…  44 .. …  ..  … Big …. ..: Reimaginings

On 26 October 2022, Arts Council England will announce the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026. The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector and are ready for the email on 26 October which will tell us about what our relationship with Arts Council England will be over the next 3 years.  

So, in the meantime, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, here’s another reflection which highlights some of the amazing work the charity has done for children and young people in the East Midlands over the last ten years.

Today’s reflection: Inspiring – Rare – Community – Beneficial – Resourceful

“At the beginning of this journey all I had was a vision and a small voice, hoping to be heard. Now seeing that vision come into fruition, I believe that my voice has been amplified and I hope that it will also amplify the voices and stories of the people who get involved with the project.”

These are the powerful words of one of the young people who have benefitted from The Mighty Creatives’ Young Empowerment Fund setup as part of our response to the Covid-19 pandemic back in 2020 and which we’re here today to celebrate.

The Young Empowerment Fund threw down a challenge to young people across the East Midlands:  how can you respond creatively to the challenges the pandemic presents for the benefit of your communities?

If we had any doubts back then that young people could respond creatively given the immense pressures on their education, their families and their mental health, these doubts were rapidly washed away by the desire they showed to see a better life through their creativity, imagination, and vision.

Since the beginning of the fund, 44 inspiring projects have blossomed over three rounds of the programme. Our young people have engaged a diverse range of art forms including music, performance, poetry, writing, websites, community art, drama and so much more. 

They have worked with our staff, freelance creative practitioners, and artists and in doing so, have helped those who have been working in the cultural sector itself, to financially navigate their own routes through the employment pressures caused by the pandemic.

Today provides us with the opportunity to congratulate all the young people involved – those here today and those who are unable to attend – on what they have achieved.  

Not through Zoom, not through Teams, not through WhatsApp, but in the here and now, face to face.  It’s been a long time coming and I hope you are as thrilled as we are that we can share their achievements with you. As well as the displays, you’ll also be able to enjoy some performances too.  Refreshments are available throughout the afternoon at Gray’s café – located over there – so please enjoy their fabulous food offer as well.

More recently we asked our participants to sum up their experiences of the Young Empowerment Fund in five words and they responded with the following:

Inspiring – Rare – Community – Beneficial – Resourceful

So, today please take this opportunity to browse through their creative work, talk to them about their projects and see how beneficial their work has been for themselves and their communities.   You’ll see for yourself too how resourceful they have been and be touched by that rarest of qualities: the ability to creatively respond to personal challenges and forge a new vision from those challenges.

Our vision here at TMC is simple: it’s to inspire children and young people to harness the power of arts, creativity and culture for positive change: and I am sure that today, you will witness first-hand how our young people have harnessed their artistic powers for all kinds of positive change.

The official launch of Round 4 will be later this afternoon, but in the meantime, I want to leave you some final words from one young person about the effect the Young Empowerment Fund had on them:

“I have met new people and made new connections.”

Which, in our ever-challenging world of mental health distress, dissolving community and heightened political tension is a fantastic testimony to the power that the arts and culture can have on all our lives.  Thank you.

(Extract from welcome speech at the Young Empowerment Fund Celebration event, LCB Depot, Leicester, 26 March 2022)

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.


Leave a comment

…  43 .. …  26 … Big …. ..: Reimaginings

On 26 October 2022, Arts Council England will announce the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026. The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector and are ready for the email on 26 October which will tell us about what our relationship with Arts Council England will be over the next 3 years.  

So, in the meantime, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, here’s another reflection which highlights some of the amazing work the charity has done for children and young people in the East Midlands over the last ten years.

Today’s reflection: building talent pipelines in the age of creative austerity

Arts Award inspires young people to grow their arts and leadership talents: it’s creative, valuable and accessible. Whatever art form they’re interested in, whatever their ability, Arts Award can be a perfect fit with their interests and skills.

They can do an Arts Award in any area of the arts from fashion to poetry, rapping to dancing, sculpture to film. They can be artists or performers, or want to develop their skills in essential roles like marketing or stage management.

Designed by our very own Chair of Trustees, Felicity Woolf way back when,  the East Midlands is  at the national Arts Award forefront and it’s a programme that we at TMC are honoured to promote. 

Arts Award  truly is a creative, flexible and valuable qualification for everyone: it can be achieved at five levels – Discover, Explore, Bronze, Silver and Gold levels – and offers children and young people every aspect of engagement possible: everything from taking part in different arts activities, to being inspired by artists and arts organisations through to organising your own projects.

We achieved 16,709 passes across the five levels between 2015 and 2018:  and together we enabled over 35,000 young people to create their portfolios which go towards gaining their Arts Award qualifications.

This means you have contributed to young people growing their leadership skills, artistic talents, confidence and creative skills.

The numbers associated with the project are impressive. Across the region, we have over 300 Arts Award centres actively hosting activiities; and 119 Arts, Cultural and youth support organisations

So, we’re here today to celebrate this phenomenal achievement. Everyone in the room has contributed to young people in the region accessing great arts and culture through the Arts Award framework.  You’ll hear some great key note presentations, and will be inspired by the amazing work produced by the children and young people of the region. 

You’ll also have lots of networking opportunity to meet many practitioners including our Local Cultural Education Partnerships.

As we look forward to the future with Arts Award  – and plan for its further evolution – we want to ensure all of you continue on the journey with us. Please make sure you sign up and stay connected with us at TMC, Trinity College London and Arts Council England for latest developments, continued support offers and opportunities.

(Extract from Introduction Speech at the Arts Award conference, ‘Arts Evolution’ at Stamford Court, Leicester on 13 March 2018.)

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.


