Jonathan Jones flags up declining visitor numbers in arts, with no context?

I have just spotted this article in the Guardian from 2nd February. Whilst is is alarming and may give the reader the impression that less people are interested in culture these days, there is insufficient information about the obvious questions arising, for example WHY are there less visitors? We get part of the story, which is certainly true, but surely there are other things at play?

Here are some of the things I’d like to know that might provide an informed answer:

  • The % of visitors to museums and galleries has dropped, but retained the same % of visitors from abroad. Has that overall number dropped dramatically too?
  • How do these stats compare to the budgets the museums have at their disposal? Have they gone down relationally?
  • Have the institutions had to cut their staffing levels?
  • How many have closed altogether?
  • Which have been the best attended, and why?
  • Similarly, which have suffered the biggest reduction of visitors?
  • How do the regions vary from London?
  • How do these stats compare with other sectors, for example sport, heritage organisations etc?
  • Of those that DO attend, has their spend in shops, cafes etc. Gone up, or down?
  • Might there be a direct relationship between cuts to funding for local authorities?
  • Or the number of people who have been made redundant because of those cuts? Or had salaries cut?

It would be really good to understand the wider picture.

And most of all, what can we do to improve things? Or are these figures going to be used against the sector, to cut funding even further?

Answers on a postcard please, preferably from a museum or gallery of your choice.

(Blogging on train so apologies if not 100% perfect!)

returning to practice -drawing for the sake of drawing

Those who regularly read Flow Contemporary Arts blog posts will probably be doing so because I am a producer and commissioner in the visual arts. Which I have been doing for over sixteen years now. So you may not be aware that I studied art myself and did, at one time, have a blossoming visual arts career with some great commissions, exhibitions and residency opportunities.

My art practice was initially as a printmaker, then I began to use photography, film and installation once I became immersed in my masters in fine art. I was an early adopter of digital video and learned HTML code to make my own websites. I learned Flash and Director at one point and did a lot of work with the Watershed in Bristol. My first ever domain was ‘hybrideyes’. On that site I shared images, texts, videos and showcased my portfolio.

As my art practice decreased and my producer practice increased exponentially I decide the hybrideyes site had to go. But I held onto the domain name because I love it. And today it is reborn!

Have a look at recent drawings



The Forest of Dean selects a new Verderer, Rich Daniels, at Gloucester Cathedral

This morning I attended an event in Gloucester Cathedral that harks right back to 1216. You can read more about the history here.

The Verderer’s are the sole remnant of the organisational structure developed after Norman times to administer Forest Law – introduced to provide for beasts of the forest, in particular deer and boar, and for the protection of their habitat.

A notice calling for candidates to become the fourth Verderer was published in January by Countess Bathurst, the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, on the order of Her Majesty the Queen. She wore an amazing hat, a huge white feathery nest fluttering away in the draught as she passed by us on her way to speak to “the people.”

The nave was full to the brim of Gloucestershire landowners, there to vote with a show of hands. It was a wonderful feeling to be there to witness this tradition being honoured, even if it was loaded with pomp, colonialism and patriarchal traditions! The Duchess had been invited by the Queen to oversee proceedings and there was much talk about the Crown and country.

Three men were nominated for election.  Traditionally, Freeminers have to be men over the age of 21, be born and bred in the Forest of Dean and have worked for a year and a day in a mine within the Hundred. The Hundred was based on the area from which 100 fighting men could be found to fight for the crown. In the Forest’s case, this was within the realm of St Briavels castle. This is why Lydney etc. is not within the St Briavels’ Hundred, even though it is closer than Cinderford, for example, since Lydney was part of the Bledisloe Hundred.[corrected from initial description]

This changed in 2010, when  “male” was interpreted to mean ‘”male and female” by the Gaveller of the Forest of Dean (a Crown appointment currently vested in the Forestry Commissioners as a body), when they made a decision to accept an application from Mrs Elaine Morman, who became the first ever female Freeminer to be registered.” Today there were no female nominations.

