Earlier this week I did a Fabian Society event with Culture Secretary Andy Burnham (before I get my usual ‘Blairite stooge’ comments, I am also due soon to speak to the Bow Group). Discussing how to generate mass participation in the arts, I made a point I find myself making often when talking to Government folk.
The state is forever trying to get people to do things; lose weight, stop smoking, get trained, get fit, recycle, pay tax on time etc. So we the citizens are overwhelmed with messages with the net effect that we feel put upon and somehow diminished. But instead of starting from what we are not doing, why isn’t Government better at latching on to our enthusiasms?
The daft example I gave Andy concerned one of my favourite YouTube clips in which a previously unknown Scouser stands in his corner shop doing terrific impersonations of Steven Gerrard and various other Liverpool FC celebrities. Almost 1.4 million people have now watched and loved this clip. How about, I suggested, an Arts Council link, next to the clip, to a site where people can find out how they might learn to be an impressionist, and from that connect to the bigger idea of acting and performing?
The scale of voluntary mobilisation possible if you start with people’s enthusiasms is underlined in a today’s Technology Guardian. Dr Chris Lintott, a researcher in the Department of Physics at Oxford University, has enlisted the efforts of thousands of amateur astronomers to help classify galaxies as ’spiral’, ‘elliptical’ or ‘merging’. This is only the latest example of mass on-line amateur scientific collaboration.
Start from what people like and what makes them feel good about themselves and we can tap into a deep well of goodwill and ambition. Tell people off and ask them to change and you’re shouting into the wind.
Public services, commercial corporations and spontaneous social movements: what's the power they all lack? How might public service reform not flounder through shoehorning dynamism into a universalist and planned approach? How might businesses become genuinely socially responsible rather than merely intoning fine sounding rhetoric?