Author: David Micklem

At the conclusion of the first phase of Culture Reset (and before any formal evaluation) I wanted to offer two personal reflections from the programme.

The first is about power and privilege.

In many ways – given the political context in which we’re all working – it’s no surprise that notions of power and privilege have been central to the conversations at the heart of Culture Reset. What has surprised me has been the consensus – from right across both cohorts – around the urgent need for change in terms of who gets a say in our art and culture. 

There’s been widespread agreement around demands for radical and rapid change in the power structures that still dominate our sectors. And we’ve also recognised that these are complex and complicated issues to resolve. These are uncomfortable conversations for many of us who are beginning to acknowledge our privileges. Uncomfortable because there are participants on this programme who have experienced exclusion, and those of us that have contributed to this. As unconscious biases become conscious, I know I’ve started to question almost everything, deeply, profoundly.

We’ve heard talk of the need for arts leaders in positions of privilege, to step aside, to better share space, to create more inclusive initiatives, to invite others in. And we’ve also heard that the sector needs to support these changes carefully, generously, so that we don’t set others up to fail. Support structures – at a governance and at an operational level – need to change and we’ve been hugely encouraged by some of the ways in which we’ve heard participants commit to action around these changes. 

The notion of relinquishing power, of giving it away, isn’t the same as giving up. Recognising the space I, and others like me, occupy, and stepping aside, not stepping away, is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned through this programme. I’m deeply compelled by participants who’ve stressed the importance of listening – as producers, directors, curators. Knowing when to listen and when to speak. And it’s these qualities and attributes that have inspired our notion of the keynote listener – the role of individuals in positions of power as active listeners, committed to reflecting back what they hear.  

My second reflection is on the differences between physical and digital learning.

One of the challenges of lockdown has been how to amplify our creative selves when our principle connections are online. How do we have better ideas on Zoom? What methods might we find for enabling breakthroughs in Slack? How easy is it to develop new thinking staring at a screen?

A central theme of the programme – in the content of the podcasts, and where we’ve been told you’re listening to them – has been how to embody creative thinking. 

Over that past 8 weeks we’ve been encouraged by feedback that participants have been going for walks with podcasts, journaling on the move, talking on the phone while walking the dog or juggling childcare. We’ve heard that time to reflect, in nature, with friends and family, or just to walk around the block, or the local park, (or in Lidl), have all contributed to some of the fresh ideas and solutions you’ve been developing.

The pandemic has obviously accelerated our uses of new technologies to enable remote working and to maintain networks. It’s incredible that we can meet like this and share our ideas and our breakthroughs. Our screens have enabled so much throughout lockdown. And you’ve feedback that our reliance on them has reduced the opportunities to let our bodies get involved in ideas generation and problem solving. 

We’re social animals, and arts and culture is often collaborative and always creative. Digital is an extraordinary tool, that enables us to make and share in dynamic and democratic ways. But the pandemic has also realised its limitations too. I have better ideas walking around the park with a colleague, on the phone, or side-by-side. Wandering the markets of Brixton reminds me of what culture means to other people and gets me away from my screen, out of my bubble. Participants have reminded us of all this – the importance of connecting in other ways, of the value of nature and the built environment as a stimulus, that the real world can be so much more creative than the virtual.

Playback the footage of David Micklem and Claire Doherty offering their reflections at the CULTURE RESET Second Assembly: