Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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Day 21 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: using creativity to lift the Big Shut Down.

You’re in a meeting; it’s bumbling along; minutes are handed out and people frown and glare or pass out in the heat of the moment. There’s mutterings under breaths; there’s sighs, grunts and the occasional fart. Everyone’s been shut up and the meeting’s been shut down.

But some bright spark says ‘what we need is a creative something something something‘ and suddenly the whole room has lit up in technicolour: the sighs become shouts, the grunts become groans of delight and the farts metamorphose into sounds of rejoicing: the whoopee cushion is something we all want to sit on now the creativity cat is out of the bag.

Because make no mistake: dropping the ‘c’ word into any meeting is bound to galvanise your workforce, impress your investors and stoke up the heat of admiration upon you. It doesn’t matter what the ‘something something something’ is, the fact that you’ve introduced the ‘c’ word to your proposal is what’s fired up the meeting.

In the olden days we would have used the words ‘magic’ and the effect would have been the same. These days, ‘creativity’ replaces the word for ‘magic’ and the world becomes a far happier place as a result, if only for a short time.

So, if in future you’re feeling shut down, shut up or just stuck in an oppressive silence, just drop the word ‘creative’ into proceedings and see your colleagues grow wings and fly to the heavens. They may not last long up there as they get too close to the sun, but they will thank you for liberating them from their non-magical silent daily grind.

The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 20 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: listen more often to things than to beings…

…sang Honey in the Rock in their song, Breaths.

They remind us that it’s comforting to know that in those times when you’re being shut up, when you’re not being listened to and feelings of isolation begin to take over, that you can gain inspiration, comfort and solutions from the inanimate world more than perhaps from the beings around you. The song says it far better than I can:

Listen more often to things than to beings,

Tis’ the ancestors’ breath,

When the fire’s voice is heard,

Tis’ the ancestor’s breath,

In the voice of the waters,

Ah — wsh Ah — wsh.

Those who have died have never, never left,

The dead are not under the earth,

They are in the rustling trees,

They are in the groaning woods,

They are in the crying grass,

They are in the moaning rocks,

The dead are not under the earth,

Those who have did have never, never left,

The dead have a pact with the living,

They are in the woman’s breast,

They are in the wailing child,

They are with us in our homes,

They are with us in this crowd,

The dead have a pact with the living,

Listen more often to things than to beings,

Listen more often to things than to beings,

Tis’ the ancestors’ breath,

When the fire’s voice is heard,

Tis’ the ancestor’s breath,

In the voice of the waters,

Ah — wsh Ah — wsh.

The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 19 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: shut up to shut down.

Of course, if things aren’t going your way and you’re facing a lot of hostile questioning from various bewildered quarters, then shutting yourself up is the perfect antidote to troublesome interrogators and shutting down the debate

One way to shut yourself up is to lock yourself up in your office, gird your loins with a couple of catchy catch phrases such as “Yes, it’s a difficult and controversial decision but it’s the right one” which you repeat ad nauseum or until the next catchy catch phrases are written for you.

Another way to shut yourself up is to just to walk out of the room when faced with having to argue for those difficult and controversial decisions.  If you can do this with various colleagues at the same time, this can be a very impressive way of shutting down the debate too.  

This was attempted this week at a meeting of the Westmorland and Furness Shadow Authority at County Hall in Kendal.  Conservative councillors refused to take part in a vote on a motion on tackling the cost of living by simply walking out of the meeting: a perfect example of shutting up to shut down the debate.

Fortunately, their attempts to shut down the debate didn’t work and the motion was carried by the remaining councillors: the democratic process lived to fight another day, despite attempts to silence it in its tracks.

And for balance: the Northwest Mail attempted to contact the leader of Westmorland & Furness Council’s Conservative Group for a comment but none has been forthcoming.  So far. There’s a surprise.  Shhhhh!

The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 18 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: let’s hear it for the strong, silent types.

If being silenced is really beginning to unnerve you, then you could always follow the example of many cartoon characters and turn your silence into a virtue which will have your followers loving every unspoken moment and your detractors falling over themselves to act upon your unspoken words of wisdom.  

