Alan Davey in chat @GdnCulturePros some great questions and good responses

At the Guardian Culture Professionals live chat today with Alan Davey, I asked:


I’d be interested to know the ratio of how much is spent from the budget on organisations and how much on individuals? 

And he replied with :

Guardian contributor

I feel pleasantly surprised by this response – it often seems that the NPO’s and institutions are the most important cornerstones of the arts ecology. But it is still very organisation top-heavy.  And it isn’t clear how many of the individual ‘artists’ might be freelance arts professionals as opposed to ‘artists’.
There were some excellent responses to the various questions, it’s worth having  a delve in there to see if any of them might touch your nerve endings. 
“Ellieface’ (sorry, I don’t know their real name), asked a good one about intrinsic satisfaction – do have  a read (I don’t want to infringe copyright here!)

Flows first project goes public soon – exciting!!!!

The Cabinet of Local Change is a pilot for a future collection of ‘cabinets’ that will be commissioned specifically with touring in mind. This one is specifically for Forest of Dean residents.

Artist Simon Ryder (artNucleus) was commissioned by Flow Contemporary Arts to create a ‘cabinet’ in some form that could be used to reflect upon changes in the nature of the Forest of Dean, inspired by his own research in this forest and through engagement with local Community Library users. A key part of this process was for it to be made public via blogging.

The cabinet will make its first appearance on Thursday 29th August 2013 – Mitcheldean Library at 2.30pm and Newnham on Severn Library at 6pm.

Simon is concerned with peeling back the narratives from places, people and objects, then weaves  them together into new configurations in the form of sculptures, videos, texts and artefacts. Working together at Mitcheldean and Newnham community libraries, Simon and Carolyn opened up new ways of thinking about how libraries might operate. They shared blogging skills and how technology can provide opportunities for artists to reveal their working methods, as well as inform the making of art – technology and nature combining in the creative process.

Inspired by the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi in the forest, the outcome is fascinating. It is a unique storage system that appears to grow through the books on a shelf, like an organic extension, with partially enclosed spaces to contain ‘items that signal change’. Modular in its construction and open source (with the 3D templates freely available for download from the internet), Simon worked with the designer-makers at Millar Howard Workshop to produce a cabinet that can be flat-packed down for storage and touring. The cabinet is a portable work – it will make appearances at scheduled times, providing a beautiful and original focus for local discussions about change. To start the ball rolling, the first items to be placed in this cabinet will be printed copies of Simon’s blog, some books that informed his thinking, and a vial of water from St Antony’s well; the remaining spaces are empty, awaiting library users to add their own artefacts.

Flow Contemporary Arts works with both arts and non-arts partners to initiate produce and present contemporary art in unusual locations. Founded by Carolyn Black in 2012, Flow specialises in making things happen through the unique approach of commissioning artworks that respond to place, yet can also adapt to other contexts. If you wish to host or support the work in the future, contact

The project was supported by the Forest of Dean Local Action Group and the Forestry Commission.

scanning branches with X-Box, photo Chris Morris
scanning branches with X-Box, photo Chris Morris

press image Cabinet on shelf small

lag logo bar 72dpi

Supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas

and Forestry Commission FC logo_eng_linear_col

River Severn, moonlight, tidal forces and shimmying whirlpools….

Last night I sat by the Rivern Severn around midnight with a friend. In the moonbeam of a waning moon, we watched the tidal shifts and shimmies. The salt water of the estuary, and the fresh water from the river intermingled – vying for control of this huge body of turbulent water.

When we arrived the tide was winning, the water flowing up-river. The moonlight on the surface of the water highlighted that the tide nearest to our bank of the river was gradually losing the fight against the force of the Severn. The incoming tidal flow was stalled as the waters whipped and swirled, and gradually the line of spiralling whirlpools gave way to the river running out towards the sea. The natural status quo of forces returned, and all became quiet and calm.

The flow of the Severn inspired the coming into life of Flow Contemporary Arts and continues to do so. Mindfulness and observation, listening and reflection, it’s all part of the process.


@technobiophilia – what is it? watch the video where Sue Thomas explains

There are many exciting things happening every day and we all have things that inspire us and make us wonder about the world. Some take delight in sport results, others nature, others art, others technology. Some of us find the blurirng of the edges of those things the most rich area to explore. I certainly do.

Those who have known me for some time will know that whilst I worked as an artist and now as a producer, the common thread throughout has been a slight penchant for technology. Both as a medium and an intellectual pursuit. No suprise then that I am excited by the upcoming publication of Technobiophilia by Sue Thomas. Nature and technology rubbing shoulders, creating new ways of understanding how we relate to the world.

