Posted on July 17, 2019

Cultural City Conference 2019

Thank you to those of you who came along to the Cultural City Conference 2019 (Delegate List Here)

We hope you will agree that it was a useful, forward thinking day that has informed, inspired and engaged Southampton’s Cultural Sector. With expert advice and local, national and international knowledge being shared throughout the day, Southampton is well placed to extend this conversation and take steps towards its UK City of Culture ambitions

Thank you also to our speakers: Andrew Dixon, Ruth Melville, Michaël Roumen, Zoie Golding and Alys Scott-Hawkins (Pictured above with our Host Veronica Gordon)

“A thoroughly welcoming and well run conference. It was really buzzing and for good reasons”

“Fascinating day… Listening to industry experts and amazing keynote speakers about how we can develop, and better celebrate, the great culture that Southampton has.”

“A good selection of speakers with a variety of local, national and international knowledge and experience. Inspiring and building on last year’s conference.”

“Truly exciting and inspiring day”

James Gough Welcome Speech: 

When I first started the role of Executive Director for Southampton Cultural Development Trust  back in November 2015 I was reading a book called Blueprint for Revolution: subtitled “how to use rice pudding, Lego men and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.” It looks at how a Serbian rock kid Srdja (SirJan) Popovic finds himself at the centre of a movement that was about to change the world. Popovic is one of the unexpected leaders of the student movement Otpor! that overthrew the dictator Slobodan Milosevic and established democracy in Serbia. Now the director the Centre for Applied Non-violent Action and Strategies, Popovic takes readers through the different stages experienced by those who have created real social change using non-violent techniques.

Two things struck me, and have stayed with me – firstly that how much creativity lay in non-violent activism but secondly that activities were often about getting a wider audience to see, or really believe, that there was a different way of seeing life, living life, of how the world could be. At the time and again when writing this speech I questioned whether the development of culture, the creating of an environment where arts culture and creativity could thrive, was analogous with the overthrowing of a dictator. People aren’t disappeared for attending a private view or for over enthusiastically expressing their admiration for the latest theatre production. But I do believe arts and heritage improve and change peoples lives for the better, it enriches and emboldens everyone. It can shift peoples perceptions, change peoples aspirations. And if we believe in the value of something and believe it has value for others then should we not try to ensure that everyone has the opportunity, the possibility to access that thing?. 

So back in 2015 as I considered Popovic’s book and read a series of previous strategies that had tried to deliver a cultural city for Southampton, to do what The Trust had been asked to, it became clear to me to miss-quote the of words  Van Williams  ‘we need a  revolution, not a short solution”.  So over the last three years, sometimes more overtly, and sometimes even subconsciously, the work of the Trust has echoed some of those principles espoused by Popovic, and as this will be my last public event as Director of the Trust I wanted to share those principles with you. 

The first and possibly most important is to dream big, but start small. Too often great plans fall at the first hurdle because the first step is too great.  So don’t expect everything to be a huge success at its birth. The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step or as the old joke goes  you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. 

Secondly set a vision for tomorrow, one that can be shared by all, don’t just think the battles that have to be won but the peace you are fighting for. 

Thirdly identity what Popovic calls “the almighty pillars of power” – the most crucial people to win over to your side, who can sustain your victory once it is over (I didn’t say we always got these things right’) 

Fourthly laugh your way to victory-messages rooted in fun is the essence of activism. Don’t trust a leader who only believes their own PR and can’t laugh at themselves. Culture can and often should be fun, not just to consume but also to develop and make. 

Fifth make oppression back fire, hopefully you won’t be baton charged for your latest installation, but we do sometimes have a tendency to always seek permission, where as forgiveness might sometimes be more appropriate. 

Sixth its Unity, not just those who share your cause but building the elements of a group identity, creating a cohesive organisation. That’s about doing plenty of things that make others feel as if your struggle is theirs as well. 

Seventh Plan – plan your way to victory, momentum is everything, know the target, the goose egg as described by US strategists, the thing that serves to coordinate and direct all appropriate resources (economic human / moral / political / organisational) 

eight: Finish what you started – this is system charge its hard work and many concession will be offered  but hold out for the big change. 

Finally Popovic says ‘It had to be you”. If we look around for someone else to lead the charge, or think there is someone better placed or more appropriate to speak out for the sector,  to speak up for the value, to tell the Southampton story… the change that you want to see happen, it won’t happen. It has to be you.

This conference, the second in originally a series of three, was thought up whilst sitting in the Rhona Byrne’s Huddlehood and honed over gin, as many good ideas are. The idea was to create a space for debate, for learning, for sharing, to bring different voices together, to develop a community and build the elements of a group identity, as Popovic might say. So over the rest of today I hope you can share, debate, and learn and most of all unite in creating the compelling strong voice for change in the city.  To create the environment where art and heritage is accessible to all, where artists and culture is not non-statutory but a leading voice for change in the city. An environment where public art is not an after thought of done-unto-the-city capital projects but is meaningfully embedded from the start and contributes to a meaningful budget (as we will hear later on the international panel from Oslo). 

Martin Green, chief executive and director of Hull Uk City of Culture 2017 launched the evaluation report by saying this is not just a success story for Hull but a toolkit for everyone, a toolkit for change, a toolkit to change how we use / value and ultimately should fund arts and heritage in this country.  Southampton is in an enviable position, its politicians publicly espouse the potential value of a city of culture, as partners and delivers of that great success story now is the time to ensure that you use this tool to get what culture needs, alongside  the change it needs to deliver it.

Some of the presentations from the day are available here