Creating and shaping our future together

Author: Nick Capaldi

We asked Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive of Arts Council Wales to listen to the second CULTURE RESET assembly, this is what he heard:

The tone and spirit of the afternoon was one of collegiate supportive conviviality, in spite of the unprecedented challenges that we’re all now facing.  But if it’s good to talk, we need to be more aware of who’s doing the talking, and more importantly, who isn’t.

It was noted that power and privilege all still defining the conversation, to the exclusion of other voices.  It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to remind us that if our culture is the reflection of who we are, then “Black Lives Matter” and “We Shall Not Be Removed” are telling us very clearly that we continue to ignore the fact that society is reinforcing discrimination and lack of equality.  Public health crises aren’t equal opportunities events: the poorest, most marginalised and disabled are generally the worst affected, while the wealthy, connected and healthy are usually better able to weather the storm.

We were challenged to make sure that 2021 looks different to 2019.  A generous, fair‑minded and tolerant society is instinctively inclusive and values and respects the creativity of all its citizens.  So it’s time for us as a society to take a brave and unflinching look at what a healthy, sustainable society entails.  If we want to live in a community that’s vibrant, tolerant, fair, nurturing, prosperous, then we’re going to have to take the action now that’s needed to make this a more rather than less likely outcome.   We must be prepared, if need be, to take bold and challenging action, even if that’s uncomfortable.  And we must sustain that action – “when Black Lives stops trending what will you do…?”

As we grapple with these issues, we must use our best imagination, our most forensic enquiry, to search for the insights that will lead us to a deeper and more rooted understanding of the actions we must now take.  We heard that the most creative arts organisations are those that are arts‑led but audience focused, committed to reaching new, different and more diverse audiences, tackling the barriers that prevent people from making, working in, enjoying and taking part in the arts.

We’re entering a period where a profound questioning and re‑formulation of values is underway across all aspects of public life.  And as these values shift and evolve, the arts mustn’t find themselves trapped between nostalgic notions of a ‘comfortable’ past and an uncertain future.  If they do, they risk stumbling into the new landscape as an enfeebled version of their former selves.  Those in the Assembly were well‑aware of this risk.  Interestingly, we didn’t really hear much talk about a post‑Covid‑19 ‘new normal’ – ‘normal’ being neither possible nor, perhaps, what the public wants or deserves.  ‘Normal’ hasn’t served us well for a while.    It has ossified privilege and impeded change.

That change is needed is, we all accepted, inarguable.  At a time of emergency the only answer to the all‑enveloping danger of the crisis is to resolve that we continue to promote together – with courage, imagination and optimism – the arts as one of those things that sustains, invigorates and enriches our lives.  Because as we were reminded, Gloria Steinem famously said “we advance when we all advance together”,