Sue has posted a video of her explaining a bit about the concepts behind the book and what motivated her to reserch the idea. It’s a fascinating way of thinking and slightly at odds with those who enjoy the power of the binary opposires of science V nature, nature V cyberspace. Technology is here to stay, get used to it.

As Sue is also my sister – I am slightly biased. This is the first time we have worked together professionally (I did the black & white chapter headers, some shown in the video), so we’d love to hear what you think.

artists aren’t fundraisers

This is a repost of one I wrote sometime ago. It is helpful to revisit old posts now and again, and see how things change. This one possibly hasn’t!

ArtsAppeal Fundraising in the Arts and the Craft of Arts Management, has a new post in defence of the need for administrators. Some of the points raised are transferable to UK (it’s an American site), the most useful to me is the comment that “The key question you should be asking for everyone, yourself included, is does this person in this position create value in some way (freeing up resources of others, enhancing customer experiences, finding new revenue streams, etc.) above and beyond what they consume themselves.”

What is great about that question is that it doesn’t automatically associate the word ‘value’ with ‘income’. It puts people first, after all, it is people that make an organisation sink or swim, not the other way around. Relationships between people on the team, and how a front-facing organisation develops relationships with partners, markets and audiences is key to creating value for everyone involved in the process. Sink or swim – which takes me to waves……..

Last night on TV (BBC4) was a wonderful programme about waves (as in the sea). It talked about how waves are not banks of water, as we primarily see them to be, but are volumes of energy being carried through water, water is the medium. Likewise, would it be fair to suggest that a successful organisation comprises not of it’s building, it’s institution, it’s profile, but is a conduit for peoples energy, driving life forward? And when it hits the shore it crashes and has a huge impact – isn’t that what good art does to society? So the value can be measured in terms of energy, not financial gain. Or am I getting carried away on this wave of thought?

Not all art can be directly self-financing. Let’s not forget art practices that improve our life or wellbeing, that redistribute the energy – and indeed the economy – that was invested in it. They often create associated spend in terms of local businesses and accommodation etc. In our appeal to our government, and to the public, to continue to support the arts, we have to make them recognise and acknowledge the wider impact successful arts organisations can have on the economy. Look at St Ives – how has it changed since the Tate arrived? Anyone who visited before will be aware that the arrival of the Tate put a massive boost into the local economy.

And the energy is visible in the whole region, the cultural economy is continuing to develop, originally inspired by the St.Ives school of artists, carried on in Newlyn, Penzance, the energy continues to spread. All on the back of people with energy to share. Artists couldn’t do that alone, one drop in the ocean cannot create a wave.

(with apologies for resorting to watery metaphors and seaside towns!)

6 months of Flow and is it Flowing? yes, quite close to the slipstream

In December 2012 I wrote the post below and yesterday, whilst looking for something else, I found it and re-read it. Interesting.

VASW is now doing all the things that were planned, some really good opportunities for artists under development and in action.

The keywords for Flow are still key for me:

Resilient within limits
Ability to change
All parts are equal (my italics made at the time)
Liminality is created – rich meeting place

I have been mentoring artists and aim to do more

I have fundraised for  Cabinet of Local Change project, commissioning Simon Ryder to create a  prototype cabinet, the final artwork is in production now

I have done a consultation with Canal & River Trust, Forestry Commission and National Trust and developing a project with them and supported by Lightsgoingon.

I am still getting older

I’m talking with new partners; I’ve written a programme of professional development modules for HE; I’ve completed a marketing training course and am in mid-leadership course at present; my e-book is in progress and my business plan being tidied up by my graphic designer. All is well.

It’s been an exciting 6 months and I look forward to those ahead!

Getting into the Flow – winter arriving, first frosts and stunning skylines, time to plan the future

Last week Visual Arts South West (VASW) hosted a meeting in Exeter to share what has been achieved in the last year – it’s looking good. You can follow them on Facebook here.

John Holden was the keynote speaker and inspired everyone with his talk about networks and how they can function usefully in the arts ecology.  I made  notes and often resorted to simply lists of words. Reflecting on my notes, I see this particular set are most relevant to the development of Flow Contemporary Arts. Flow is my new initiative that will offer two strands: one to deliver projects and the other to help others to do so.

The words I listed related to the concept of arts ecologies and were:

Resilient within limits
Ability to change
All parts are equal (my italics made at the time)
Liminality is created – rich meeting place

I love these words, I think them all the time, they are central to what Flow sets out to do and be. The cycles in Flow are indicated in the bidirectional arrows of the logo

Flow - Letterhead red (strip)

Resilient within limits: being realistic, these are difficult times.