Leave a comment

…  42 .. …  26 … Big …. Up: Reimaginings

On 26 October 2022, Arts Council England will announce the results of their long-awaited investment decisions into which arts and cultural organisations have been successful in their applications to become National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) or Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) between 2023 and 2026. The Mighty Creatives are in the same position as everyone else in the sector and are ready for the email on 26 October which will tell us about what our relationship with Arts Council England will be over the next 3 years.  

So, in the meantime, in the spirit of hoping for the best but planning for the worst, here’s another reflection which highlights some of the amazing work the charity has done for children and young people in the East Midlands over the last ten years.

Today’s reflection: what do you want from a village? Really, really want?  

Royston Vasey was a fictional community invented in the BBC television comedy series The League of Gentlemen.

It was a simple village where everyone kept themselves to themselves and people liked to keep things ‘local’.

Filming of the series took place in the Derbyshire village of Hadfield and the programme gave us a sharp – but not altogether flattering –  insight into what villages can be and represent.

So what better place to start our thinking about what we want from a village.

And who better than Ferdinand Tonnies the German sociologist who knew all about how groups of people formed,  based on their wants and desires.

Tonnies distinguished between two basic types of social grouping based on human will:

Firstly, essential will which describes underlying, organic, instinctive driving forces in which membership of the group is self-fulfilling;

and 

Secondly, arbitrary will – which is deliberate, rational and future orientated and in which membership of the group is sustained by some instrumental goal or definite end.

Tonnies defined groups that form around essential will as gemeinschaft which we translate as ‘community’. 

And he defined groups that are formed around arbitrary will as Gesellschaft which we translate as ‘society’.

For Tonnies, Gemeinschaft could be identified by family, neighbourhood or village relationships and Gesellschaft was identified by the city, the state or corporate relationships.

So what do you want from your village?  Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft? 

Because there are consequences to your choice.

On the one hand, gemeinschaft or community refers to relationships in which individuals are bound together by common norms often because of shared physical space and beliefs.  These can be tight knit, potentially claustrophobic and disconnected from the wider world.  A bit like Roysten Vasey,

On the other hand you might want a village built on Gesellschaft: relationships which are based on contract, on mutual, rational benefit but in which self-interest is the primary justification for membership. A bit like the new Roysten Vasey the builders were brought into build.

Your choice of Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft may depend on how you want to control your village.

In Gemeinschaft, control is through common morals, encouraging conformism and practicing exclusion and social  control.  ‘You’re not from here are you?’ is a oft heard quote in Roysten Vasey.

Gesellschaft on the other hand keeps its equilibrium through policing, through laws,  tribunals and the ultimate sanction, prison.

But if you were a young village member, how would know whether you had disrupted the village equilibrium?

Well, in Gemeinschaft the rules are implicit – they’ve been handed down through the generations and everyone knows what they are and what is not to be done.  

Gesellschaft has explicit rules which are our written laws – everything from lawn tennis clubs to rock concerts to the law of the land.  These are the rules which reflect Gesellschaft.

There are consequences of your choice of desire for your village of course.

Eric Hobsbawm has made the point that globalisation is turning the entire planet into an increasingly remote kind of Gesellschaft with Fredric Jameson suggesting that this is accompanied by what he calls “an ambivalent envy felt by those constructed by Gesellschaft  for a longing back to Gemeinschaft.  A kind of nostalgic reminiscence for days which perhaps never really existed.”

So what you want what do you want from your village? What you really really want as the Spice Girls might have sung to us today.

Well, what we want to do today is consider how cultural education could be at the heart of the village model.

 Let’s start with just a brief look at what we mean by cultural education.

According to the Darren Henley review of 2012, Cultural Education consists of cultural activities which are academically, physically and socially enriching which  take place in school or out of school. 

Henley says that cultural activities include everything from archaeology through to the visual arts: and I would add that faith, food, science and sport are cultural activities which are equally important in developing a cultural offer for children and young people.

Henley says explicitly that the best performing schools bring cultural education practitioners in to  schools to work alongside classroom teachers to share their knowledge with children and young people.

I would add that the power of place and local specificity whilst understanding the wider global contexts which children live in is also critical to the success of that work of teachers and cultural practitioners working together.

Henley makes the point that a sound cultural education is about allowing children and young people to gain – and I would add – construct knowledge.

It’s about understanding,  developing their critical faculties: developing skills to practice specific cultural forms and I would add, is particularly critical in generating personal social and economic outcomes as well as cultural outcomes. 

Whilst many of us here today are here to consider the cultural outcomes of our work we also know we cannot isolate them from the bigger social and economic outcomes that arise from our work.

So how do The Mighty Creatives place cultural education within a village model? 

We do this by placing the child at the centre of the learning experience.

We do it by engaging insiders and outsiders – i.e. those inside and outside the village institutions such as schools to work together through a collective impact model for the benefit of our young villagers 

We do it by building on the multiagency policies and approaches of the last 20 years which including the Children’s Workforce strategy,  extended schools personalised learning and so on. 

And most recently we’ve been doing it through our local cultural education partnerships, our Emerge Youth arts festivals and other activities that you’ll be hearing about today.

How can we start today? 

We at TMC can start today by pledging to provide a world-class cultural education offer across the East Midlands. 

I’ll be talking more about that at the end of afternoon but one thing I would close this session today with is to ask you, to pledge to engage with this fantastic work which has been produced by over 500 children from across the region for your enjoyment today and of course the action packed programme we have ahead.

Colleagues, I hope you have a fantastic summit and look forward to hearing about your wants and desires for your villages through today and in the months to come.

(Extract of Keynote Speech of The Mighty Creatives Village Model Summit, Nottingham Conference Centre, November 2016)

The Mighty Creatives staff team took part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on 5th October 2022. You can check out the campaign here or donate your support to it here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.