Take Dumbo for example.  Whilst ridiculed for his huge ears, he spoke volumes through his hugely expressive eyes: try cultivating those kind of looks next time your detractors try to silence you into submission.  It might not work on the hardest of hearts but you’ll develop a great fan base on Instagram and win you a lot of popularity far and wide. If that doesn’t work, just grow your ears to unbelievable proportions and you’ll get to fly around the world with your wondrous stories of expanding ears.

If the Dumbo Strategy doesn’t work, you could always opt for the Gromit Strategy.  His silence highlights his intense intelligence and wordly-wise-ness.  He doesn’t need to speak, bark or yap: he just has to look at you, quizzically raise one stop-mo eyebrow and you’ll follow his every bidding, convinced he’s the brightest spark in the show and worth following, however much silence he holds. Great for those strategy meetings when everyone all around you is barking, woofing or yapping.

Of course, if cutesy silent animals aren’t your bag, then you could do a lot worse than opt for the Maggie Simpson Strategy. Despite her silence, Maggie is frequently the focus of many episodes of The Simpsons and as such becomes the engine which drives the narrative with such a ferociousness logic you’re left gasping for breath at the end of the episode.  She’s also clearly the most intelligent one in the Simpson Household / Springfield / World that it’s no wonder the writers muted her.  Just imagine the havoc she could wreak if she were allowed to speak!


The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please
 check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 17 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: Silence Will Fall…

Whilst there are at least 9 techniques you can use to shut people up (or that people will use on you to shut you up), perhaps none is more absolute than the desire to wipe out the entire human race altogether.  If achieved, it would at least quieten down those pesky troublemakers in our midst who insist on asking awkward questions at the most inopportune of times.  Rhetorical devices be gone: the only way to shut them / you  up once and for all is to annihilate them.

There are plenty of factual and fictional examples of the desire to annihilate irritating people, but the one that springs particularly to mind considering the context of this campaign, is the case of The Silence: a religious order in the equally feared and loved TV series, Doctor Who.

The Silence had the uncanny knack of being heard through their catch phrase, “Silence Will Fall” in the 2010 series of Dr Who whilst stubbornly refusing to be seen until the 2011 series.   

This capability of being heard but not seen (inverting the usual Victorian maxim of children should be seen and not heard) was made more complex by their ability to keep their existence a secret through the simple device of ensuring that anyone who saw them immediately forgot about them after looking away, whilst retaining any suggestions that the Silence made to them.

They could therefore have a far-reaching influence across all aspects of human history without anyone really knowing what was going on.

We might ask ourselves today in the midst of all the global upheaval that is going on whether the Silence are in actual fact real and not a figment of some wild-eyed script writer’s imagination: but chances are, the moment you ask that question you’d probably forget who you were talking about and ‘silence would fall’.

The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 16 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: seen and heard.

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement that has caused great reflection on the societal injustice racism has impacted across the globe, this year’s Mighty Challenge focuses on supporting of The World Reimagined and their Community programme.

The World Reimagined is a ground-breaking, national art education project to transform how we understand the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and its impact on all of us.

The Mighty Challenge 2022 will support The World Reimagined’s Community programme, sponsoring local artists and young people to get involved in Leicester’s community Globe. This is 1 of 10 stunning globe sculptures in an art trail displayed across the streets of Leicester, highlighting the reality and impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

“If we’re going to make racial justice a reality for all, it calls on us to courageously face our shared history with honesty, empathy and grace. If we do that, we can create a future in which everyone can say “I’m seen. That’s the mission of The World Reimagined and were so delighted to work with the people and communities of Leicester.” (Michelle Gayle, co-founder of The World Reimagined.)

TMC staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 15 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: ‘nuff said

The TMC staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 14 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: Terraced? Semi? Detached? Silence Hush Descends.

You gotta decide the lighting,

It’s November, remember.

You gotta agree,

Sort it out reasonably.

You gotta think it out,

You’ve gotta act quick.

Silence hush descends.

 

You’ll need pools of light

You’ll need water, air, space.

Somewhere to park the car

When the days close in.

Can I get a red phone box?

Can I get an allotment?

Silence hush descends.

 

You’re gonna see nothing

With windows like that.