Monument Mine, a working free mine in the Forest of Dean

Rich Daniels won his seat in the Court today. The mine shown in the image above, from the  Wyedean Tourism website, belongs to Rich and he still hauls up coal every day. He’s a very lovely man whose heart really is carved into the forest, he will be an effective Verderer and will keep traditions alive, as well as respect contemporary needs of the people who live here.

Many of his supporters were in the Cathedral and he has a local reputation for fighting authority, in particular for fending off the sale of the Forest via HOOF, which he led. There’s a long history of commoners rights in the forest, many of which are still active today. Simon Schama talks about them in his excellent book Landscape & Memory. It includes some great stories about Lords being chased out of the forest by the Foresters (meaning local residents, not forest managers).

The Forest is a very special place to live. Family roots run very deep, as deep as the ochre mines and the scowles, the coal seams and the ancient trees. As a place to find culture it seems to bloom constantly with new findings for an incomer like me. This year, when John Berger died, I found out he had lived here and written A Fortunate Man. Reading it feels like a time warp, but only a little one, a blip of time, as so little has changed since the 1960’s.  Dennis Potter lived here too. I still have so much to learn about this place.

But for now, congratulations to Rich, the forest is in safe hands with the Verderer’s – it’s what they are there for.

1st encounter with live-relay theatre, reflection & comparison of 3 forms of audience experience of The Tempest

My first encounter with live-relay theatre. A personal reflection and comparison of three forms of audience experience when watching a play, in this case The Tempest by Shakespeare, depending on where we view it and the delivery method used.

In recent years, new technology has allowed those living a long way from theatres to experience live performances in real-time, which is a wonderful development. Small venues all over the world now present live-relay theatre into cinemas, making it accessible to bigger audiences than ever before. But how does it compare with other experiences?

Live-relay theatre in a cinema is neither stage-play or film. It resides somewhere in between those things, as I recently found out. Which left me feeling a little discombobulated by my first experience. The acting and content of the production is not under discussion here, but the visitor experience is. This text explores how attending a play is affected by the context in which we view it.

The first production I saw being live-relay screened was The Tempest, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I have been to see The Tempest being performed three times in my life – the first when I was about fifteen, with my school. That was at the Nottingham Playhouse and was incredibly engaging and entertaining. It was a traditional production by a touring group. A very memorable moment was when there was a power cut, creating an excitement amongst a full house of schoolchildren. When the lights went out, both on stage and in the house, we were in complete darkness and told to stay in our chairs. To our delight, the young actor playing Ariel entered the stage, using two torches to highlight his presence. He hung from the tree, he flitted across the stage. It was Jonathan Pryce and was a magical thing to behold, very fitting for the flighty character portrayed. Being in the audience was a group experience, shared and discussed at great length after the show with the actors, and later, on the coach going back to school.

The second was only two years ago, when another travelling troupe performed in a woodland near Bristol, outdoors, using an art installation by Luke Jerram, Withdrawn, as the stage set. Withdrawn comprised of five fishing boats seemingly abandoned amongst the trees, on dry land. The play was a promenade performance, with the audience being drawn through the set by the performers. We were part of the action, not passive onlookers. No elevated stage, unless the script required the actors to clamber onto the boats or climb trees. We were literally on a level with the characters. It was a summer evening and the place was green and lush, the smells of verdant leaves and rich mulch heightening the sense of being outdoors, stepping over brambles, ducking branches.

The most recent was merely two weeks ago and was a live-relay theatre production of The Tempest. It wasn’t screened in a huge multiplex cinema, but in a rural film venue in the Forest of Dean. What a fantastic thing to go and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform live for a sixth of the ticket price for the stage show, and no long-distance travelling. It was my first experience of a live-relay show and I had no expectation of what it might be like or how it might differ from the other two visitor experiences. All I can say is that it was very peculiar and I’m not sure I enjoyed it. Here’s why.