Ability to change – always – constant reflection and revision, responsive actions whilst being clear of overall vision

ALL PARTS ARE EQUAL – key to good working relationships, learning is reciprocal, I love learning, especially through action. All aspects of a project – the planning, the vision, the delivery – provide learning opportunities. Everyone involved should be treated fairly and respectfully.

Flexibility – it comes with a willingness to embrace change

Liminality – step outside your comfort zone – try working with non-art partners – my first ever website, done in the 90′s was called ‘grey matters’. It played on liminality, the grey are between, the grey matter of the mind, the fact that considering both sides doesn’t necessarily mean you sit on the fence, but that you can SEE both sides. I’m very fond of grey. I’m very fond of liminality – ‘hybrideyes’, my first ever domain name reflected that too.

Gosh, I do feel old! And hopefully wise(er) than then!!!

I envisage Flow to be a meeting place, a place to share and exchange thoughts, ideas visions and even skills. I’m happy to mentor others, just get in touch and we’ll see what might work. I’ve helped artists secure funding, revisit their practice, set up new projects etc. I’ve worked with and for organisations to deliver projects, training and develop strategies. I’d like the emphasis of Flow to be on with as I genuinely believe we function best on a level playing field. That’s not to say I won’t make decisions when needed, I do, it’s my role to do so.

if ‘markets’ are spoken of as ‘things with agency’ where does that leave the ‘arts ecology’? compost anyone?

Whilst driving this morning someone on Radio 4 was raising the issue that when we talk about ‘the markets’ as in monetary markets, we talk about them as if they actually exist and possess intelligence. Yet market’s comprise of many people (which this man disparagingly said lacked much intelligence) – a market is not a thing.

So my mind meandered ever onwards, playing with this thought, and found me considering the ‘arts ecology’. (See Mark Robinson blog). We also talk about the arts ecology as if it exists as a thing and possesses intelligence, and maybe even have integrity. But how can this be? I then wondered how I might describe it visually, as a thing, and found myself imagining layers of compost comprising of artists and arts organisations, layer upon layer being squeezed and squeezed….but the good thing is that together they provide a rich mix of nourishment that can be invested in future growth, future thinking and foundations for a strong world. Sustainable, full of goodness, but at present, at that somewhat soggy stage when it all feels a bit messy.

We need some starter nutrients………



A Grand Day Out: Google Googlers scholarship & serendipity & transliteracy

I arrived a bit late so missed the start, but was really glad I was there in time to hear James Davies talk about his work within the Google Cultural Institute.

James set up the Google Art Project, which has an amazing system for searching and curating collections of works. It goes very deep and very wide, it was helpful to have the system explained to us. (He referred to people who work at Google as ‘Googlers’, which I couldn’t help thinking sounds like a Harry Potter-ism!)

The Cultural Institute has grown from a small team who are passionate about art, allowing the freedom to take highly innovative approaches to development. The Art Project integrates their street-view technology, allowing for walk-through views of the galleries and museums that are archived. Some images are depicted using megapixel technologies, taking 24 hours to scan. This allows for a powerful zoom-ability to really get into the detail of the images.

Key terms he used that I particularly enjoyed were ‘semantic connectivity’ and ‘scholarship & serendipity’ – nice!

Whilst the technology behind the project is complex, the interface for the user is not. Expert knowledge isn’t needed.

All that the Institute does supports Google’s core mission: which us about organising information, being accessible and useful, mainly through search.

Whilst of course it has limitations, so do physical visits, such as cost, culture, distance, and language barriers.


I have recently reiterated this constantly, especially when people say they prefer books to blogging. It is not a case of choosing one or the other, we can have them all and use them as we will. Transliteracy is something Sue Thomas talks well about:

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.


The conversations that ensued were complex and fascinating. I make no attempt to collate them here. But I do need to reflect about how the day has impacted on my thinking.

The artworks catalogued are all tangible, physical things – objects such as paintings and sculptures. At present no ephemeral or experiential works are included. I believe that needs consideration, not only as a documentation, but as a way of investigating audience responses. The interface allows for comment books to be included, soundbite interviews and videos, it has the potential to share with googlers the next best thing to the real. Most of the world we experience is mediated anyway, this is just another portal into it.

What is particular about viewing anything on a computer is our looking in, as opposed to looking out. The fact that Google Hangout is integrated into the site means people can discuss works in real-time, or enjoy live lectures with Q&A. Fab. Another dimension adding to visitor experiences.

All of this thinking has flipped me back to when I did my MA in Fine Art. I’d be very interested in writing a reflection of the then and now – what has changed, and in what ways? I remember when people first used mobile phones it sometimes seemed they were talking to themselves as they were held discretely, but no-one hides it now. Them there’s the simulacra as per Baudrillard – does it matter any more that the boundary between real and virtual is disappearing? And as for Foucault, are we living IN a panoptic machine now?