You’re gonna be a resident, remember.

You’re gonna freeze to death with walls like that.

Are we gonna pretend?

That we have to pay mortgages an’ ‘owt?

Silence hush descends.

 

You gotta make a choice,

Or you’re gonna get stuck.

Best to say little,

If you’re not sure.

If you don’t wanna pay for ‘owt can we live in a toilet?

We could use our imagination.

Silence hush descends.

 

Everyone’s gotta live somewhere

Everyone’s gotta have a place

They can call their own.

But if you’re gonna want a family.

But if you’re gonna get you a mortgage,

You gotta be quick, you gotta be sharp,

You gotta get rid of those ghosts that moved onto your land.

 

Silence hush descends.

 

Written in response to the challenges aired by young people from Year 7 Kingstone School, Barnsley on their future housing prospects.

 

The TMC staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 13 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: get a grip on your own story.

Story deconstruction techniques are great ways to counteract those who urge you to shut it.

Boje and Dennehy (1993) are particularly helpful when it comes to getting to grips with speaking out in a way you want to and constructing your own story, rather than repeat the stories of more dominant voices:

1. Duality search make a  list of any bipolar terms, any dichotomies that are used in the story,  Include the term even if only one side is mentioned. For example, in male centred and or male dominated organisation stories, men are central and women are marginal others.  One term mentioned implies its partner.

2. Reinterpret the hierarchy.  A story is one interpretation or hierarchy or an event from one point of view.  It usually has some form of hierarchical thinking in place.  Explore and reinterpret the hierarchy  (e.g. in duality terms how one dominates the other) so you can understand its grip.

3. rebel voices.  Deny the authority of the one voice.  Narrative centres marginalise or  exclude.  To maintain a centre takes enormous energy.  What voices are not being expressed in this story? Which voices are subordinate or hierarchical to other voices?

4. Other side of the story.  Stories always have two or more sides.  What is the other side of the story (*usually marginalised, underrepresented or even silent?)  reverse the story, by putting the bottom on top., the marginal in control, or the back stage up front.  For example, reverse the male centre, by holding  a spotlight on its excesses until it becomes  female centre in telling the other side; the point is not to replace one centre with another, but to show how each centre is in a constant state of change and disintegration.

Deny the plot.  Stories have plots, scripts, scenarios, recipes and morals.  Turn these around (move from romantic to tragic or comedic to ironic).

6. Find the exception.. stories contain rules, scripts, recipes and prescriptions.  State each exception in a  way that make its extreme or absurd.  Sometimes you have to break the rules to see the logic being scripted in the story.

7. Trace what is between the lines.  Trace what is not said.  Trace the writing on the wall.  Fill in the blanks.  Storytellers frequently use ‘you know that part of the story’.  Trace what you are filling in.  with what alternate way could you fill it in  (e.g. trace to the context, the back stage, the between, the intertext?)

8. Resituate.  the point of doing 1 to 7 is to find a new perspective, one that resituates the story beyond its dualisms, excluded voices of singular viewpoint.  The idea is to reauthor the story so that the hierarchy is resituated and new balance of views is attained.  Restory to remove the dualities and margins.  In a resituated story there are no more centres.  Restory to script new actions.

Go on – have a try and reconstruct the stories that are being imposed on you. You know you want to.

This blog is contributing to The Mighty (Un)Mute, a campaign aiming to raise £5,000 to support the artistic creation for one of ten Globe Sculptures in The World Reimagined art trail across Leicester. The purpose? To recognise and honour those most impacted by the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans through the centuries to the present day.

The TMC staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.


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Day 12 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: what are we fighting for?

You can’t go far these days without hearing about the importance of pupil voice in school improvement, consumer satisfaction or the climate emergency. The Brexit referendum was perhaps the biggest recent pretence at listening to the voices of the British people which taught us a lot about how voices are manipulated.

We at TMC place great store by our brand strapline, ‘Fighting for the creative voices of children and young people’.  It’s an aspiration at the heart of our mission statement and exemplified in the work we do..

