Posted by: davidjmarlow | 28/06/2011

Community Arts goes global…

I have recently been lucky enough to attend three major outdoor arts events – Luton International Carnival (LIC) on 30th May; Alicante’s ‘Hogueras’ (a summer solstice festival); and Rutland’s performance of ‘The Way the Wind Blows’ (26th June). All three were immensely impressive – involving hundreds (if not thousands) of performers from local communities; producing creative work – music, dance, theatre, costume etc – which is beautifully crafted, by highly talented artists, put together well and coordinated  skilfully.

Beyond the intrinsic qualities of the performance, however, two specific lessons appeared to be relevant to a development professional (I really must switch off more!).

First, although each event is clearly locally-owned and rooted in community traditions and culture, the ‘global’ reference points of the performances are striking and prominent. The LIC parade draws on Caribbean traditions, but included Samba, Asian and English folk traditions amongst the floats, performing visitors from Aalborg, Denmark, and from the Ghana UK community. In Alicante, beyond traditional Spanish music and effigies, street sculptures and marches included Latin American, Far East and even Disney influences. Finally, the Rutland performance piece tells the story of the Rutland Ospreys; their symbolism for local communities’ relationship to Rutland Water; but also their journeys to Senegal and Asturias on life cycle migrations.

The much-remarked globalisation of economic development is mirrored in community arts. This evident willingness of local communities to embrace globalism in their arts and culture has significant implications for continued public support for an inclusive community arts sector.

My second observation is, yet again, the absolutely crucial role of a progressive public sector in all these events. Yes there is voluntary participation, and private sector involvement (including the strong commitment of Anglian Water to the Rutland event), but none of these events would occur without public sector funding from multiple agencies; service activity to make the events safe, accessible, and to ensure the logistics run smoothly.

It is not a new refrain, but government still has difficulty reconciling ‘Big Society’ conceptually, with the dynamic confident and locally-accountable public sector required to animate, support and enable community action and outcomes.

Although each event I attended was unique, drawing on very differing community and arts traditions, each was enjoyable and special. The three also illustrate the major shortcoming of a government whose mantras are driven by short-term deficit reduction first and long-term social and economic development second.  You build neither globally competitive local economies nor cohesive communities by undermining the public platforms on which social and economic change is founded.

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