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A collaborative approach to curating a resilient creative ecology

Context

In today’s climate artists, creative practitioners and arts and cultural organisations need to find new capacities and ways of working which enable them to adapt successfully and sustainably to the changing cultural and economic climate.

The primary aim of this action research project, led by Fleet Collective, supported by Creative Scotland and focusing on the cultural and creative community of Dundee, is to achieve a fresh understanding of the city’s creative community, its micro ecologies and its complex fragilities. Armed with new cartographies, knowledge, insights and relationships, all those involved will have the opportunity to develop a collective intelligence for the city that will help all those working with art and culture deal with these changes and invent solutions that could be applied not only to themselves but Dundee’s to the broader community as well.

Project

The whole project has been designed as an open dialogue with Fleet Collective as the primary facilitator.

It began by looking at Fleet Collective itself, asking how it fitted into the city’s creative system and what value it offered to that system. Specifically, everyone involved in Fleet interrogated the following three questions:

  • How does a collective serve the creative community?
  • How does a collective formulate its role within the city’s new cultural vision?
  • Where can collectives fit, influence and feed into the city’s creative ecosystem?

With the main goals of the project being to better understand the make up of the city’ creative ecology and the conditions required to maintain a thriving creative community, Fleet is now expanding the enquiry to look at Dundee’s creative ecology as a whole. The intention is to use the knowledge about the ecology and the conditions it needs to help make more visible the sets of relations required to enable it to thrive. This will enable a redefinition of the building blocks required to craft future support strategies

Fleet is proposing that there are a number of conditions that enable a creative community to thrive and have identified three ‘building blocks’ that play an important role in creating those conditions:

Values (why do we do it?)

As a nation we find it very difficult to articulate cultural value outside of an economic frame. This has forced us into a continually defensive position where we spend vast amounts of resource promoting only our economic value. The return on investment argument overrides all other narrative about ‘the intrinsic value of the arts’ and the constant requirement by politicians and funders that artists and arts and cultural organisations should strive for economic stability limits the full potential of the creative ecosystem. In order to refresh the cultural value agenda and move beyond these sterile dichotomies we need reframe cultural value and ask awkward questions about unequal distribution of power, influence and economic resources.

Energy (with what?)

What type of energy does a healthy creative ecology need? If we frame energies as resources we can examine what is already used, the efficiency of use and identify what, if any, are missing and where.  Can we produce new energies, can we share it and can we reduce waste?

Balance (and how?)

Does striving for the kind of economic sustainability promoted by politicians and funders drain the values and energy that drive artists and creative practitioners and arts and cultural organisations? What does it really mean to be sustainable beyond the economy? Can we find ways to better understand our ecosystem and understand its adaptive cycle – what to do at expansion or retraction, birth and death, growth and renewal, how to spot damage, what to do with it and how to recover and how to understand and promote the right kinds of interdependencies.

Using these three notions we need to consider the following:

  • Address the questions together and identify what is needed to answer them.
  • Work out how we harness the new knowledge we create
  • Redefine how we need to think and do
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