Youth Voice is central to many youth engagement strategies: three inform our work at TMC including Hart’s Ladder of Participation, Treseder’s Degrees of Participation and Lundy’s Model of Child Participation.  In 2012, Karsten identified 36 different models of youth participation in which youth voice plays different degrees of importance: perhaps this tells us that trying to define youth voice as a singular entity is a lost cause from the outset.  

So, rather than define a phenomenon such as youth voice as one all-encompassing model, it might make more sense to see it as a polyphonal: multi-faceted, multi-structured and multi-purposed.

The Disney film, Toy Story 4 is a great demonstration of this.  

In an early scene Buzz Lightyear tries persuading our hero, Woody, to give up his quest to find Bo Peep and go home.  Woody refuses so Buzz asks his inner voice what he should do next.  But pressing his voice box buttons offers no solutions, and Buzz shrugs off the competing advice with Thanks a lot, inner voice. Something we all might recognise in times of trouble when it comes to listening to what we think our intuition, our gut feeling or what we might think of as our authentic voice is telling us.  

Scratch the surface a bit more and Toy Story 4 offers us some great insights into the phenomenon of ‘youth voice’.

For example, ventriloquation – when a speaker speaks through the voice of another for the purpose of social or interactional positioning.  This is demonstrated when Woody, on his quest to return the trash toy, Forky, to his owner Bonnie, chances upon a doll called Gabby Gabby in an antique store and her slavish ventriloquist’s dummies, the Bensons.

They are instrumental in her fight to regain her voice box.  Woody donates his voice box to her and this leads to her gaining the attention of a lost child at the end of the film which ensures both her and the child’s, happy ever afterness.  

The theft of voice is echoed in Disney’s Little Mermaid too, but Toy Story 4 also shows how voice is constructed through acts of impersonation.   In the final chase sequence, one of the toy gang, Trixie, impersonates the family car’s GPS system leading to the toys taking control of the car.  

Elsewhere in the film, the concept of heteroglossia (roughly translated as ‘multi-languagedness’) is also demonstrated.  Heteroglossia suggests that there are several distinct languages within any single language: with each of those different languages having a different voice which competes with the others for dominance.   So, for example, at a critical moment during his search for Woody, Buzz Lightyear, hears competing instructions from his own voice box:

It’s an unchartered mission in unchartered space

No time to explain!”

To infinity and beyond!” 

 But finally, Buzz presses the button with the inner voice phrase “The slingshot manoeuvre!” and this does the trick and Buzz is off to save the day again.  ‘Inner voice’ is far more heteroglossic than we might imagine. Listen to your inner voice says Buzz Lightyear throughout Toy Story.  But which one, we might ask ourselves?

And finally, whilst there are no apparent hypnotists in Toy Story, you don’t have to look far into Disney’s work to find Ka, the snake in Jungle Book who exemplifies perfectly how hypnotists can construct voices of impressionable young people.

So, is the search for authentic young people’s voices a false one, given the heteroglossic, provisional and fluid nature of voice?  And if so, then what hope is there for organisations like ourselves who place great value on the need to hear and act upon the voices of young people?

The hope lies in the very plurality that the word ’voices’ suggests. The work of Bacon and Korza is helpful here. They argue in Animating Democracy: the Artistic Imagination as a Force in Civic Dialogue, that it’s the very presence of the multiple voices which leads to civic dialogue and democracy.  They argue that the function of cultural organisations is not only as producer, presenter or exhibitor: but also as catalysts and forums for civic dialogue and for democracy.

This leads me to three final-ish questions.  If we could recognise our own multiple voices, might this lead to the democratisation of ourselves, and an acceptance of ourselves from which acceptance of others might follow?  

Could recognising the ventriloquists, thieves, impersonators and hypnotists in our own lives lead to greater tolerance of the multiplicity of the voices of others and lead to societies which are more at ease with themselves?  

And finally, when it comes to your time to hear the voices of young people, how do you perform?  Are you a ventriloquist,  impersonator, hypnotist or something else? 

This blog is contributing to The Mighty (Un)Mute, a campaign aiming to raise £5,000 to support the artistic creation for one of ten Globe Sculptures in The World Reimagined art trail across Leicester. The purpose? To recognise and honour those most impacted by the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans through the centuries to the present day.

The TMC staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income 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 welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.