There are social protocols and dress codes for going to the cinema, as there are for going to the theatre. As children when our father took us to the theatre it was a very special treat. We had to get dressed up and behave, to respect the privilege that one automatically associates with going to the theatre.  Men wearing ties, women wearing dresses. That behaviour has maybe softened a little now, but for many, it is still part of the tradition of being a theatre attender. Gin and tonics and posh chocolates for the adults, with ice-creams for the children, was standard fare, and still is. It’s a grand night out.

Going to the cinema has always been a very different thing. You can wear what you want, no-one will see you and no-one is watching, or evaluating you, in the dark. There’s no posing at the bar, no social niceties to be exchanged. In the dark you can put your feet up on the seats, hold hands, have a snog, guzzle popcorn and sip huge quantities of coca cola through an iceberg of crushed ice in a cardboard bucket.

I mentioned the smells of the woodland during the promenade performance and associate the smell of the theatre with lady’s perfume and men’s aftershave. The first thing I noticed on entering the cinema to see the live-relay was the sweet stench of popcorn. The too-warm air smelled thick with it, making me feel quite nauseous. The seats were half empty, the majority of those occupied well above the half-way-up line, to get a good view. I felt very agitated by the smell and the odd atmosphere. The live relay began with an interview between a presenter and a representative of the company that had created the special stage effects.  Some of the audience continued to chatter, as if the adverts were on for a film. They were shushed by others who were trying to listen. That would have been sacrilege in the theatre.

Gazing at the screen I tried to compute what it was I was watching. The interviews were filmed very close-up, resulting in huge heads on the screen, filling the frame sometimes. The sense of us all being human size was removed, and with it the empathy one has with live actors. That frisson between knowing that we are all alive and present, and at risk of stumbling, or worse, forgetting what to say.

When the play began the stage set looked amazing. The camera shots were managed by the camera operators, disallowing my own eye to travel around the set as it so wanted to do. I became increasingly aware that my choices of viewing were trapped, which is not something I feel when watching a film. On this occasion, the stage provided a fixed frame and the camera moved in and out and around it. We didn’t get to see the theatre interior, or the audiences there. It would have been fun to wave to them like one does in a live-relay conference – to engage in some way. Instead this audience were left in their seats, deprived of the subtle sounds that feet on a stage make, or the smell of the perfume and chocolates. What I am describing is sensory deprivation.

There lies the rub. There was a collision between the live performance and the film not only in the production values, but also in the protocols of cinema and theatre. The promenade performance was fitting for Shakespeare, as many of his plays were designed to be in the round. A film can create a space for the viewer by taking the eye around from place to place. The live relay was almost like a picture hanging on a wall. An aperture into a wider experience that wasn’t on offer. Flat. Or, at its best, two dimensional.

Last summer I experienced virtual reality headsets on several occasions. I think watching The Tempest wearing them would be amazing. I want to control how I look at something, to allow my eyes to dart sideways when I hear footsteps enter the stage, to look up as Ariel swings down from a tree, the scuffing of a shoe on a board. We experience all art through our bodies, our physical presence is part of the overall performance. Immersion in the magic is all and is what keeps us sitting on the edge of our seat in awe.

b6575-tempest_review_hub_1440x1368_v3-tmb-wo-720Mark Quartley as Ariel, RSC website

I would absolutely recommend that people go and see this live if they can – it is avbsolutely wonderful!








#Eastenders speaks of so many things in one short film sequence, here’s why

Christmas – I recently blogged about it, how I find it empty. As a closet Eastenders fan , I enjoy watching the build up to Christmas on the square. Impending doom, love, hate, violence and crisis usually thrown into the mix, along with a good sing-song in the Old Vic and a wedding, funeral or death.