Thanks to CVAN for a Grand Day Out, it was inspirational.

virtual lobotomy part 2 – The hard disk of my brain has locked some files and left others open

part 2 (part 1 yesterday)

(texts written in 2000)

The first text was how I FELT, but not how I THOUGHT.

This text draws on the rational as opposed to the emotional. It coolly takes steps of logic and results in me feeling better – I realise I have lost nothing!

Digital Art – what is (or was) it?

The overall experience of losing an archive of digital work has made me question what it really ‘is’ or ‘was’ that was lost.

The initial effect of finding that my computer and the work it contained had been stolen was a sense of devastation. How much of it was an emotional attachment to the machine itself? Having learned and worked on it for 2 years, I felt an intimacy to it, I understood its quirks and problems and knew how to tend it when it was not performing at its best. So it felt a bit like losing a much-loved friend. This attachment to technology is interesting – like anthropomorphism (an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal), the process becomes a form of ‘technomorphism’, whereby we humanize the machine. What computer-user has not whispered to their console, begged it not to crash, felt aggressive toward it when it does? We even introduce a sense of reasoning and feel concerned when it shows evidence of problems. A ‘virus’ may infect it, the ‘motherboard’ may be faulty, and we may ask it for ‘help’. No wonder we feel an emotional attachment with all these human/organic terms applied to the use of a computer.

So what exactly have I lost? As Baudrillard proposes, digital material is a ‘simulacra’ – a simulation of something that does not exist as an original. Sherry Turkle discusses this theory in her book ‘Life on the Screen’.  In an attempt to illustrate this concept she states the following:

“The documents that scroll before my eyes as I compose this book on a computer screen function as real enough. They are my access to the thing itself, but there is no other thing itself

So it is not the ‘thing itself’ that I have lost, but the access to it –as ‘it’ no longer exists (and never did, in any true sense). So, when digital files are lost, as in the crashing of a hard disk or theft of a machine, there is no master copy, no ‘thing’ to mourn the loss of. Difficult to understand how one can lose something that never existed – to lose the signifier but not the signified, as there was no signified in the first place. The whole problem begins to sound like an Alice in Wonderland conundrum.

Hence the obsession one gets with ‘backing up’ data. Simple to do when the files are small text files, but when the files are video files and are 2 gigs or more, other more sophisticated backups are required. Too big to put on storage disks, they have to be a) returned to a mini DV or other video format (DV is the only high-quality option) or b) stored on a 20gig+ spare drive. Expensive. Fortunately, most recent digital video cameras and software can transfer back to camera at the touch of the button. But as artists are not renowned for having high incomes and are often working with old equipment, unless they have access to such they are stuck.

Artists tend to find it preferable to work in a designated studio, where they can experiment freely. Unless the artist owns the appropriate equipment, they have to pay for a ‘session’ at a media centre. This means that not only are they paying for the production method, but also the creative time it takes to evolve an idea. Digital work is very process-led, being dependant on a machine for production can be frustrating – imagine a writer having to hire a typewriter on a regular basis to write a novel. An impossible scenario, yet one many digital artists have to work around.

All this begs the question ‘why do we do it?’ Historically, artists have taken technological advancements and used them in their practise. In doing so, they exploit the process in new and innovative ways, which often informs how others use them. One doesn’t need to be a programmer to create digital work – modern software allows artists to experiment with ideas and to combine media that no other processes offer e.g. text, image, video and sound. Words need no longer be fixed to a page – writing for the web becomes a form of ‘concrete poetry, released from the concrete’. Work can be easily created on a computer, but just as easily lost. When I worked with printmaking, proof prints and prints at different stages of production were stored on paper. Over a period of time these built up to an insurmountable stack of work, which takes space for storage. Digital work takes less physical space to store and is probably no more vulnerable than a plan-drawer full of paper, which might be burnt out, stolen or defiled.

Most interestingly, when I lost my digital files, the concept of memory returned to its original meaning. Much of the lost work remains only in my memory, as opposed to the computers memory, with no material evidence of its prior existence. Unfortunately, it is not as easy to bring these memories back to a conscious level as it is to open a file on a computer, resulting in much of it being left dormant until something evokes it again. So starting from scratch has been productive in that only the key ideas have remained as starting points. The hard disk of my brain has locked some of the files and left others open to work with. Memory cannot be erased, unless by some illness, so the experience of creating the lost works exists in the back of my mind and informs any new work I make. And of course my replacement equipment is far faster and much more efficient, which has smoothed over the sense of loss. Every cloud has a silver lining.