Last night, on 16th December, there were subtle clues for sleuths; relationship shifts and twists, but the best part was the scene of Dot, alone, having not gone to the Nativity play. Sometimes these are the absolutely best moments in Easties – when the characters sit down, shut their Cockney mouths, and show us their inner thoughts by the means of classical lighting and staging. This shot is one of those old mistress/masters moments and I love it.

Most of the square are in church for the nativity play, and while the children sing Away in a Manger, there’s a cut to a slow pan towards Dot’s front door, then this view of her. It lasts for 16 seconds, the sound track continues and the shot ends when the song does, and returns to the church.


The out of focus corner of the wood panelling on the left, the subdued midnight blue of the cardigan, the deep dye red hair of the hag-like face in contemplation; the upright spine of Christianity; the candle, light of the world, and God; the still life of fruit, Christingle exotic orange, symbol of the world and worldliness; ribbons for gifts, empty chair of an absent friend; string bag hanging on door, empty, no longer used; shiny brass door knob, polished, with care; in the right foreground something brassy – a lamp maybe? Definitely not Ikea. In the shadows, whatever it is still gleams, slightly, as old things do. As does Dot. Excellent chiaroscuro.

It could be about loneliness at Christmas, or a fading flickering light of the square about to expire. There’s a sense of imminence, but we don’t know what yet is going to happen. It doesn’t bear thinking about really. Dot is the Walford  matriarch, we see that when after the service lots of friends and family, having noted her absence, stream into her house with jollity and love.

This one  episode was the frame for this image, this narrative, this moment.

It does what a good artwork does, it holds a thought, incorporates a huge bundle of signifiers. It is both minute in scale and monumental. And very beautiful.



Milestones and mistletoe – happy hygge huggy winter

As Christmas approaches, yet again I consider how fascinating these seasonal cycles are. Winter can be chilly in more ways than one for many freelance practitioners. The summer is often deliciously quiet, then September brings in lots of enquiries that fall like autumn leaves from the trees. If emails were physical things, they would be stacking up in drifts of paper against the office wall.

Just when you begin to make sense of it all the shops begin to fill up with mince pies and tinsel and everything grinds to a halt again. The flurries of activity are replaced by frosty nights and foggy days. The only thing between them being greyness and damp. Short days and long nights are perfect for hibernation and snuggling up. The Danish term hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) seems to have become very trendy – you can even by hygge socks from Marks & Spencers (really). I think hygge has always happened in my home, we just didn’t have a word for it before hygge came along.

For many, Christmas is a fantastic celebration of their commitment to religion, or shopping, or eating. Which is brilliant! For me, it always turns out to be a time for reflection, a time to look at the year gone by and think about the new one just around the corner. There’s a lot of plotting and planning going on, but not about cribs and stables, sherry and mince pies. It’s more like chewing on the end of pencils and supping big mugs of tea. Best to avoid the frantic shops and stay home with books, drawings, jumpers, laptop and homemade bread instead.

While some friends and family are tucking into a full-on Christmas dinner, you’ll likely find me enjoying some form of last-minute foody, fishy, cheesy treat from Waitrose, with a bottle of Sancerre. Or hopping on a plane doing the beam-me-up-Scottie thing! I’ll likely be with friends and/or family – I’m not anti-social or a hermit. It’s the commercial Christmas stuff I can’t bear – the pipe music, the overflowing trolleys as if a war has broken out, the rubbish on TV. Online shopping is my true saviour.

I’m not a bah-humbug Christmas objector, I love the kindness and generosity of gift-sharing and seeing family.

See what I mean here

2017 WILL be better than 2016, surely? The world is now divided in a big way and I won’t even bother referring to why because it’s obvious. But it is a time of major change and unrest, some good, some bad. Another milestone reached, another sprig of mistletoe to kiss under. And a few unpleasant frogs you’d rather not kiss!

I welcome the coming of 2017 and wish health and happiness to all. It’s a time to be grateful for what we have and celebrate it too.


going through the process of being beamed up: deconstruction – reconstruction